Philosopher Tom Regan  recognises that, in thoughts about the human use of other animals, social attitudes are influenced not only by dominant forms of thinking, but also by "established cultural practices." Indeed, he states that the rights view on human relations with other sentient beings involves "issuing condemnations" of such practices. However, Regan maintains that animal rights, properly conceived, is, contrary to pro-use claims, "not anti-business, not anti-freedom of the individual, not anti-science, not anti-human." For Regan, the rights view is "pro-justice," seeking as it does to alter the "scope of justice" to include many animals other than human.
Regan further recognises that the case for animal rights will be heavily contested, not least because "prejudices die hard." In addition to the issue of prejudice, Regan is keen to underline the influence of the "insulating" function of "widespread secular customs" and religious belief, likewise acknowledging the "sustaining authority" of "large and powerful economic interests." Finally, in this diverse matrix of social constructionism, he appreciates the protection afforded to the whole system by the common law.
Ultimately a political battleground is sketched out in which any philosophy of animal rights is bound to be substantially criticised and contested. Criticised and contested by philosophers who just do not agree that "the case" has been adequately made – but also by many who have personal or vested interests in the continuation of the human exploitation of other animals. It is tempting, furthermore, to suspect that many objections to animal rights, whether from trained philosophers such as Frey  and Cohen, or journalists, or various other commentators, arise in the first instance at least from efforts to find the justification for a bacon and egg breakfast already eaten, and the steak dinner planned for later on.
Regan insists that moral philosophy can and will play a role in political action associated with the notion of animal rights because "history shows that ideas do make a difference." Indeed, he wrote The Case for Animal Rights in order that the animal protection movement would benefit by being well versed about the foundations on which much of their claims-making rests. The hoped-for result being substantial cultural change that Regan regards as a prerequisite for a widespread adoption of genuine animal rights thinking over animal welfarism.
Regan also articulates his firm belief that "moral philosophy is no substitute for political action," but insists, "still, it can make a contribution. Its currency is ideas." This assertion was made many years ago in 1983. However, it appears that large sections of the animal advocacy movement was not (and is not) listening to this important message. Many factions in the modern animal protection movement do not agree that a well worked out philosophical position assists in the furtherance of altering the moral standing of other animals. Moreover, many of those that do seem to agree with the general point that social movements require a solid basis for claims-making, appear not to accept the case for animal rights in the first place.
Recent developments in the animal movement tends to confirm such a view. For example, Francione  states that "the modern animal 'rights' movement has explicitly rejected the doctrine of animal rights." In fact, it might be tempting to claim, analogous to Gilroy’s  declaration that "there ain’t no black in the Union Jack," that there ain’t much rights in "animal rights" either. This tends to beg the question, if not rights violations, what do modern animal advocates substantially rely upon in order to make claims on behalf of nonhuman animals?
Francione argues that the contemporary animal movement appears content to rely on a new formulation of traditional ideas, which he labels "new welfarism." He describes this conception of new welfarism as a "hybrid position" which may be understood to be a more progressive, or in Francione’s terms, a "modified" welfare position compared with traditional animal welfarism, especially in the sense that this "version of animal welfare…accepts animal rights as an ideal state of affairs that can be achieved only through continued adherence to animal welfare measures."
This appears to be a crucial defining issue of so-called new welfarism: that its adherents are content talking about the eventual ending of animal exploitation, rather than expecting that the best the animal movement can or should do is tightly regulate nonhuman exploitation to such an extent that "cruelty" and "unnecessary suffering" is greatly reduced or, ideally, eliminated altogether. However, for Francione, new welfarists – despite what sets them apart from traditionalists of the genre - should be regarded as committed to the endorsement of measures "indistinguishable" from policies put forward by those "who accept the legitimacy of animal exploitation."
Unsurprisingly, such statements have angered many animal advocates. Francione puts forward two reasons to help explain apparent disparity between theory and practice:
- First, many animal advocates believe that, as an empirical matter, welfarist reform has helped to ameliorate the plight of nonhumans and that these reforms can gradually lead to abolition of all animal exploitation. Second, although animal advocates embrace as a long-term goal the abolition of animal exploitation, they regard rights theory as "utopian" and as incapable of providing concrete normative guidance to day-to-day movement strategy and practice.
When animal advocates discuss Francione’s position on email lists and forums, many object bitterly to the assumption that supporting a number, many, or all animal welfare measures does indeed "accept the legitimacy of animal exploitation" – they claim the opposite, that accepting welfare improvements does not diminish their commitment to abolitionism.
Contributors have difficulty accepting Francione’s claim that new welfarism necessarily accepts, on some level, the legitimacy of the animal exploitation issue in question. On the contrary, many argue that any "welcoming" of a welfare measure, or even sets of them, and over an extended period of time, can be done within an acknowledgement that their position is ultimately abolitionist in intent. Debate such as this amounts to beliefs about whether forms of animal welfarism are able to provide "stepping stones" toward the ending of the human exploitation of other animals or not.
Francione appears to have assumed that campaigners will be concerned about his claim that welfarist strategies have failed – and will continue to fail – to advance the cause of animal rights, and that a perspective based on genuine rights formulation can likely bring greater advances for nonhuman animals. He acknowledges that "rights talk" is a rhetorical matter in the movement which has lead to non-rightist Peter Singer being regarded as the foremost "animal rights philosopher" ever since the mid-1970s publication of Animal Liberation.
For Francione, therefore, the contemporary animal movement continues to commit cardinal philosophical and tactical errors:
- These modern advocates, whom I have called new welfarists, defend the use of nonrights means to achieve a rights end, on the grounds that ideological distinctions are meaningless or, alternatively, that welfarist reforms will somehow lead someday to the abolition of animal exploitation.
Future historians of the animal protection movement may well take an interest in such questions. Anecdotal evidence and contributions to email listings suggest that Francione’s view expressed in the quote above may well be vindicated: many activists continue to suggest that the welfare + welfare + welfare = rights equation bears fruit for the animal movement.
One must hope that Francione was not mistaken in believing animal activists would take the time to explore the problem he raises.
In effect, some sort of impasse exists. On the one hand, Francione suggests that the animal movement makes ethical and tactical errors by not sorting out its philosophical position that directs its action. That, because it does not provide what is required, animal welfarism ought to be rejected by all seeking to radically alter human-nonhuman relations. On the other hand, however, many activists and the careerists in established organisations care less about philosophical purity as long as something is being done on behalf of nonhuman animals and membership numbers are maintained.
Advocates who wish to pursue a position based on rights thinking are very few in number and, furthermore, do not often feature in "leadership" positions within the current animal protection movement. Francione has had the frustrating experience of seeing his ideas - and indeed those of Regan - largely marginalised within the animal movement over the years. Attempts to bring bona fide rights thinking into the heart of a social movement bearing the name has been largely rejected. Francione’s work, especially because it includes a strong critique of new welfarism, has not so much been regarded as a source of philosophical clarity within a social movement, nor helpful in terms of strategic thinking, but rather labelled "disruptive," "divisive," and "elitist."
In retrospect, it may well have been somewhat unwise to call activists who see themselves as "radical," "full-on," "cutting-edge" campaigners "new welfarists" and expect them to welcome or even tolerate the criticism.
Nevertheless, the evidence points to the fact that the modern animal movement remains content with the philosophical leadership provided by Singer (to the extent that philosophy is thought important in the first place). It financially supports an organisational leaderships that includes many who may be welfarist in orientation, even in the traditional sense of the word, or else essentially use the term animal rights as a rhetorical devise only. Some opponents of rights-based formulations are careful to consistently use terms such as "animal liberation," more often, and thus ironically, than has Peter Singer.
Francione complains that Singer’s consequentialist utilitarian approach, based on reducing animal suffering and balancing interests, has marginalised the abolitionist approach to animal rights. When McDonald’s announced in 2002 an animal welfare initiative to increase battery cage space and phase out "beak trimming" practices by its suppliers, the move was greeted by many animal protectionists, including Singer himself, as the most important "advance" for nonhuman animals since the publication of Animal Liberation in the 1970s.
For understandable psychological reasons, "victories" on any scale tend to be loudly trumpeted within social movements. While this could be characterised as a movement getting what little it can when it can, supporters state that they are being "practical," displaying a poverty of ambition apparently predicated on them "knowing for sure" that the public will and will always reject the notion of animal rights. In any event, they suggest, how can animal advocacy mobilisations be seen to reject measures that seem to ease the plight of so many suffering nonhumans?
For such advocates the McDonald’s case and others may be seen as further indication, since larger cage space and specific alterations in production procedures were the only proposals "on offer," that campaigning on an "extreme" or a "fundamentalist" rightist platform, and seeking the rapid abolition of major aspects of commercial animal exploitation, is totally unrealistic – utopian indeed.
Such a position begs questions.
Why, since the modern animal protection movement has rarely if ever pursued an abolitionist agenda for any prolonged period, are many advocates apparently and unequivocally so sure that it is doomed to failure?
Why are they so convinced that it will take hundreds of years? Why, moreover, that a philosophical grounding in widely accepted ideas of rights undoubtedly represent demands that unrealistically call for "too much?"
What follows outlines Francione’s and Regan’s rights-based approaches to human-nonhuman relations: approaches that are often regarded as "utopian" and "extreme" both within and without the "animal rights" movement. These are approaches not adopted or widely followed within the present animal movement. Francione agrees with Regan that philosophy and political action go together. Indeed, in contrast to many in the movement, he claims the latter requiresthe former to inform its direction:
A social movement must have a theory if it is to have action at all… I suggest that we need a new theory to replace the one that we have. I am not unrealistic. I recognise that even if we adopt an abolitionist theory, abolition will not occur immediately. Change will necessarily be incremental. But it is my view that the explicit goal must be abolition and that abolition must shape incremental change.
Regan and Francione are generally acknowledged as the major theoreticians of perspectives that seek to build on established rights formulations, and apply - or extend - to them to nonhuman animals. Regan is a Kantian deontologist who argues that many nonhumans are "subjects-of-a-life," a factor demanding that humans respect their inherent rights. Francione is a law professor particularly critical of the property status of other animals. His rights-based formulation is thought less complicated than Regan’s; he claims basic rights for all sentient beings.
Reganite and Francionian positions on human relations with other sentient beings can be regarded as attempts to bring genuine rights views to bear on the issue of the human treatment of other animals. Such approaches are different in nature to traditional or classical welfarist stances; and different also from Peter Singer’s version of utilitarianism which is the principal philosophical grounding of modern day new welfarism.
Neither Regan nor Francione use rights concepts, or the language of rights, in a rhetorical manner as many other animal activists do, and both believe that protective rights formulations can be plausibly extended to prevent current large-scale institutionalised human exploitation of certain species of nonhuman animals. As stated, Regan’s and Francione’s works have been effectively marginalised, so the following acknowledges and highlights a paradoxical situation in which the so-called "animal rights movement" virtually rejects genuine rights theories while embracing a non-rights animal liberation position as its main philosophical stance.
As implied above, however, it should be recognised that even the phrase "philosophical stance" can be quite misleading in relation to much current animal advocacy in which "philosophising" per se is actively frowned upon, and/or seen as a very poor second to "doing things" (doing anything) "for animals."
 Regan, T. (1983) The Case for Animal Rights. Berkeley: University of California Press.
 Frey, R.G. (1980) Interests and Rights: The Case against Animals. Oxford: Oxford University Press; (1983) Rights, Killing, and Suffering. Oxford: Blackwell.
 Cohen, C. (1986) ‘The Case for the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research’, New England Journal of Medicine,315(14) (Oct 2): 865-70.
 Francione, G. L. (1996) Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
 Gilroy, P. (1987) There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack. London: Hutchinson.
 Among other arguments, Francione responds to such points by saying that, "as a practical matter, [animal welfarism] does not work. We have had animal welfare laws in most western countries for well over a hundred years now, and they have done little to reduce animal suffering and they have certainly not resulted in the gradual abolition of any practices… As to why welfarism fails…the reason has to do with the property status of animals. If animals are property, then they have no value beyond that which is accorded to them by their owners. Reform does not work because it seeks to force owners to value their property differently and to incur costs in order to respect animal interests." www.vegdot.org/special/Gary%20Francione
 Benton and Redfearn write: "Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation is…within the utilitarian tradition, and it may be that the animal welfare movement’s concern with animal suffering is a measure of the pervasiveness of utilitarianism as the ‘common sense’ of secular morality." Benton, T. & Redfearn, S. (1996) ‘The Politics of Animal Rights - Where is the Left?’ New Left Review, Jan/Feb: 43-58