Henry Salt Archive

Henry Salt (1853-1939) was the author of the Life of Henry David Thoreau, Animals Rights and A Plea for Vegetarianism which inspired Gandhi for follow a vegetarian diet.

The Dictum of the Dean

The Vegetarian News, April 1929

I think we are all rather tired of Dean Inge as champion of the Pig’s special interest in the demand for pork; but that question is evidently so dear to him that he cannot long leave it alone. In an article on Blood Sports published in the Evening Standard of March 13th, he once again put forward the well-worn sophism: “Is it not probable,” he asked, “that the Pig would prefer his fate of an Epicurean life and an easy death, to the alternative doom of not existing at all? And who but the hunters protect the Fox from capital punishment as a robber?

The answer lies in the fact that existence cannot be thus compared with “non-existence,” except by the already existent; and when once an animal does exist we have duties towards him which cannot be evaded by any quibble about what he “would prefer.” Having had no choice, he has not preferred it; and that settles the matter. This was long ago pointed out by Mr. W. E. Forster in the House of Commons, when, in reply to the same prevarication from defenders of pigeon-shooting, he remarked that what had to be considered was a “blue-rock” not before existence, but in existence.

If the Dean’s dictum were true, it much obviously apply not to the Pig only, but to all animals that are bred or “preserved” by man; and accordingly, while himself condemning blood-sports, he admits that the Fox is indebted for his life to those who hunt (and kill) him! It is the finding of pleasure in killing that, to his credit, disgusts Dr. Inge; yet he is not disgusted, it seems, that slaughter-men should have to kill for wages in order that Deans may find pleasure in eating! But the passage to which I now wish to draw attention is one where, after very properly dismissing the old Catholic morality, which allowed animals no rights at all, he contrasts with the “clearness” of that negative school of thought the “confusion,” as he alleges, in our more modern view which recognises rights. “The fact is,” he says, “that we have not digested the new morality, and that our ideas are in a state of hopeless confusion.”

Note the “we”! The Dean should speak for himself. That his own ideas are in a state of hopeless confusion is evident to anyone who is conversant with the problems at issue; but the assertors of the “new morality,” which holds that animals have rights, are by no means in that condition. In my book on “Animals’ Rights,” first published in 1892, and since translated into several European languages, I laid down the general principle that animals have rights–the right of living unmolested–“subject to the limitations imposed by the permanent needs and interests of the community”; which, as I said, is quite compatible with a readiness to look the sternest laws of existence in the face. Now of course, if this principle be accepted, various subordinate questions must still arise on which there will be differences of opinion; but it would at least bar out such mere trivialities as Dr. Inge’s inquiry whether we ought to have left the Fens undrained rather than disturb the great bustard, and similar nonsense about the dodo. Having acted for nearly thirty years as honorary secretary of the Humanitarian League, and been associated with a great number of persons interested in the plea for animals’ rights, I can say positively that the “confusion of ideas” which so troubles the Dean is a thing of his own importation. Wishing (it could seem) to justify certain practices such as flesh-eating and vivisection, while condemning the wicked blood-sportsman, he lands his argument and himself in a muddle; and then, in his capacity of Sage, instructing the readers of the Evening Standard, explains condescendingly that “we” have not yet digested the new morality!

In view of the weakness of the Dean’s reasoning, I think it was unwise of him, as well as rude, to speak of “hysterical sentimentality.” His personal avowal that it would give him no pleasure to shoot any noxious animals, “except Communists,” shows that hysteria is not confined to anti-vivisectionists–it may even find its way into Deaneries. For other reasons, too, his reputation as a daring thinker and controversialist seems to me to be rather insufficiently founded. When his article appeared, I wrote a short letter to the editor of the Evening Standard, pointing out that the humanitarian view of the question, if rightly apprehended, is at least not liable to be charged of “confusion.” Guessing that there may be an understanding that so distinguished a contributor shall not be troubled by press-letters, I ventured to write also to the Dean, and to tell him that while his condemnation of blood-sports was very welcome, I thought he weakened the case by his acceptance of the hunter’s pretext that he is the Fox’s true benefactor. I further suggested that if Dr. Inge seriously believes that animals are benefited by being bred for killing, he should develop his arguments, and not merely make a bald assertion of what seems to be a fallacy. Neither letter received any notice. The Dean, it appears, bold disputant as he is supposed to be, is quite content to eschew discussion of his favourite dictum, while repeating it in quarters where no reply is permitted.

Henry S. Salt