Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Real Dilemma for Libertarians

(H/T: Doug)

I would have to say that even the most militant libertarian would agree that this is appalling and ought not to be allowed:

In 2007, the ‘artist’ Guillermo Vargas Habacuc, took a dog from the street, tied him to a rope in an art gallery, and starved him to death. For several days, the ‘artist’ and the visitors of the exhibition have watched emotionless the shameful ‘masterpiece’ based on the dog’s agony, until eventually he died.
But this is not all… the prestigious Visual Arts Biennial of Central America decided that the ‘installation’ was actually art, so that Guillermo Vargas Habacuc has been invited to repeat his cruel action for the biennial of 2008.

This is a question that comes up from time to time in libertarian circles, and to which I have yet to see a truly satisfactory answer: are animal rights reconcilable with libertarianism in a way which permits humans to act freely? To be sure, in the above instance, all but a handful of libertarians would likely say that the "art" is inhumane and violative of the animal's natural rights such that it should be banned.

But where do we draw the line? There is, to be sure, some controversy about dog-fighting bans in libertarian circles, although I think even most libertarians are accepting of that. But how many libertarians take animal rights so far as to include bans on meat or, more realistically, just bans on "cruel" slaughter techniques? Not many - myself included.

So: where do property rights begin and animal rights end, or vice versa? It is difficult to come to the middle ground conclusion of most libertarians (myself included) using anything identifiable as "pure" libertarian logic. You can, however, come to either of the two more extreme conclusions using libertarian logic, depending on where you draw the line on beings entitled to rights.


***UPDATE***Reading through the comments in Radley Balko's original post, it seems the "death" of the dog was a hoax. But the fact is that the dog was still horribly starved for a substantial period of time in order for the artist to prove a point.
In any event, you will find the comments at Balko's blog (at least the relevant ones) pretty intellectually stimulating, especially the debate involving the Liberty Papers' (and friend of PE) UCrawford.