Monkeys Without Rights

The article of Peter Singer about monkey rights and human rights published in the 232nd issue of Dilema veche praises the recent approval by the Commission for the Environment, Agriculture and Fishing of the Spanish Parliament concerning the Great Project regarding monkeys. Launched in 1993, the project aims at 'eliminating the frontiers between the human species and the non-human one'. Put on the same ontological level, through egalitarian reasons as well as through utilitarian ones, animals (particularly superior primates) have the same rights as humans do. In the second part of the text, the author protests against the treatment received in May by animal rights activists from the corresponding institutions of the Austrian state (namely, police and justice). The content and form of the present article invite reflection on the theoretical relationship between humans and animals and disagree with Mr. Singer's ideas as it delivers a Christian and liberal criticism to the statement that rights granted to humans can be extended to animals as well. A Christian would find the founding text of the relationship between man and animals in the very first words with which God welcomes His ultimate creation, man: "Be fruitful, and procreate and fill the world with children and own it and reign over the fish of the sea, the birds in the skies, over all the animals and living creatures there are, over the whole earth" (Genesis, 1, 28). The quotation, short but extremely meaningful, expresses the chronological sense of creation (first, the material world, then the material-living one, which is, the animals, and, in the end, the material-spiritual one, which is, the humans): the ontological hierarchy between human beings and animals and, implicitly, the ontological equality between human beings (note how God never told man, either in this fragment or elsewhere, to "reign" over other human beings). Apart from this commonsense observation, the use of the verbs "to own" regarding the relationship between man and the earth (the material world) and "to reign" regarding the relationship between man and animals (the material-living world) introduces two nuances without which the understanding of the relationship between man and the rest of God's creation is incomplete. In the political-theological vocabulary, the verbs "to own" and "to reign" are only partially synonyms. While "to own" includes the right to property, the fact of "reigning"brings forth a special type of relationship according to which man enjoys ontological superiority over animals, yet the latter are not his property. Rather than a right the condition of which is equality, in relation to animals man is defined through the angle of privilege. Thanks to Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld, for more than eight decades the theory of rights defines "privilege" as the juridical antonym of "duty" and the juridical co-relative of the "lack of rights" (the no-right). Extendible to spheres other than juridical ones (social and moral ones, for instance), Hohfeld suggests, mainly, that man's privilege implies the absence of animal rights and meantime, man's privilege implies his duty towards animals. What kind of duty are we talking about? The answer is simple: it is exactly the fixed idea that militants have about jus animalium, which is the absence of un-necessary suffering (we can, of course, only agree on this point with Mr. Singer). Without having to go any deeper into the matter, in a refined juridical discourse we could say that, seen through our duty of protecting animals from un-necessary suffering, they benefit from the right in rem of the absence of suffering, but this is not the right we bear in mind in our everyday life. The right in rem as opposed to the right in personam insinuates the existence of a duty, which does not mean that it necessarily involves a right (it is always valid the other way around). Kant, in his moral reflection on animals, suggested that, conceptually, man can see animals as his property, but it is incorrect from a moral point of view to behave as such, because, to an important extent, his life depends on that of animals (note how, again, ontological existence strengthens the hierarchical relationship through the mere fact that it makes animals indispensable). In spite of all these arguments, a Christian less concerned with mysteries will lack interest in the social reasoning of the right Hohfeld so acutely put into theory. The argument of this right cannot be found in ontological equality, but in the existence of consciousness – what makes man unique in relation to any other element of creation. Peter Singer affirms that in superior animals there are rudiments of self-consciousness, but this is just a part (and a small one, I would say) of consciousness. The argument of the right and, indirectly, of the difference between man and animals comes from a superior form of consciousness, namely, the consciousness of sin, of committing faults. There are differences between being conscious of oneself physically and being conscious of oneself spiritually, as "a temple of the Holy Spirit", built on the foundation of sin. How can animals have a right to freedom as long as freedom is defined in relation to the consciousness of sin in its triple form: sin towards God, sin towards his fellows (in this latter category, "sin" is, in everyday language, the equivalent of "fault") and, last but not least, towards the polis (and here "sin" is illegality, transgression of the law)? Consciousness of sin with this triple meaning is freedom. Kant's categorical imperative strengthens the proposed deal: my freedom ends where someone else's freedom starts and to observe the limits means to be aware of moral frontiers and therefore, of those of immorality and amorality. To summarise, self-awareness places an entity within physical borders, but much more important is consciousness of sin, which socialises and confers the very basis of freedom. What right to life is in question in the case of animals when man is in ontological dependence in relation to animals? Even accepting the right to life which Mr Singer concedes to animals, the collision between two equal rights (the rights to life of man and of animals), which is made inevitable by the dependence there is between them, means, through juridical-moral reasoning, priority to the more powerful right – which is that of man to the detriment of that of animals). A classic liberal would find it difficult to accept this "inflation of rights" of which Raymond Aron prophetically spoke in the 50's. If, for a Christian, "inflation of rights" is explained through the act of forgetting the divine origin of man and the sense of creation, for a liberal, un-interested in transcendence and the private sphere, this "inflation of rights" is caused by ignoring the citizen. There are few who ask themselves why, in 1789, the French declaration enumerated the rights of man and of citizens. Pierre Manent, to whom the liberal argument I am presenting here belongs, affirms that the rights of man exist as long as those of citizens do. In other words, man is defined through his relationship with the polis and has social presence only as a citizen – a member of a political form (the nation) which, quite often, is defined as a community. The word "citizen" includes its own definition (human rights talk about this), but also a social definition, in relation to the community to which they belong (the rights and obligations of citizens). For liberals, the second definition is the necessary and sufficient condition for the first one. Could the same thing be said about animals? Some might answer, and understandably so, that yes, this is possible. It would be enough, for instance, to have a look at a community of bees to observe the perfect image of living together. In one way or the other, each species of animals shows a certain form of sociability within their own habitat. Typical to Man as a zoon politikon is not (just) sociability, but the continuous pursuit of welfare or, to be more precise, of the best form of governing. No matter how sociable they can be and no matter how well they can relate to their own community in terms of "rights" and "duties", animals conduct themselves following their genes. This is how it is possible to explain why we, who live in a modern society which excludes the role and social status as a portrait of man, dislike the lazy ones, whereas in the bee family they comply with a mission the modifying of which is forbidden by unwritten rules. The very fact that, at a certain point in time, a political community has changed the sanctifying of the hierarchy to its vilification convincingly illustrates the effort made in order to find the best form of governing, in other words, the most complete definition of zoon politikon. But continuous search needs awareness of the existence of sin (not always in the shape of its three aspects), which is the presence of freedom. The law of genes, which is impossible to change, excludes freedom (this is yet another evidence of the fact that animals can't have freedom, nor right to it). Beyond all things that separate them (focus on transcendence or politics, the private sphere or the public one), the Christian and the liberal meet in the effort they make in order to restrict the right to getting close to other entities than the human ones. Both perspectives exclude the socialist temptation of extending rights ab infinito. We would say that extending rights unrestrictedly (apart from "animal rights", what we might call the material-living world, there are also other rights much talked about: the rights of trees, of statues, of rocks etc., that is, of the exclusively material creation, as if the word "to own" should disappear from the biblical sphere) aims, at the same time, at the elimination of homo religiosus and homo politicus as objects of political-theological thinking. Dilema veche, 25 September-1 October 2008 Translated by Maria Bebis

by Nicolae Drăguşin