12 votes

Mondays with Murray: Do Animals Have "Rights"?

I’ve always been a big animal lover. I’ve had dogs throughout my childhood and now in my adulthood as well. In my early days as a budding libertarian, the issue of “animal rights” was always a difficult one for me. While I’m certainly no vegan, I’ve always held the issue of abuse of animals – both domestic pets as well as livestock – close to the heart. At the same time, surely animals could not be equated with humans in terms of rights, otherwise it would be against all libertarian principle to kill animals even for food, clothes, or other essential human needs.

So what was Murray Rothbard’s view on “animal rights”? Luckily for all of you, it’s Monday – the perfect time to find out!

From The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 21:

But the fundamental flaw in the theory of animal rights is more basic and far-reaching. For the assertion of human rights is not properly a simple emotive one; individuals possess rights not because we “feel” that they should, but because of a rational inquiry into the nature of man and the universe. In short, man has rights because they are natural rights. They are grounded in the nature of man: the individual man’s capacity for conscious choice, the necessity for him to use his mind and energy to adopt goals and values, to find out about the world, to pursue his ends in order to survive and prosper, his capacity and need to communicate and interact with other human beings and to participate in the division of labor. In short, man is a rational and social animal. No other animals or beings possess this ability to reason, to make conscious choices, to transform their environment in order to prosper, or to collaborate consciously in society and the division of labor.

Thus, while natural rights, as we have been emphasizing, are absolute, there is one sense in which they are relative: they are relative to the species man. A rights-ethic for mankind is precisely that: for all men, regardless of race, creed, color or sex, but for the species man alone. The Biblical story was insightful to the effect that man was “given” or,—in natural law, we may say “has”—dominion over all the species of the earth. Natural law is necessarily species-bound.

Rothbard bases his views on the concept of natural rights - the idea that man, by his nature, has the capacity to make conscious decisions in order to pursue their preferred means. The concept of human action is the basis from which we can logically deduce that man is a rational and social being.

This same concept does not apply to animals, because they do not posses this ability which, as far as we know, only applies to the species of humans. We don’t think that a lion is “evil” because it goes out and kills other animals in order to feed itself. The lion is not acting using reason in this case, but rather instinct. If a human were to go on a similar killing spree of humans, even if it were in order to eat those humans as food, we would rightly be appalled and decry that person as “evil”. This is what makes human unique; humans utilize not just instinct, but reason.

Continue Reading

Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

I know . Thats my point.

I know . Thats my point. Your statement infer that people are superior to animas. My point was not in all instances....

If you disagree with me on anything you are not a real libertarian...

I don't know if they have the

I don't know if they have the right, but it seems that it would be nice if zoos let higher animals like primates have tv. It sure seems to keep humans happy. Maybe whales and dolphins too, but they always seem kind of happy in zoos anyway.

Great topic, Marc.

For once, I find myself disagreeing with Murray. I find his argument baseless.

I do eat meat. But there is the roughly 5 million Indians that follow Jainistic customs which prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings and emphasizes spiritual independence and equality between all forms of life. I believe that this would ultimately be pure libertarianism. I am not disciplined enough to do it...yet?

Also, there is also the adorable little book The Little Prince. that basically claims any domesticated animal is the responsibility of man to care for since man is responsible for its dependence on man. I agree with that too.

Murray states,

"In short, man has rights because they are natural rights. They are grounded in the nature of man: the individual man’s capacity for conscious choice, the necessity for him to use his mind and energy to adopt goals and values, to find out about the world, to pursue his ends in order to survive and prosper, his capacity and need to communicate and interact with other human beings and to participate in the division of labor. "

Conscious choice, goals and values, curiosity, desire to survive, communication and interaction skills, and ability to participate in the division of labor seem like irrelevant random characteristics not possessed solely by humans. I don't know why he claims that these characteristics give a creature the right to life, liberty, and property. Unless, he is using the philosophy of natural rights as the basis for the best form of social order. I agree that for the purpose of establishing a human social order the theory of natural rights is the most logical way of discovering it. But I don't think that natural rights in general are limited to humans.

My dogs can reason and they experience emotion. They are not purely led by innate responses. Sometimes I think most humans would be better off if they did actually rely on innate impulses more. When they are exposed to constant misleading brainwashing by the State and its propaganda outlets most humans use these signals to make bad choices.


If your dogs have rights, how can you justify keeping them captive? Do you allow them to leave freely, and return as they please?

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

I actually do.

I live on a large plot. My dogs live in dog heaven. But with domesticated animals I like that book The Little Prince. It claims that humans have the responsibility to protect that which they domesticated. I completely believe that. I do keep my cows fenced in. And as I stated, I do not know the truth. I am just throwing stuff out. I eat meat too.

So that brings up the question

What differentiates the cows from the dogs , in terms of rights? i would say simply your affection for the dogs, and your view of the cows' utility for milk, meat or what have you.

If you kept dogs fenced in and milked them and used them for meat, other than the fact everyone would think you are completely bat shit, what is the real difference?

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*


I think domesticated animals are the responsibility of humans. There are loads of complete idiots that come out here and drop dogs off because they, perhaps, have become a burden to care for. These poor animals show up at my door, skin and bones, sweet as could be, and all manged out. I nurse them back to health if they are not too far gone and find homes for them. Domesticated animals are no longer capable of caring for themselves in the wild. Humans must take care of them, which means holding them captive in most circumstances.

But as far as wild animals, why would their creation and hence natural rights be different than humans?

My dogs are just spoiled. My cows don't have it too bad though.

Or maybe the social order (the set of rules humans come to in order to peaceably coexist) is where the 'rights' part comes from. Maybe the concept of human rights is solely relevant for purposes of the creation of a social order. Maybe there needs to be new libertarian thought and theory about humans relationship to animals.

You brought up a great topic. For once, I am not fully on-board with Murray. And Murray is my most favorite mind ever, at this point.

Here is a podcast of Hoppe and his thoughts on property and social order. It is really interesting.

I agree

Its an interesting topic...and I should say that when I ask my questions here I am largely doing so as "Murray's devil's advocate", as I'm developing ideas on this in real-time.

But if you are to distinguish between wild animals and domesticated, than you would have to say that all wild animals must be kept wild (or this would be slavery) and that all hunting of wild animals is wrong and a violation of rights, and hunter's therefore be held responsible for the murder of any animals killed.

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

yeah, good points

In Jainism, they don't kill any animals for food. They wear masks so they don't kill little creatures. The Buddhists and Hindus do the same but not so extreme. I visited Bhutan, 98% Buddhist. I saw a young women running around a restaurant capturing and releasing house flies. The Buddhists and Hindus I know are really peaceful people and do not eat meat. Their cows are sacred and die of old age, giving milk only.

I am not saying it is right or wrong. It is just a great new topic I plan on researching and putting thought into. I would feel better if I did not eat meat. It has always gnawed at me to some degree. But I love it. It would take generations for people to embrace something so contradictory to our culture though. And at some point, one could run into the decision to kill for food or die. Then what? But that food could very well be another human being. At that point, though, the social order would have completely broken down and the need for a definition of natural rights would be diminished.

I am really glad you brought it up. I think I will go have myself a great big hamburger.

You evil b@stard!

Mutilating a poor defenseless onion like that! Don't vegetables have a right to life, too?

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose



I have 2 Siberian Huskies. They are incredibly intelligent and emotive. However, I know that they do not "reason", or feel "emotion" in the way that humans do. We, as humans,often impart reason and emotion ONTO our pets to explain the ways they act instinctively, but that does not make their behavior any less instinctive, or any more rational.

If we are to give "rights" to animals, how are they defined? The same as humans? Should a man be prosecuted for the murder of a harmless fly that was in his home? Or do we argue the fly violated the man's property rights and therefore the fly's death was moral? Should there be animal vs. human courts to decide these things? Who defends the fly?

Yes, it's a silly example, but how are these things defined? By which animals we "like"?

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

I think animals do have

I think animals do have limited emotion. Even if they didn't, does that mean they lack natural rights? Does a person in a coma have less rights than one that is not?

We don't give rights to animals. Natural rights are those that an organism, by reason, possesses due to the fact that when it came into this world, by default is the most reasonable owner of its own body and the fruits of labor produced by it. So it has the right to defend that body and the fruits of labor of that body. That is why we claim we, humans, have natural rights. So why would we make an exception for animals?

I agree that animals do not know right from wrong in the human sense. But that has nothing to do with natural rights. Now, if we are trying to establish a human social order, using natural rights as the basis, indeed the ability of humans to know right from wrong is essential, if not the primary fundamental prerequisite, in the development of that social order.

Marc, I could be completely off base. I have not put the proper amount of thought into this topic before. Thank you for peaking my interest. I plan on getting to the bottom of it. I will just be really bummed out if I decide I do not have the right to eat meat unless my survival depends upon it.


It's not

It's not an issue I've given much thought to previously either, and really the purpose of "Mondays with Murray" is to communicate Rothbard's point of view on a subject, not necessarily state it as my own, though of course I usually agree with him.

I asked above, but if an animal has the same natural rights as a human, how can keeping a "pet" be justified? Would it be ok to keep a human pet? Feed, care, provide for them, but not allow them to leave?

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

The Little Prince

I linked to the book The Little Prince. It claims that humans are responsible for anything that they have domesticated. It is a cute book. I think it is right.


I would agree with that

But I don't think that means that the animals themselves have "rights" in the human sense. If they did, they would of course, be free to go at any time.

I believe the message of the Little Prince is one of a personal and moral responsibility the human may have towards an animal.

But that is a big difference from then saying that animal has "rights".

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

A different perspective...


Defeat the panda-industrial complex

I am dusk icon. anagram me.


for Mr. Murray


When I read the list of the things that make man a rational being and who and how that came to be decided AND what mankind has made of those supposed noble abilities then I am of the opinion that pretty much every creature on earth is a more reasonable, more worthy creature than man.

Daughter of 1776 American Revolutionists

"what mankind has made of"...

Do you honestly not see what mankind has made of their abilities? You would not be alive today if it were not for the advancement of human civilization derived from their abilities? There is a reason human population has been skyrocketing in recent centuries - it is because man has developed technology and understanding to better preserve and extend human life.

This is not something that animals do, or are capable of doing.

This is not to say that animals do not have any intelligence, nor worth. Quite the contrary I am a huge animal lover. But to have some level of intelligence does not equate to having "rights".

Should a dog get a jury trial if he kills another dog? A lawyer?

If it sounds ridiculous, it's because it is.

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

I hear what you're saying...

and I don't exactly disagree but I do feel that a great deal of man's potential has historically gone as much to doing evil as doing good. The human being is a very disagreeable creature.

Daughter of 1776 American Revolutionists

I don't find this all that convincing

What evidence is there that there aren't animals that make conscious decisions?

What evidence is there

That there is?

*Advancing the Ideas of Liberty Daily*

Well for example, when I call

Well for example, when I call for my dog, who is interested in something else, you can visibly see him conflicted over whether to listen to me or to continue doing what he wants to do.

Here's another: a squirrel trying different methods to get to a bird feeder. My life would be easier if squirrels couldn't think and just kept trying the same failed method over and over again instead of reasoning their way to their goal.