The efforts of campaigners to continue to extend the emotional registers of tenderness and exposure to laboratory animals and livestock also benefited from the support of a group of intellectuals who began to take an interest in animal rights. The animal protection cause is not a creature of the left, the right nor the center, neither can it be characterized as a wholly reactionary or progressive movement: indeed, it has attracted support from individuals coming from every political tradition. Neither a simple pretext to test the philosophical reflections of an enlightened elite nor the outflowings of feelings by hysterical groups, the study of the many forms of animal protection show that collective mobilizations depend on activists striving to reconcile emotional reactions and discursive reflections. Antispeciesism calls for “granting equal consideration to the suffering of all sensitive creatures irrespective of the species […]. From the point of view of physical suffering, which is always experienced on an individual level, the last surviving blue whale is equal to any chicken.”
It is important to stress that the actors in this network of contacts, in which ideas were exchanged and articles published, were inevitably motivated by academic concerns. In other words, for professionals in the normative disciplines of philosophy and law, thinking critically about the behavior of humans toward animals provided an opportunity to break new academic ground, engage with difficult issues, and exercise their intellectual virtuosity; in short, to develop these disciplines from the point of view of their own criteria of excellence.
Furthermore for the moral philosophers involved in the project – keen to distance themselves from the figure of the thinker ensconced in an ivory tower playing with purely abstract concepts – animals rights represented an opportunity to enrich their discipline with a specialization which, by analyzing the indignation caused by various ways in which animals are treated, demonstrated their ability to engage more directly with the world.
The fact that professional moral philosophers have specific preoccupations also transpires when we note that human relations with animals are but one of the building blocks needed to construct their new normative system. Moreover, philosophers, being principally concerned with establishing the internal coherence of their systems of precepts, are liable to take up the defense of positions unlikely to attract widespread support. So, for example, based on the principle that humans should do nothing to prevent animals from living in a “natural” way, some antispeciesists consider keeping animals as pets is immoral. In other words, ethical imperatives can invite the animal protection movement to adopt positions likely to alienate itself from one of its main categories of supporters.
It will now be apparent why relations between contemporary militant groups and animal ethics thinkers are both complex and ambiguous. Nevertheless, we should be careful to avoid a popular misconception regarding a period during which animal protectionism arguably underwent a radical transformation. In only a minority of cases do animal welfare groups present a commitment to the animal ethics movement as an indispensable part of their involvement in animal protection? Other activists, on the other hand, simply used texts such as Animal Liberation to provide an intellectual rationale for their activities, for which they had their own preexisting motives. Their involvement in the cause did not extend to contributing to animal rights discussion forums. It gave us a philosophy on which to hang our emotions, feelings, sentimentality […]. It gave us an intellectual hat to put on our heads”.
Other activists had even more tenuous links with the philosophy of animal rights. Specialists in this discipline were open to accusations that they devoted all their energies to debates whose subtle reasoning, complex theories, and interminable discussions about matching strategy with final objectives were not compatible with an affective economy which could be of practical help in furthering the animal cause. Despite having drawn on sensitizing devices from the register of exposure in his work to successfully generate support – sometimes faced criticism for overintellectualizing the issues. Indeed, as one surprised activist, who had themselves taken in eight cats, commented: “[H]e’s very highly evolved intellectually, but there’s no emotion, no feeling […]. He’s cerebral, not an animal lover”
Finally, there are other activists who, despite never having read a single anti-speciesist text, will quote the book, or use the term “anti-speciesism,” in order to link their engagement with a serious intellectual enterprise. In other words, the fact that respected academic authors have written and published books on anti-speciesism has given a renewed intellectual legitimacy to a cause that had previously suffered from being associated with supposedly feminine excesses of emotion. From 1975 onward, thanks to the involvement of not only philosophers but also vigorous young men who used tactics developed by left-wing protest groups, the animal protection movement have been able to present itself as being engaged in the defense of fundamental rights, which is widely regarded as a particularly progressive and reflective activity.
In Anglo-Saxon countries, the adoption of “rights talk” has allowed entrepreneurs of the cause to claim a double legitimacy, derived from philosophy forums as well as the fact that they are following in the footsteps of predecessors who distinguished themselves in earlier struggles, such as members of the civil rights movement. In fact, speaking of an “animal rights movement,” far from merely describing a new series of mobilizations in favor of animal protection, is a way of redoubling the work of (re)legitimization and situating of the campaigning in a political lineage already undertaken by one of the more recent cohorts of activists. First of all, it is clear that initiatives that were often regarded as radically innovative are better treated as the prolongation and intensification of early trends first established by pioneers of the cause. Thus anti-speciesism undoubtedly echoes the leveling of compassion which in the 19th century caused promoters of equality to be moved by the suffering of creatures like the toad.
It should also be added that when, in order to avoid being complicit in the slaughter of animals, antispeciesists adopt a vegan diet they are part of a continuing centuries-old trend for activists to demand the reduction of forms of violence that are mistakenly regarded as being normal. Furthermore, the ideal types which result from our genealogical analysis enable us to draw distinctions between mobilizations that are bracketed together within a new “animal rights movement.”