The Widening Horizon

The Widening Horizon

Some thoughts for animals’ welfare week.

The principle of common equality, so far as human rights are concerned, which plays so large a part in politics to-day is, in my opinion, worthy to be an end in itself, not merely a step to some further reform ; nevertheless it is impossible to believe that its triumph would not promote, perhaps bring with it, the fulfilment of other hopes which spring from the same source, and which are a part and portion of the same humanitarian movement. I say other hopes ; yet indeed I am not sure that they are not in essence the same as those by which social reformers are inspired ; and I have in my an essay by a very talented writer where the sympathies of which I am about to speak were described as “the Wider Socialism.”1 For every great liberating principle is larger in scope than its own authors are aware of, and has implications which exceed the vision of the majority of its followers. Already we see our way to a realisation of the rights of man ; and those of us who look beyond can see the rights of animals on the horizon.

For men’s sympathies, as was pointed out in a well-known passage of Lecky’s “History of European Morals,” are ever gradually widening. “At one time the benevolent affections embrace merely the family ; soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity; and finally its influence is felt in the dealing of man with the animal world.” The gradual recognition of Rights keeps pace with the phases of this moral development, as mankind slowly winds its way from a narrow and selfish barbarism to a sense of brotherhood with all sentient beings. It is not credible that a social commonwealth could co-exist with the narrow old anthropocentric doctrine which saw in man the sole purpose and meaning of the universe.

The moral of the whole story is summed up in the words of Thomas Hardy ; words which have been much quoted of late, but which can hardly be quoted too often :

“Few people seem to perceive fully as yet that the most far-reaching consequence of the establishment of the common origin of all species is ethical ; that it logically involved a readjustment of altruistic morals, by enlarging, as a necessity of rightness, the application of what has been called ‘the gold rule’ from the area of mankind to that of the whole animal kingdom.”2

To this knowledge—that the higher of the non-human races are our fellow-beings and have rights—the widening horizon of the human mind must inevitably lead.

Those who scoff at this idea, and deny individuality to animals may be reminded that there was a time when in like manner it was held to be uncertain whether a slave had any claim to be regarded as a “person.” A doubt was expressed by Aristotle whether a man can have a friendship with a slave, any more than with horses or cattle ; and, as Bentham remarked, slaves have been treated by the law “exactly upon the same footing as in England, the inferior races of animals are still.”3

Even now it is the common fashion to behave to animals as if they were somehow deficient intelligence ; and just as the bumptious hero of Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” counted the grey barbarian “lower than the Christian child,” so many folk seem to regard animals, even the oldest and most sagacious, as in the position of infants or idiots, and frame their manners to them accordingly. Thus children, whose intelligence necessarily is imperfect, are disposed to look with a sort of amused superiority on the lives and occupations of non-humans, whose wisdom (at that stage( is much in advance of their own ; nor is this surprising, when they see them treated by adults sometimes as “performing animals,” trained to play the buffoon in circus or theatre ; sometimes as victims of the huntsman in a red coat, or of the butcher in a blue one. Circumstances vary, but the inference is usually the same.

Turning from the general principle of rights to its practical application, we are brought front to front with a series of vexed questions, such as the use of animals for purposes of draught, sport, food, and scientific experiment. These are problems that will sooner or later have to be solved ; I cannot doubt how the society of the future will solve them, if my view of it be a true one. If horses, for instance, in view of all the countless services they have performed, and are still performing for mankind, are not to be regarded (in their due degree) as our fellow-being and fellow-workers, it is difficult to know what fellowship means, or what sense of justice we can claim to possess.

Again, take “sport,” by which is meant not the healthy exercise of the gymnasium or playing-field, but the killing of animals for amusement. It is often defended on the ground that it is a fine “training.” But for what is it a training? If we intend, as a nation, to lord it over our fellow-men without regards to considerations of justice and humaneness, it must certainly be most helpful to practise and perfect ourselves in a similar treatment of the non-human races. In that sense, the claim of the patriot-sportsman may be granted ; for as a school for callousness there is nothing superior to blood-sports. But if we desire that this people should be just, generous, and humane, as jealous for the rights of others as for its own, and dreading no loss of “prestige” so much as a wrong done to a smaller and less powerful community—if we wish our country to be a peaceful and considerate member of the family of nations—then assuredly it is not wise to encourage the continuance of such pastimes. To break up foxes or hares, to course rabbits, to worry stags, to mow down pheasants in the battue—such sports as these cannot possibly conduce to generosity or manliness. On the other hand, what better education for good citizenship can there be than to teach the young to show kindness and justice toward the humbler beings that are in man’s power?

Of vivisection it need only be said that if a social reformer were to tolerate such a practice, based, as it is, on the pleas that the strong are justified in torturing the weak for the advancement of knowledge, the issue would simply resolve itself into a brute struggle for power I cannot think that a future society will lend an ear to the preposterous claim that civilisation owes a debt of gratitude to scientists of the vivisectionist school, many of whom have outraged common humanity and decency by their experiments; one can only simile at the reference of one of Metchnikoff’s eulogists “that splendid chapter of the modern physiology and medicine, which is more worth inaugurating a new chronological era than the coming of Christ was.”4

In fairness, however, both to vivisectionist and to blood-sportsman it must be said that the habit which underlies the many and various forms of ill-treatment of animals—the fundamental negation of their rights—is flesh-eating, with its attendant business of butchery. The trade with the addition of a spice of cannibalism. The economic exploitation of our fellow-men is hateful enough ; but the dietetic exploitation of our fellow-animals is likely, as time goes on, to be regarded in much the same light. It is an undeniable relic of a savage past, condemned by every consideration of humanness, æstheticism, and economy.

The truth is, that among the many blunders bred of human egoism, and arrogance, one of the worst is the title prematurely given by scientists to present mankind, Homo Sapiens. There is only one letter wrong in it, but the difference which that letter causes is considerable. The name should be Homo Rapiens ; for rapacity, much rather than sapience, is the characteristic of an age which still clings to old and immoral methods of exploitation and profiteering, veiled though they may be under the specious titles with which we are familiar. That the development of political thought may quicken the evolution of Homo Rapiens into Homo Sapiens, and so redress the many needless wrongs both of suffering humanity and of the lower races, is a hope which seems likely to find at least a measure of fulfilment before the venture expires. The horizon widens, and Leigh Hunt’s splendid line, “Write me as one that loves his fellow men,” is beginning to need revision. There is more to the written even than that.

1 “The Wider Socialism,” by Maude Little (Mrs. Deuchar), in The Humanitarian, May and June, 1912.
2 Letter to the Humanitarian League, April 10th, 1901.
3 “Principles of Morals and Legislation.”
4 Mr. Joseph McCabe, Literary Guide, December, 1921. It seem to me improbable that Metchnikoff’s statue will ever adorn our cathedrals ; but in case it should do so I would suggest the following inscription :

Hail, Metchnikoff, great master-mind,
Whose thought the future shapes !
Thou first didst civilise mankind
By syphilising apes !

Henry S. Salt

The Vegetarian News, Vol. 8 No. 89, May 1928, pp. 147-150