News, Information, and Knowledge Resources

‘Vanguardism’: Who can lead the animal rights movement to the ‘promised land’?

Animal Rights Vanguardism is a view that assumes that history progresses towards greater individual moral awareness, with the eventual goal of animal liberation. Some people are more advanced within this process because they have privileged insight into the moral truth. The moral truth can be recognized as emergent patterns in animal rights literature and activism. The primary moral imperative for the Vanguards is to share the truth with the masses.

NICO MULLER: How can and should systems of animal exploitation be dismantled? Philosophers in the past have sometimes brushed this off as “to a large extent a political question”. But it is also a question about concepts and values. Is any effective means permissible? By what standards ought campaign goals to be determined? Who is an appropriate ally and who is an appropriate target of criticism? And so on. These questions call for a philosophy of animal rights activism. Debates in this field have traditionally focused on the opposition of welfarism versus abolitionism as well as on the critique of traditional animal rights strategies, the role of compromise, and the vindication of specific activist tactics.

This article’s contribution concerns a higher level of generality. Its aim is to identify, critique, and provide an alternative to a pattern of thinking about animal rights activism that is often taken for granted, termed Animal Rights Vanguardism. As the name reveals, it is a variant of vanguardist thought, i.e., thinking about social change in terms of a select group of movement insiders who, based on their superior insight, must lead the masses into the future. I will describe this…

Vanguardism (lowercase “v”) is the idea that historical progress hinges on a select group of insiders with superior access to knowledge who must lead the masses into the future… Vanguardism is particularly associated with Bolshevism in the form of the Vanguard Party, as well as the totalitarian right of the twentieth century, but this does not exhaust its history, which arguably begins already with the Jacobins of the French Revolution and continues well into the present day. For instance, there are currents of feminist thought that view lesbian feminists as a revolutionary vanguard.

Vanguardism contrasts with more egalitarian ideas about how social change should be brought about, which on the left often arose from the anarchist tradition. I claim that there is a vanguardist strand in the animal rights movement too. In fact, as far as English language animal rights literature is concerned, this strand is so ubiquitous that one can miss it like the forest for the trees… Animal Rights Vanguardism (“Vanguardism,” capital “V,” for short) is characterized by a commitment to three views:

i. Teleological History: The arc of history, by way of ever-increasing individual moral awareness, bends towards animal liberation.

ii. Privileged Epistemology: Thanks to privileged epistemic access, animal rights activists are aware of the moral truth when it comes to human-animal relations.

iii. Proselytism: The primary moral imperative for animal rights activists is to increase the moral awareness of the masses…

Vanguardism is not without alternatives in the animal rights movement. Non-Vanguardist tactical ideas include direct action, civil disobedience, activist litigation, and lobbying, all of which can be utilized to effect change without raising the moral awareness of the masses. However, these are mere tactics and have not yet been integrated into a coherent counter-program to Vanguardism. With these disclaimers in place, I claim that Vanguardism is a recognizable pattern in the animal rights movement that is helpful to be aware of. SOURCE…


You might also like