A Libertarian Argument for Reducing Meat and Dairy Consumption

I would like to start this short essay by stating that I am neither vegetarian nor vegan. Personally, I think that libertarianism can contribute to the discussion about the adverse effects of meat-eating and dairy consumption in a substantial manner. This short text isn’t meant to be a pamphlet of an ideology that is usually attributed to the left side of the political spectrum but it is supposed to stand on its own merits.

Most people have made arguments in favor of vegetarianism and veganism because of the enormous violence committed against farmed and laboratory animals. I reckon that most people, with the exception of pathological persons, would agree that hurting and killing a living being, even if it’s an animal, is an ethically undesirable activity. Does it therefore make sense ethically to abstain from doing it as much as possible?

There exists a consensus with respect to humans, or «human animals». Unlike «non-human animals», it is said that we are self-conscious beings. Therefore, upholding the «non-aggression-principle» (NAP) is the dominant strategy.

In the same vein, the NAP is the main theorem of libertarianism. Libertarians explicitly or implicitly accept it by condemning theft, physical assault, rape, and most government programs (because they are deemed theft, or robbery). In other words, we strictly oppose any form of coercion and violence in the world of conscious beings (unborn babies would be a separate, highly controversial topic!).

«[…] we strictly oppose any form of coercion and violence in the world of conscious beings […].»

What changes when it comes to animal farming and experimenting though? The great libertarian Philosopher Murray N. Rothbard argued that only «[…] man is a rational and social animal. No other animals or beings possess this ability to reason, to make conscious choices, to transform their environment in order to prosper, or to collaborate consciously in society and the division of labor.» I don’t intend to refute Rothbard’s argument here, although there has been new research questioning the commonly supported notion of animals lacking consciousness.

I would like to take a different path that is not based on environmental grounds, «Rothbardian» natural law, or animal ethics as such. Instead, I’m advocating a notion of animal welfare according to which contempt for animal life has real implications for our own ethical considerations.

Prima facie, this might seem like a simplistic and dull stance to the reader. However, when we start thinking about it, in particular about large-scale animal farming, can we really claim that there exists a consensus among people? Does our deliberate attitude to look away when it comes to animal suffering reflect an ethical statement about our society at large? If so, what does it say about our ethos? And is it not in particular the libertarian community who takes issue with present-day governments being not only thievish but spoiling what is left of morality?

Please allow me to hypothesize the following: Hurting animals challenges our own ethos. Therefore, every time we mistreat animals, we negotiate with our humanness. It might not surprise then that recent marketing efforts of the meat industry use the term «humane». Understandably, we want to act humanely in all our undertakings. But, at the end of the day, the consumption of meat and dairy is an effortless activity. It doesn’t cost us an arm or a leg economically. This is true because we don’t have to deal with the actual raising, slaughtering, and handling of livestock. It’s convenient to buy packaged meat at the meat counter in the nearby grocery store.

But there is, in my opinion, an «ethical cost» associated with today’s meat industry. Ignoring animal welfare reflects poor ethical values on our part, and keep doing so consolidates them eventually.

«Hurting animals challenges our own ethos.»

There are more than enough examples of moral degeneration historically. And sadly, they didn’t stop at barn doors:

When the British journalist and novelist George Orwell wrote his world-famous book «Animal Farm» (1945), allegorizing the lives and brutalities under Stalinist rule, he depicted the proletariat as a community consisting of farm animals. The pigs (Stalin) rising to power over the farm become more and more like the farmer who owns them (the capitalist). This is, of course, a little bit ironic given that Socialism, and Nazism alike, are epitomes of ethical contempt for human life, with death tolls amounting to 17 million under Hitler Germany (about 6 million Jews) and 94 million under Communist regimes globally (and to this day in North Korea). And tellingly, those victims were held captive in concentration and extermination camps, or gulags, kept as if they were animals.

In my opinion, there exists a close relationship between those totalitarian regimes, the atrocities they committed against humanity, and the value decline in European societies at the time. In fact, our behavior is ultimately a mirror of our thoughts, values, and our attitude towards our fellow human beings, animals, and the environment in general.

Therefore, today’s moral degeneration is, inter alia, reflected in how we treat farm animals.

From a libertarian perspective, you can make a good case for reducing consumption of something that is highly artificially subsidized by governments around the world. However, it’s even a better argument for reducing meat and dairy consumption if it happens for reasons that have long-lasting positive effects on our own ethical standards. I feel confident that once we treat «non-human animals» better, we will also adopt a more ethical attitude towards our fellow human beings.

I’m aware that this is a cultural issue for most people. I wouldn’t force anyone to change their behavior. But at least, we should give it a thought!

Konzepte der Religionsphilosophie

Die Unterscheidung der wichtigsten religionsphilosophischen Konzepte folgt in der Regel den beiden Begriffen «Immanenz» (I) und «Transzendenz» (T). Freilich stellt dies lediglich eine Vereinfachung einer viel komplexeren Thematik dar.

Im Folgenden können wir uns dafür auf der einen Seite «Gott» (im Sinne eines übernatürlichen Wesens oder Geistes, einer ordnenden Kraft oder Energie(quelle) oder einer übersinnlichen Entität) und auf der anderen Seite die «Welt» der Menschen (unsere Umgebung, die Natur, das Universum und den Kosmos) vorstellen.

(nicht ab- und ausschliessend)
Beschreibung Vertreter
(griech. theos = Gott, höchstes Wesen)
Beschreibt den Glauben an einen i.d.R. personifizierten, persönlichen und exklusiven Gott (monotheistisch), der die Welt und damit die Weltgeschichte «erschaffen» hat und sich der Welt offenbart (d.h. in sie lenkend eingreift, sie steuert und deren Normen setzt), z.B. mittels Prophezeiungen, Wunder oder im Sinne der christlichen Dreifaltigkeitslehre (v.a. T, teils I im Sinne einer dualistischen Ordnung von Schöpfer und Schöpfung («entgöttert»), i.d.R. mit göttlich sanktioniertem Moralkodex bis hin zu theokratischen Zügen).

Im Polytheismus weisen demgegenüber mehrere Götter eigene Namen, Gestalten und Funktionen auf. Zudem wird die Schicksalswelt des Menschen mit den Schicksalen der Götter in Verbindung gebracht. Es existiert ein Eingreifen der Götter in die Welt der Menschen im Sinne der I (z.B. trojanischer Krieg, Entführung der Europa durch Zeus).


– Judentum, Christentum, Islam (Offenbarungs- oder Abrahamitische Religionen)

– Hinduismus

– henotheistische (=Glaube an einen höchsten Gott unter mehreren untergeordneten Göttern) Entwicklung des ägyptischen (personifizierten) Sonnenkults (Aton = Sonne) zur Verehrung des Pharaos (Echnaton) als Stellvertreter Atons auf Erden

– ebenfalls meist henotheistisch: griechische, römische, germanische und keltische Religionen bzw. Mythologien bzw. Heidentum (Paganismus)

(lat. deus = Gott)
Beschreibt den Glauben an einen (persönlichen) Gott, der die Welt «erschaffen» hat, der aber keinen weiteren Einfluss auf die Welt nimmt. Der Lauf der Zeit folgt entsprechend den von Gott bei der Schöpfung geschaffenen Gesetzen (nur T). v.a. in der Aufklärung im Sinne einer Vernunftsreligion (Mensch hat «freier Wille»), so z.B. Leibniz (Gott als «Uhrmacher»), Locke, Voltaire, Jefferson, Paine, Lessings «Nathan der Weise»
(griech. en = in)
Beschreibt den Glauben an einen unpersönlichen Gott, der nicht nur identisch mit der Welt ist, sondern über diese hinausgeht (I und T, wobei T>I).
(griech. pan = alles)
Beschreibt den Glauben an einen unpersönlichen Gott, der mit der Welt identisch ist; demnach drückt sich das Göttliche in der Natur aus (I=T im Sinne einer monistischen Ordnung). z.B. Spinoza («Deus sive Natura»), Goethe, Herder, griech. und römische Stoa («Logos» als universelles Vernunftprinzip)
Kosmotheismus Beschreibt den Glauben, dass der Kosmos ohne einen göttlichen Schöpfungsakt bestehen kann und sich in der Folge auch selbst ordnet. Die Welt ist demnach von alleine entstanden oder hat seit jeher bestanden (Einheit), i.d.R. aufgrund einer «ordnenden Kraft» (Karma, Dharma, Dao etc.), der selbst die Welt der Götter unterworfen ist (I=T im Sinne des Monismus, wobei I lediglich eine unter vielen möglichen Erscheinungsformen der T –> Götter können u.a. in der Welt der Menschen anwesend sein).

Tritt oft in Kombination mit einer polytheistischen Götterwelt auf.

z.B. Hinduismus, Buddhismus, Taoismus, Konfuzianismus
Pandeismus Beschreibt den Glauben an einen Gott, der die Welt «erschaffen» hat und seither mit ihr identisch ist (T wird nach Schöpfungsakt zu I). z.B. Lessing, Moses Mendelsohn, Bruno, Einstein, Taoismus, Hinduismus, auch vereinbar mit der «Big Bang»-Theorie der modernen wissenschaftlichen Kosmologie
(griech. a-theos = ohne)
Beschreibt die Ansicht, dass Gott nicht existiere. Die Welt existiert demgegenüber für sich ohne die Notwendigkeit einer göttlichen Kraft (weder I noch T). z.B. Richard Dawkins
(griech. a-gnosis = ohne Wissen, Erkenntnis)
Beschreibt die Ansicht, dass weder über die Existenz noch Nichtexistenz Gottes sichere Aussagen gemacht werden können (indifferent bzgl. I und T). z.B. Vorsokratiker, Huxley, Kant, Russell
Beschreibt die Ansicht, dass die Frage nach der Existenz oder Nichtexistenz Gottes bedeutungslos sei, solange keine kohärente Definition des Begriffs „Gott“ existiert.

Wird i.d.R. als eine Variante des Agnostizismus verstanden.

(lat. nihil = nichts)
Beschreibt die Ansicht, dass Erkenntnis von etwas unmöglich sei. Diese Ansicht ist entsprechend eng verwandt mit einer agnostischen Haltung.

Der Nihilismus geht freilich über die Religionsphilosophie hinaus und besagt etwa auch, dass verbindliche Aussagen über den ethischen Gehalt einer Handlung oder eines Ergebnisses nicht möglich seien.

 z.B. Nietzsche

Diese Liste wird laufend erweitert und bei Bedarf korrigiert.

A Story About the Humble Gardener

Confucius reportedly said that true wisdom is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. In negative terms, a lack of wisdom exists where people consider themselves all-knowing experts, or as Hayek famously put it in his Nobel Prize speech in 1974: «The Pretence of Knowledge». He concluded his lecture with a warning:

«If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. […]

The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.»

You find self-proclaimed experts everywhere today. It is a matter of a quick Google search and you will have access to would-be expertise in a myriad of different fields. However, there is good scientific reason to believe that expert knowledge is much scarcer than we dare to think.

Instead of claiming (and wanting) to be an «expert» in everything, we should humble ourselves. While still being aware of the fact that we may find new knowledge about reality, we should be cognizant of the more likely outcome that we will fail in doing so. We humans are imperfect beings, both compared with the infinite space of the universe and with regard to our less than perfect intellectual faculties.

Exercising modesty and effacing ourselves – not expecting that beautiful flowers will regularly spring up from parched soil, and conversely, not assuming that fragile flowers can (and will) ever be old and mighty trees –, that’s true wisdom. So, let’s be humble gardeners in our own dealings, and beyond that!