Scully's argument, in a nutshell, is that we owe something to the animals that we raise as food. "We cannot just take from these creatures, we must give them something in return. We owe them a merciful death, and we owe them a merciful life." Read the book or, if you don't have time, Scully's essay ''Fear Factories: The Case for Compassionate Conservatism—for Animals," in the May 23 issue of The American Conservative.
Now, I think I understand some of the problems involved here. There is a tendency, in the wake of wacko groups like PETA, to look at the issue of "animal rights" with a slightly jaundiced eye. One of the reasons conservatives are leery of such issues can be found in the very phrase "animal rights," for rights infer corresponding responsibilities, which animals, lacking the necessary abilities of higher reasoning and rationality, are incapable of reciprocating.
The problem these radical groups have is that they refuse to recognize any intrinsic difference in the worth of a human being and an animal. As far as they're concerned animals are, if anything, even more noble than humans. And this is not what Scully is talking about.
Scully does not put animals on an equal footing with humans, nor does he say that they have equal "rights." His argument is based on human morality and decency - the obligation, given to us by God, to be stewards over animal life. As Scully says, "If reason and morality are what set humans apart from animals, then reason and morality must always guide us in how we treat them."
A secondary concern, I'd imagine, is that of those involved in industrial farming, who may fear (probably with good reason) that government intervention could cost them their livelihood. It's not generally the kind of thing that small-government conservatives support. And there's little doubt that consumers would wind up paying more for their food. But are we aware of what goes on, what it is that enables prices to remain low? Should we be surprised that Corporate America, which so often sacrifices the rights of workers on the high altar of the bottom line, would find lowering costs compelling enough to justify such brutality? Perhaps we just don't want to know.
(As an aside, Rod Dreher's upcoming book on Crunchy Cons points out that it's not a contradiction for conservatives to be concerned about things such as the welfare of animals. Hey, most conservatives love country music - I hate it. Give me a Wagner opera any time, even if it means hanging out with wine-and-cheese liberals.)
Hadleyblogger Mike adds, "Driving up to Park Rapids we took a detour near Miltona and Urbank when wecame across several dozen large 'chicken farms'. It's a sad, depressing place that puts me on the side of what Will is talking about." I think most people would feel the same way, and it is in showing that kind of compassion that we show our humanity. As Will writes,
In defining them, some facts are pertinent, facts about animals' emotional capacities and their experience of pain and happiness. Such facts refute what conservatives deplore—moral relativism. They do because they demand a certain reaction and evoke it in good people, who are good because they consistently respect the objective value of fellow creatures.
It is that, ultimately, which most separates man from animals. It is our very superiority that compels us, in our humanity, to be humane, and this - the humanity of man - puts the lie to the arguments from the animal rights crowd. It is why humans and animals are not equal. It is why humanity toward animals is not negotiable.