The House of Commons has just voted for a total ban on fox hunting in England. One might be tempted to dismiss this as another sign of the loony leftists in Europe, but the failure of the “pro-hunt” lobby holds a number of important lessons for conservatives in America. The primary causes for the failure of the hunting lobby was their willingness to compromise and a failure to offer a moral defense of their rights.
Two weeks ago, Andrew Linzey, a prominent British “expert” on morality and “animal rights” compared fox-hunting to rape. To quote, “‘Causing suffering for sport is intrinsically evil. Hunting, therefore, belongs to that class of always morally impermissible acts along with rape, child abuse and torture…All acts of cruelty to animals are of a kind ….they diminish our humanity and offend.”
While Linzey’s argument is wrong on oh-so-many levels, I am more interested in what the opposition had to say in response. Here is one of the spokesmen of the Countryside Alliance, a pro-hunting group: “If you ask a rape victim or a victim of torture who has suffered so much whether they think what they have gone through can be compared to hunting, I think you know the response you would get. Frankly, it’s disgusting. We are talking about a legal pastime which is being likened to illegal acts of gross exploitation.”
Note that no attempt is made to refute the moral equivocation Linzey makes between human beings and animals. The best answer the spokesman comes up with is that rape feels worse that hunting. The second part of his reply is to say that rape is worse because it is illegal, which is completely irrelevant in the question of whether it is right. Similar flaws are found in arguments in all of the Alliance’s defenses. Their latest slogan is “59% say keep hunting.” Other arguments call for a defense of their “way of life” and that hunting an improper priority for the legislature. Not one has dared to offer a moral defense of hunting or to explain why it’s wrong to kill humans but not animals. Having forfeited the moral argument, they resort to appeals to tradition and popularity.
In response to the Alliance spokesman, Mr Linzey could easily say “Well how do know that rape feels worse than hunting? Have you ever been hunted?” In a comparison between being hunted down by dogs and being raped, most people would probably choose rape, and any sane person would certainly say that both are immoral and ought to be illegal. If a clear distinction between the moral status humans and animals is not made, what possible defense of hunting can be made? And how can one defend the moral status of humans if one does not recognize what makes them different from animals in the first place?
In short, hunting is doomed in England not because the arguments of the anti-hunt lobby have any merit, or because the defense of the hunters is wrong, but because hunters fail to provide any defense for their views at all, other to offer vague clichés such as “tradition,” “way of life,” and desperate resorts to public opinion. Realizing that they have nothing to offer in defense, they argue for compromise measures such as registration and various limits on where and how they hunt.
The gun lobby in America faces the same proposition. While the liberals offer laughable claims that guns are intrinsically evil, gun owners fail to defend their position on a basis of individual rights and refer to the traditional role of guns in American society and the Second Amendment. There is no certainly no question that gun ownership is an American tradition and a right guaranteed by the Constitution, but until recently fox hunting was an even older British tradition that collapsed before a small but vocal minority. Until gun owners on both sides of the pond realize that they must defend their rights on a moral basis and offer a principled stand for individual rights, their freedoms will continue to be eroded by collectivists with preposterous claims that hunting amounts to rape and guns are evil while criminals are not. Ironically, it is Tony Blair who stated in response to calls to weaken the hunting ban that “this is a moral issue, and as soon as you try and compromise on a moral issue you end up hacking everybody off.” Until conservatives stop “conserving” and start defending their rights, their stance is as useless as the fox hunters.
(By the way, I think the NRA’s willingness to compromise on their principles makes them unworthy of anyone’s support. If you want to support an organization that truly supports your rights, I recommend you check out Keep and Bear Arms)