Tag Archives: zoopolis

Could my dog be a citizen?

Maybe not, but Donaldson & Kymlicka’s new book invites us to ask why. I ordered it recently, and so far it’s a fascinating and much-needed addition to political theory. Rather than getting caught up in the stale rights/welfare morass, they venture into a territory that’s rich for humans but poor for everyone else: can we extend citizenship beyond the species line? Should we?

One thing I’ve wondered throughout, though, is whether their defense of nonhuman animal citizenship would fall apart without its grounding in animal rights theory (what they call ART). In any case, whether or not sentient nonhuman animals have fundamental rights by nature might be as meaningless a question on pragmatic grounds as whether humans have such rights: it’s clear that we need them whether they exist or not. (On this topic, I think Aikin and Talisse’s attack on Berlin’s value pluralism as “a difference about what is of value, not a difference about the nature of value” is a distinction without a difference. But this is a different discussion.)

The expansion of the domain of legal personhood to nonhuman animals would a monumental task, both conceptually and practically, as Posner and various others have pointed out. This is one of the reasons District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller was reluctant to acknowledge that the 13th Amendment applies to Orcas. Donaldson and Kymlicka do a good job of navigating this conceptual minefield, though, and they lay a useful foundation upon which political theorists can build, and through which we can hopefully broaden the scope of the debate over nonhuman animals to include their political, as well as their moral, status. This recent review by Steve Donoghue provides a good overview:

In our authors’ simple and elegant formulation, [animals’] inviolable rights come in three sub-sets, depending on the nature of the non-human animals involved. Wild animals are designated as members of separate, sovereign nations, entitled to protection against invasion, trafficking, enslavement – anything that curtails their right to self-determination. At the other end of the spectrum, fully domesticated animals should be seen not as property but as full-fledged members of the communities they share with humans. And the animals in the middle ground, ‘liminal’ species who aren’t domesticated but inhabit human spaces (raccoons, possums, coyotes, pigeons, hawks, etc), should be considered ‘denizens’ of those spaces – not full co-citizens like domesticated animals, but still deserving of fundamental respect (i.e. freedom from pogroms, poisonings, or random persecutions). In our authors’ view, it makes no difference that none of these animals advocate for such respect – the point here is that humans routinely extend these rights to members of their own species who likewise can’t advocate for them (infants and children, for instance, or the uneducated, or the mentally feeble, etc.), so a broader application is already ideologically warranted.

I agree with Donoghue that “Books like this – meticulously thought-out, very attractively reasoned, with no hint of screed – do inestimable good in their incremental way.” Again, though, I wonder if a conception of limited citizenship rights could be formulated without recourse to “universal inviolable rights”, which may present too big a stumbling block, especially when they butt directly against corresponding human rights and interests. If wild animal communities really do have something like sovereignty, an argument could be made that essentially all human settlements violate the property rights of burrowing rodents, for example. This may, or may not, be a silly question. Zoopolis is an important first step in asking it.


I have a number of collected links in my ‘blog fodder’ folder that haven’t made it into any posts recently, so here they are (starting with Belgian fast food ‘restaurant’ Quick’s ‘Darth Vader burger’, pictured above. This is real.):

Charles Barkley’s ‘White People Problems’ on SNL (and never mind that it’s effectively discussing class rather than race), implying that farm animal welfare doesn’t matter because human slavery existed. Huh.

And speaking of class: Mark Zuckerberg only eats (ate?) meat that he kills himself, and now the bison he shot is mounted in Facebook’s headquarters. Charming.

I just got my copy of Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson’s Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights, and I look forward to reading it stat, because I think Tyler Cowen’s dismissal of the concept of nonhuman animal citizenship deserves more serious consideration, in at least partially modified forms.

There are definitely some fascinating anthropological, literary, and cultural essays to be written on the emerging tradition of “Cooking Food Featured in Fantasy Novels”.

And I haven’t watched it yet, but this PBS video, “My Life as a Turkey,” looks really cool.

Finally, “The Narwhal Bacons at Midnight,” apparently. I’ll leave this last one up to you.