In praise of speciesism

by John Quiggin on August 12, 2005

Nicholas Gruen at Troppo Armadillo is unimpressed by Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. Nicholas argues that the whole idea is an unnecessary and unhelpful, since we can justify concerns about animals suffering from the simple observation (the basis of Jeremy Bentham’s argument for laws against cruelty to animals) that animals suffer. He says

What does the term ‘speciesism’ add to this? If Oscar Wilde had nothing to declare but his genius, Peter Singer’s book and its central concept of speciesism had nothing to declare but its circumlocution.

I haven’t got a fully consistent position on all this, but I think that, however ugly it is as a word, speciesism is a meaningful concept, and I’m in favour of it. That is, in opposition to Singer’s views on the subject, I’m in favour of treating all human beings, from birth to brain-death as having specifically human rights, simply by virtue of the fact they are humans, and whether or not they are self-aware and capable of perceiving themselves as individuals. I’d argue for this on rule-utilitarian grounds, which I understand to be Singer’s general viewpoint, though the same conclusion could be reached in other ways.

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Trahisons des Clercs

by Henry on August 12, 2005

Eugene Volokh “responds”:http://www.volokh.com/archives/archive_2005_08_07-2005_08_13.shtml#1123863417 (or so I take it; for some reason he doesn’t provide a link) to Ted’s post below by requesting that his readers send in instances of “Western commentators who defend the Iraqi insurgents, or at least justify their actions as being a supposed campaign for self-determination, allegedly justifiable rage at Western misbehavior, and so on.” Fair enough, to an extent. As one of his commenters notes, he’s moved the goalposts from Taranto’s quite specific “those Westerners who side with the ‘Iraqi resistance’ against America and its allies” to a much more ambiguous category of statements, but perhaps he feels that there’s a “slippery slope”:http://www.law.ucla.edu/volokh/slippery.htm leading from the latter to the former style of argumentation. In any event, in the spirit of Eugene’s appeal, I’d like to put out one of my own. I’d like instances in which commentators make egregious claims that a substantial section of those who opposed the war are, in fact, rooting for the other side. As per Eugene’s rules, please provide the name and brief description of the person (who should be a journalist, official or famous person), the exact quote, and the URL at which the original article is to be found. This _Dolchstosslegende_ style hitjob on the vast realist-liberal-internationalist-conspiracy, by famous neo-conservative intellectual, Norman Podhoretz in the February 2005 issue of _Commentary_, URL “http://www.commentarymagazine.com/special/A11902025_1.html”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/special/A11902025_1.html is the kind of thing I’m looking for.

bq. Before November 2, some realists had feared that Bush’s reelection would, in Hendrickson’s words, “confirm and ratify the revolutionary changes he has introduced to U.S. strategy.” Having calmed down a bit since then, they are now hoping to avert the apocalypse through another possible outcome that some of them envisaged before November 2: namely, that “once revolutionary zeal collides with hard reality, . . . the Bush policies . . . will end in tears.”

bq. One can only admire Hendrickson’s candor in admitting what is usually hotly denied: that even many leading realists, along with many liberal internationalists, are rooting for an American defeat. Direct action not being their style, they will not participate in the “mass demonstrations and civil disobedience” advocated by Tom Hayden, who advises following the playbook of the “peace” movement of the 60’s (of which he was one of the chief organizers) as the way to get us out of Iraq. But neither will they sit back passively and wait for “hard reality” to ensure that the Bush Doctrine “ends in tears.”

bq. Instead of taking to the streets, the realists and the liberal internationalists will go back to their word processors and redouble their ongoing efforts to turn public opinion against the Bush Doctrine. Mainly they will try to do so by demonstrating over and over again that the doctrine is already failing its first great encounter with “hard reality” in Iraq.

(Podhoretz is here patching together quotes from a review article in a deliberately mendacious fashion to make it appear as if the article’s author is saying things that he very clearly is not. For the article which he is abusing, see “here”:http://www.worldpolicy.org/journal/articles/wpj04-1/hendrickson.html and especially the last two paragraphs; for a response by the article’s author to Podhoretz, see “here”)

Presidential Historians blog

by Henry on August 12, 2005

Ralph Luker writes to tell me that 15 other US presidential historians “have joined”:http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/13998.html Rick Shenkman’s blog, to form a presidential history conglomerate. A nice addition to the academic blogosphere.