Catriona Kelly. "Man-Footed Beast" versus "Beast-Footed Man": Animals as Slaves, Servants, and Companions in Post-Enlightenment European Culture

From the point of view of supporters of animal liberation in an absolute sense, the final aim is simply to end the interaction of the human species and other animals. As Peter Singer put it in Animal Liberation (1975), one of the foundational texts of the late twentieth-century animal rights movement, ‘Once we give up our claim to "dominion" over the other species we should stop interfering with them at all. We should leave them alone as much as we possibly can. Having given up the role of tyrant, we should not try to play God either.’ However, the liberationist movement that emerged in the 1970s reflects the prosperous ‘North Atlantic’ areal where it originated, in that relationships with working animals (sheepdog, cart horse etc.) have barely been considered. The implication is that using an animal for work would amount to exploitation (a form of slavery); certainly, from the point of view of purists, this applies to pet-keeping. Added to this, animal liberation narratives take a Manichean and progressivist view of historical development, according to which enlightenment began with Jeremy Bentham’s proclamation, in the 1789 edition of his Introduction to the Principles of Morality and Legislation, that in due course, differences between man and beast would make as little difference as differences between humans on the basis of skin colour. Yet for much of human history, the use of animals for work was simply taken for granted. Animals provide analogies for slaves in Aristotle’s Politics precisely on that basis (and also in Thomas Aquinas’s commentaries on Aristotle). It is therefore interesting to look at the relationship with working animals in historical perspective, rather than concentrating on the more familiar areas explored by animal liberation (such as, for example, the history of vegetarianism). As early as 1824, the British animal rights campaigner Lewis Gompertz suggested that humans should learn to do without the labour of horses, which would soon, in any case, be replaced by machines. However, this view, disseminated in a self-published pamphlet that was not republished until 1992, remained marginal. On the whole, thinking about animals in the post-Enlightenment world was preoccupied with bettering the lot of working animals, rather than with transforming this. At the same time, efforts to ‘think like an animal’ were becoming more common, as is illustrated both by L. N. Tolstoi’s story Kholstomer (1885) and Anna Sewell’s children’s novel Black Beauty [Chernyi krasavchik] (1877). In each case, the dangerous association with ‘slavery’ is negotiated by reference to a less inflammatory depiction of the horse/man relations as ‘service’  - though the question of whether ‘service’ is morally distinctive from ‘slavery’ is left open by the fact that in each case, the interspecies relationship is represented from the point of view of the exploited animal himself. Is this a legitimation of slavery or not? The question is difficult to answer, just as modern relationships with ‘companion animals’ have hanging over them the issue to which Aristotle cannot settle – whether it is possible to engage in ‘friendship’ with another being when the relations are built on a foundation of inequality.