Animals have democratic right to political representation

A brand new CASJ-funded research article by Professor Rob Garner (University of Leicester) has just been published online by the journal Contemporary Political Theory. Entitled ‘Animals and democratic theory: Beyond an anthropocentric account’, Garner’s innovative paper sets aside traditional moral and ethical arguments for animal protection and instead applies democratic theory to conclude that the political representation of animals’ interests should not – in principle – be dependent on what humans want. On the contrary:

The interests of animals are affected – often devastatingly – by collective decisions and, therefore, they, or – more specifically – their representatives, have a democratic right to have some say in the making of those decisions.

Garner explains that the current political approach to animals is ‘strongly’ anthropocentric in that the interests of animals are not directly represented. Rather they only count insofar as humans want them to. However, the strong anthropocentric approach not only fails to provide a secure means of achieving animal protection, but it is normatively deficient because it breaches the basic ‘all-affected’ principle of democracy.

For Garner, practical objections fail because political reforms can be implemented to ensure that human proxies represent animal interests within political systems, irrespective of the wider level of public concern for animals. In fact, the CASJ has proposed a number of mechanisms to achieve this, such as the compulsory assessment of animal welfare impacts in government policy-making.

The fact that animals cannot vote does not mean they cannot be enfranchised. Children and the severely cognitively-impaired likewise cannot participate fully in decision-making, yet clearly they have essential interests that can be affected and our political systems have mechanisms that aim to protect those interests.

A key strength of Garner’s argument is that his justification for radical reform of political systems to include animal interests as directly as possible is based on the unarguable scientific fact of animal sentience. He concludes:

If the interests of animals are properly embedded in the democratic process, as I have argued democratic theory ought to mandate, the laws adopted by a society are less likely to infringe their fundamental interests.

You can access the article ‘Animals and democratic theory: Beyond an anthropocentric account’ here.