On the 21st February 2017, Anna Charlton, Gary Francione, and Bob Linden spoke on Go Vegan Radio about the late Tom Regan who had died a few days earlier. It can be regarded as a critical tribute. Click the player above.
By and large, it was a fond and sympathetic remembrance of the time when Francione was working with PeTA, and it seemed for a while that rights-based animal rights may have become a force in the animal advocacy movement. Essentially, the corporate welfare movement strangled animal rights at birth to the extent that there is no animal rights movement now.
Of course, the phrase “animal rights” is heard often enough but used by virtually all animal advocates rhetorically as a label only. I don’t see any of the emergent You Tubers of the movement – and none in the national group structure – showing much evidence that they are at all familiar with rights-based theory on human relations with other sentient beings.
Charlton notes that Regan was frustrated by the lack of philosophical foundation to the animal movement. Newkirk and Pacheco, co-founders of PeTA, had read Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation but Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights was neglected and ultimately rejected by PeTA and the rest of the animal movement which was sliding into (or back into) animal welfarism during the 1990s. To this day, the only philosophy book PeTA sell is Singer’s which they mistakenly describe as an animal rights text.
Francione notes that he and Regan wanted to figure out how to bring a rights-based foundation into the animal movement. So, in terms of timescale, we are talking about the mid to late 1980s to 1996.
The story that emerges in this tribute of sorts to Tom Regan is of the birth and then the death of the North American animal rights movement. Francione admits that Britain was ahead of the States on this but, again, there is no rights-based animal rights movement in Britain at present either. That Regan was becoming a force in Europe was demonstrated in the lead he took in the 1989 BBC Arena animal rights debate. Regan’s opening and summing up of this survives on YT.
Francione claims that his own break with Regan occurred between two “marches for the animals.” The first was in 1990 and the second 1996. Francione suggests that, between those years, animal welfarists organised to marginalise animal rightists.
In 1992, Animals’ Agenda published a “Point/Counterpoint” article in which Regan & Francione argued for abolitionism, stating that a movement’s means creates its ends, and vice versa, while Ingrid Newkirk of PeTA argued for new welfarism. “Going into bat for animal welfarists,” Newkirk trots out the language we now hear all the time: “steps in the right direction” – “purists” – “all or nothing.” Interesting that Newkirk even offers up a reduced view of veganism in 1992, saying that some “vegans” support animal experimentation. No wonder that the original radicalism of veganism is in danger of being destroyed.
Regan and Francione, it seems, recognised that the rights-based surge that emerged in 1990 in North America was to be deliberately put down by welfarist corporations, and that the 1996 event was designed to re-establish the dominance of animal welfarism in the “animal rights” movement.
Francione says he writes about all this in his 1996 book, Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (RWT), in the postscript. Regan and Francione called for a boycott of the 1996 march, seeing what was going on in the politics of the movement as a whole, but Francione claims that Regan eventually caved in to welfarist pressure and “nastiness,” and decided to support the second march in 1996. Francione suggest that, at this point, Regan fully embraces new welfare methodology but I think that a different interpretation is possible.
1996 is also the year in which the first embers of the Francione countermovement began to glow – dimly at first. Francione split with PeTA and began to evolve what we now know as the Francione Abolitionist Approach. However, in the RWT postscript, Francione suggests that the difference between himself and Regan may be that he begins to see himself as utterly outside of the existing movement (hence seeing his “approach” now as a “countermovement” to the animal advocacy movement). On the other hand, Regan, naively perhaps, seems to have thought that he could work within the prevailing movement and bring it into line – or more into line - with rights-based animal rights.
Francione’s own account in RWT shows that Regan had not fully embraced new welfarism. Francione reports that Regan, after agreeing to talk at the 1996 march, nevertheless said critically that he thought it was a “welfarist event” while accepting that animal welfare “does some good.” Regan also criticised PeTA for its move into sexist campaigning, which is still a strong feature of PeTA’s current stance, along with racist and ableist campaigns.
Maybe if Regan and Francione had stayed within the animal movement as strong rights-based voices, things would be different now. Instead, Francione bailed out. Francione prefers the interpretation that Regan fell into welfarism, rather than he abandoned the movement, leaving Regan’s position much weaker.
As ever, Charlton provides a more nuanced analysis of events. For example, both Charlton and Francione believe that Regan struggled to deal with the bullying and hatred that quickly came from the welfare camp when Regan and Francione called for a boycott of the 1996 march, but Charlton keeps the stress on education and said that this was Regan’s strongest suit. In terms of Francione’s allegation that Regan collapsed into welfare, Charlton’s view suggests an alternative, that Regan thought he could operate as an educator within the movement rather than deliberately placing himself increasingly as an outsider, a status that Francione seems to welcome rather than seeing being an outsider as a block to him having any influence at all within the movement.
It is hard to imagine that, either way, the welfarists would not win out. I think Francione is right if he’s implying that education inside the movement would be very hard. Probably impossible before the internet age, given the gatekeeping powers that the national corporations had back then, and still do in terms of access to conferences. The internet improves things hugely in terms of maverick voices having the opportunity to be heard. The internet brings its own problems, however, not least the sheer amount of information available on virtually any topic.
So, even though there are rights-based voices that no longer can be silenced, they still can be marginalised it seems – and that’s even if animal advocates go to the trouble of investigating what animal rights means. We only have to look at what the “largest animal rights conference in the world” offers up as “animal rights” to see that welfarism is presented as animal rights but devoid of the theoretical foundation.
I would dearly love to see the new You Tubers adopting a rights-based position and reflecting it in their language which currently is stuck in the welfarist paradigm of talking about issues of animal cruelty.
Francione has criticised Regan’s theoretical position in recent years – he rightly is critical of the subject-of-a-life criteria, and has unfairly attacked Regan on the one million dogs lifeboat scenario - but says that there were other disagreements too. At one point in the broadcast, Francione suggests that Regan, like Singer, would eat dairy cheese if a restaurant got a request wrong. As ever with Francione, we are receiving a version, because it is also the case that, although claiming to have become vegan in 1982, Francione writes 14 years later in 1996 that he’s a vegetarian – so maybe he wouldn’t have objected to a bit of misplaced cheese then either for all we know. Francione says that, for a time, they had tried to cling on to the term “vegetarian” and wanted to “rehabilitate” it. He says that they were “basically” talking about veganism in those days.
So, would the present movement be different if Regan and Francione had stuck together? It is an intriguing prospect but it is clear that, later in life, Regan’s health wasn’t good. I think that’s why Regan didn’t respond to the recent attacks on his position, not least from Francione himself. I think it may also be possible that Regan recognised that he didn't have the time to start a new social movement from scratch, one that would always be in the shadow - and confused with - the existing animal movement. As said, we may ask pointedly whether rights-based animal rights would not be virtually forgotten in the “animal rights movement” as it is now had Francione not abandoned animal rights as the basis of his claims-making. He did this on the grounds that animal rights as a term has been appropriated by the welfarists. Of course it has – they’ll use anything that may make a buck. They are now calling themselves abolitionist when it suits them, which Francione has acknowledged and complained about. He should have stayed in the fight for animal rights.
We don’t get anywhere by running away. Ideas like animal rights and veganism have to be fought for or they will be devalued and redefined into something else.
This broadcast really does reveal that Francione’s critique of single-issues is totally stuck in the 1980s. He is completely out-of-date on this, and still refers to events in the 1980s in every criticism of single-issues as if they are still relevant. He alleges that Regan “went back” to single issue campaigns. I reject that, at least in the sense that Francione means; the way single-issue campaigns were back in the 1980s.
I think that Regan would recognise that the people doing single-issues in the 21st century correspond to how Francione thinks that single-issues can work. In other words, if single issues are part of an overarching vegan campaign, Francione believes that they are acceptable. He fails to recognise that this is what’s happened. To maintain his dated attack on single-issues, he cannot look at what’s actually happening in the movement, certainly in the grassroots, but drop back to what was happening in the last century.
Bob Linden, to his credit, reveals that, for many years and in terms of many campaigns, he simply “followed the leaders,” and thus got involved in lots of welfare and single-issue campaigning. He does say that, although people were all vegans in those days (something Francione disputes in relation to the prime movers of the movement), the campaigns were not focused on veganism. This is more evidence against the position of Matt Ball who, in an appalling recent video, claimed that vegan education had been going on “for decades” and has failed.
Below is the 2006 Go Vegan Radio show mentioned by Bob Linden