An ambitious proposal by Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka seeks to break out of an impasse that animal-rights advocacy seems to have reached. They divide the animal kingdom into three categories and distribute rights accordingly. Domesticated animals are to be treated as citizens enjoying the same rights and duties as human citizens (adjusting for relative differences in ability, just as we do for children and the severely cognitively handicapped). Wild animal species are to be treated as sovereign nations having rights to their territories. Liminal animals are to be treated as resident aliens. This article is a critique of this "Citizenship Theory" of animal rights. One theme of the critique questions whether citizenship and sovereignty are in fact doing the normative work that Citizenship Theory represents them as doing. Another theme questions whether rights of citizenship and sovereignty can be of use to the animals Citizenship Theory would bestow them on.Edmundson argues
Animals need rights. The value a right has, for the one holding it, derives mostly from the set of duties it imposes on others. But the value of a right is not exhausted by that set. A set of “indirect” duties can protect a variety of animal interests, but it cannot coherently protect an interest in maintaining dignity. Someone to whom a duty is owed, i.e., is directed, occupies a higher plane than one who is the mere object of an impersonal duty. Rights, and their correlative directed duties, respect the dignity of the right holder in a special way. Rights are also more amenable to enforcement by proxies than indirect duties are. A proxy speaks for someone, and not merely for something. Rights, in contrast to mere collections of directed duties, serve a generative function. The set of duties correlative to a right is open-ended; and sensitivity to another’s rights means recognition of a host of directed duties that might otherwise go unnoticed. Finally, rights serve a fallback function, which comes into play when sympathy and affection are attenuated or absent.
But do animals need the rights associated with citizenship? Do they need the right to exercise sovereignty over a territory? Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka have argued that these distinctively political rights can not only be held by animals but can also be distinctively beneficial to them. Moreover, these rights can be forensically effective instruments for animal-welfare activism (Donaldson and Kymlicka 2011, 2013; Kymlicka and Donaldson 2014).
Donaldson and Kymlicka ruefully observe that advocacy of universal animal rights on the model of universal human rights has gotten traction only among certain activists and academics. It has “virtually no resonance amongst the general public” and remains “a political non-starter” (2011, 5,6), even though electorates have increasingly shown a degree of worry about the treatment of animals. Apart from scattered, incremental reforms, the picture is depressing: an “Eternal Treblinka” (2011, 2) whose moral and political superstructure remains largely unquestioned.
Why the impasse? Selfishness (both individual and corporate), selective blindness, and cultural tradition are contributing factors, but Donaldson and Kymlicka argue that the way animal rights theory, or “ART”—their acronymic designation for a certain typical development of animal rights theory—has been framed is itself an important obstacle. The “classical model of ART” recognizes “only one acceptable relationship to animals: treating them ethically means leaving them alone, not interfering with their negative right to life and liberty” (2011, 9). Typical negative rights are the right not to be murdered, not to be raped, not to be experimented on, while a typical positive duty would be to render aid to someone who is in distress, and a typical relational duty would be a duty to support one’s family and to stick up for one’s friends. The nearly exclusive theoretical concentration on universal negative rights for animals contrasts to the human context, in which, they claim, “the vast bulk of reasoning and moral theorizing concerns not [the] universal negative rights but rather the positive and relational obligations we have to other groups of humans” (2011, 6). Many of the rights and duties humans owe each other arise out of relationships: parent and child, teacher and student, master and apprentice, and the typically asymmetrical dependency of latter on the former gives normative content to the positive duties—and correlative positive rights—that arise. So, they have urged, let’s talk about positive and relational 3 rights for animals.
The Relational Turn
At first, citizenship rights for animals seems to be an odd prescription. If a short list of negative rights for animals is a hard sell, one would expect that enlarging the list to include positive rights would be harder still. But what Donaldson and Kymlicka propose is not a wholesale enlargement. (In effect, as I point out below, the position they advocate contracts the scope of both positive and negative rights that wild animals might enjoy.) Rather, the relational turn begins by articulating certain underlying joints in the moral landscape. The first step is to extract three salient, morally relevant categories from the manifold variety of human-animal interactions. There are domesticated animals, that we have bred to be dependent upon us and live amongst us, such as household pets. There are wild animals, who wish to, and are capable of, living apart from us, and with whom we have little interaction unless we are animal ethologists, zoologists, or zookeepers. Finally, there are liminal animals, such as pigeons, raccoons, squirrels, and feral cats, that live amongst us but do not normally affiliate with or depend upon particular humans, although they are dependent upon access to human settlements and the food waste they produce and the niche habitats they provide. Donaldson and Kymlicka propose to rescue ART by structuring it around these three categories.
The rescue is completed by making a second turn, from the relational to the political philosophical. Because domesticated animals live among us and must for the most part continue to do so, they are to be treated as citizens, enjoying the same rights and duties as human citizens — adjusting of course for relevant differences in ability, just as we do for children and the severely cognitively handicapped. Wild animals species are to be treated as sovereign nations having rights to their territories. Liminal animals are to be treated as resident aliens. All three categories are protected by certain universal negative rights; but integrated with these are “differentiated positive rights” (2011, 11) that largely track the three categories. This, in a nutshell, is the “expanded citizenship-based ART” (2011, 15), or “the citizenship approach” (2011, 16) Donaldson and Kymlicka propose. I will refer to it as Citizenship Theory.
The Citizenship Theory crucially depends on the “citizenship logic” (2011, 15) that analogizes a threefold division of domesticated, liminal, and wild animals to categories based on sovereignty and citizenship. To get a clearer sense of what citizenship logic is intended to do, it helps to first review what Donaldson and Kymlicka see as ART’s weaknesses. Classical ART gravitates toward two particularly extreme and therefore vulnerable positions. The first is an “abolitionist” position on domesticated animals. Interaction between humans and the animals they domesticate is inevitably exploitative and unjust, according to ART. But domesticated animals are, by definition, dependent upon human interaction for their continued existence. Therefore, the abolitionist wing of ART calls for the (humane) extinction of all species of domesticated animals. That puts an end to unjust exploitation, but it also puts an end to all dogs, cats, horses, pigs, chickens and other domesticated animals that cannot be returned to a viable wild state. Donaldson and Kymlicka argue that the abolitionist position not only alienates many of ART’s strongest allies, it heedlessly overlooks the possibility of citizenship for domesticated animals.
ART’s second unsatisfactory position is a “let them be” injunction with respect to wild animals. This position may resonate with a popular “laissez faire intuition” about animals of species that typically avoid human contact with humans. But it does not allow for positive duties toward wild animals; nor could it, except in an ad hoc way, provide limits on any such positive duties. ART thus gets caught in a “‘too little—too much’ dilemma” (2011, 11): either stick with a narrow negative-rights conception of the universal right to life, and turn a blind eye to habitat destruction and ecological spillovers that do not injure identifiable individual creatures. Or broaden the right to life in wholesale fashion, and license massive wholesale intervention and management of wild species, going even as far as to try to prevent or extinguish predatory behavior. Citizenship Theory unravels the dilemma: it supports positive rights but embeds them in a principled structure that defines sensible conditions and limits.