The Corner


Why Courts May Declare Animal Personhood

Many readers of The Corner, I am sure, understand that many of the most radical social transformations of the last several decades were imposed by courts.

Here’s another one to be on the lookout for–animal personhood–a radical and misanthropic notion that will almost surely never be implemented via democratic deliberation.

Over at First Things, I explain how this might come to pass. From, “Mainstreaming Animal ‘Personhood:’”

This continual litigation strategy signifies the danger posed by advocates for animal personhood within the intelligentsia.

Lacking explicit statutes authorizing the definition of animals as persons, judges may treat such cases as “matters of first impression.” In such circumstances, having no law to interpret, judges often turn for help to the professional literature and the testimony of “experts.”

This is why I am so worried by the increasing efforts in the professional literature and at symposia in support of animal personhood.

I give several examples and then note that there are almost no such articles in the professional and scholarly journals and books supporting the unique value of man. That’s cause for concern:

Perhaps it goes back to the complacency I referenced at the beginning of this essay, a belief that the unique value of human life is so obvious that it requires no defense.

If so, that is a potentially catastrophic philosophical Maginot Line. Unless those who understand the importance of human exceptionalism engage in continual and vigorous pushback, we shouldn’t be surprised if a court one day declares that a chimpanzee or a whale is entitled to legal personhood and equal rights.

Think it will “never happen”? It already has: In 2014, an Argentine court declared an orangutan to be a “person,” thereby entitling it to human-style rights.

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