A libertarian case for veganism has been made on this site and elsewhere. The general thrust of such cases is the argument that we should extend to animals the basic freedoms to which humans are entitled. Animals — especially livestock — are oppressed, and like oppressed humans, we should want them to be free.
I suspect such an argument is convincing for those who do not believe humans to be so superior that our fundamental rights include that of doing whatever we like to animals. That is, people who acknowledge that non-human animals have experiences, emotions, likes and dislikes that are not so fundamentally different from our own so as to be ignored. The capability to experience the world is on a spectrum; we are on the same playing field as animals, even if we do think of ourselves as far more important than them.
However, veganism from a libertarian perspective runs into some problems. In particular, it does not bridge the gap between personal choice and societal change. In other words, making a personal choice to live a vegan lifestyle is one thing; advocating for laws that force such a lifestyle on others is the opposite of libertarian, particularly when those others believe humans to be so superior that we are entitled to use animals as we wish. There is a fundamental tension here that libertarianism cannot seem to surpass.
I have come to believe government intervention — laws that ban the use of animals — will become a necessity. We will not all agree to stop killing and using animals, and anyone who believes such a world will come about voluntarily is wrong. The reason is simple.
It’s been hundreds of years since slavery was outlawed in the United States. There was a war fought over this, with the South spilling their own blood in a fight for their “right” to enslave black people. And even today, centuries later, people (some of them black conservative pundits on Fox News) argue that black people were better under slavery. If slavery weren’t outlawed, people would still try to keep them — even if 99.99% of the nation agreed that such a practice is abhorrent. We can imagine there would be significant backlash against this 0.01%, which might make it effectively impossible to keep slaves, but this rule by social majority is not meaningfully different from the force of law. In other words, a libertarian should be just as opposed to mob rule — a form of force — as state rule, as a matter of principle.
Simply put, not even slavery against fellow humans could be voluntarily surrendered. So why do people imagine that our use of animals for food, clothing, and other products would go more smoothly?
The fact is that at some point we will need government intervention of some form. People accuse vegans of advocating for this at present — and some probably do — but the reality is that vegans would have to be a super-majority at the very least before there is any hope for this. The people who continue to use animals would have to be a small proportion of the population, and even then the rest of us would have to be on the same page with respect to the rights of animals not to be used and abused.
That day may never come — we will likely never eliminate hunting, for example — but we can still continue to push for reducing the number of suffering animals. And we should.
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