Animal Torture: A Libertarian Analysis

From: E
Sent: Saturday, April 14, 2018 5:48 AM
To: Walter Block
Subject: Animal rights
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that an animal rights advocate read your article here. (ANIMAL TORTURE: A CRITIQUE OF THICK LIBERTARIANISM) And that the animal rights advocate wrote a rather long reply, with particular emphasis on the idea that libertarianism allows animals to be held as absolute property, concluding, in summary, that you and other libertarians were “pro-torture.”
Which of the following would most closely summarize your reply? Please don’t feel limited to these options, I am simply trying to save you time by drafting possible answers in advance.
1. You are greatly offended at being called pro-torture and do not wish to speak to the animal rights activist at all.
2. The term pro-torture should only be used to describe those who support torturing those who have a right not to be tortured. Since animals have no such right, supporting the torture of animals is not the same as being pro-torture.
3. Your position is not technically pro-torture, because you are not saying that people should torture their animals. Only that they should be allowed to do so without interference.
4. You agree that you are pro-torture, and point out that the torture of animals has lead to many benefits for humanity, such as increased food production and many advances in medical research.

Dear E:

Thanks for offering me so many choices.

I think I speak for my co author when I say I would respond with the very first sentence of this paper of ours you mention:

“Torturing helpless animals is among the most despicable acts known to man.”

Here are my two articles on this subject. You might want to read the other one too.

Montgomery, Stephen and Walter E. Block. 2016. “Animal torture and thick libertarianism.” Review of Social and Economic Issues (RSEI), Vol 1, No. 3, Spring, pp. 105-116.;

Block, Walter E. and Steven Craig. 2017. “Animal torture.” The Review of Social and Economic Issues (RSEI);;

To summarize my views on this: libertarianism is a theory of just law, no more, no less. It says that only violations of the non aggression principle, NAP, should be illegal. Torturing an animal you own does not violate the NAP, since animals have no rights. But there are other horrific, despicable acts that do not violate the NAP, and therefore should not be prohibited by law. For example, suicide. Since we each own ourselves, suicide does not violate the law. Does this mean that somehow I think suicide is ok? acceptable? not horrendous? That I am “pro-suicide? Only the New York Times would conclude any such thing. I take it you oppose animal torture and want to make it illegal. Would you also prohibit suicide by law? Previously, centuries ago, the law imposed the death penalty for attempted suicides. In order to be logically consistent, you, too, would have to consider suicide a crime, punishable by law at some level or other. Do you? If so, you conclusion is not compatible with libertarianism, at least not the way I understand this philosophy. Libertarian does not prohibit by law all evils, such as suicide, animal torture. It only does so for NAP violations.

Best regards,


Walter E. Block, Ph.D.
Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics
Loyola University New Orleans
6363 St. Charles Avenue, Box 15, Miller Hall 318
New Orleans, LA 70118


11:42 am on April 14, 2018