inspiration / literature, social justice/interconnections, thoughts
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Recommended literature: Animal Rights, Human Rights (David Nibert)

I recently read ‘Animal Rights. Human Rights. Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation‘ by David Nibert (2002) and found it truly inspiring.

The thesis of the book is that human oppression of other animals is primarily motivated by economic interests, and is profoundly and permanently intertwined with oppression of other humans. The economic forces fueling oppression have intensified with the development of capitalism. The oppression of humans and other animals developed in tandem, each fueling the other.

Nibert uses a three fold theory of oppression. This theory explains how oppressions takes place through mutually reinforcing social and economic mechanisms. There are three interactive forces:

  1. Economic exploitation, competition. The exploitation of other animals (and humans) is driven by economic forces. The motivation for the development and institutionalization of oppressive practices is primarly material, not attitudinal. Prejudice is the product of these arangements. Not the cause.
  2. The importance of power. A powerful elite (pivileged humans) uses political force over the oppressed, and they wield the power of the state.
  3. Ideological control. Oppression requires rationalisation and legitimation. Ideologies like racism, sexism and speciesism are socially constructed, and support the exploitataive oppressive economic system, and the power of the elite over the oppressed. Over time, they become ‘real and true’, as the ‘natural order of things’.

Nibert argues that there is too much focus in the vegan/animal rights movement on adjusting individual behaviour (individualistic and psychologically oriented explanation of oppression), to bring about change for the condition of other animals. That individual approach does not take into account the structural framework, how capitalist economy is the main oppressive force. Racism, sexisms, and speciesism are not individual prejudices, not individual discrimination. They are constructed ideologies; so the elite can enforce control over the oppressed.
This book stresses the social structural basis of the oppression of other animals and looks at the economic underpinnings of exploitation throughout history (documented with many examples throughout the centuries) of humans and other animals.

Animal Rights. Human Rights is very accessibly written. The book is nearly 270 pages, and the font is quite small, so that might be a bit dauting for some, but it is well worth the read.
It seemed like so many things ‘fell into place’ when I was reading this. The structure is well built and clear, and the author documents the theory of oppression very well, repeating the point and lay out of each chapter, and how the examples throughout history are fitting into the threefold theory of oppression, although the provided historical examples are mainly from Western history.
The last chapter, Toward a United Struggle against Oppression, where Nibert discusses how we can combat this system and oppression, was a bit disappointing. I was hoping to find more concrete examples and leads here. For that reason also, I am looking foward to reading his 2013 book Animal Oppression and Human Violence. Domeseceration, Capitalism and Global Conflict.

Nibert paints a rather grim picture of the huge battle those wanting to challenge the system of oppression are facing. In the 16 years since the publication of the book, the task seems to have become even more daunting, with political and economic developments further consolidating this oppresive system. It seems the concentration of power within a – increasingly smaller – economic elite has steadily increased, and ideologicol control has been aided by new social media platforms.

This book documents how the oppression of humans and other animals is deeply entangled. Nibert’s theory of oppression underlines that animal rights advocates cannot ignore human rights issues, and that human rights fighters cannot ignore the plight of other animals. I feel this is a must read for anyone in the animal rights movement, ànd those fighting for human rights.

Some quotes taken from the book:

p. 160 “Power in contemporary society – the capitalist state – while ostensibly democratic in nature, is actually designed and used to protect wealth. Those reforms that do occur are usually crafted to a substantial degree by those they attempt to regulate, are relatively modest in scope, are weak in enforcement, and serve to provide social stability and security for the affluent and their corporate entreprises. Many “reforms” divert attention away from the continued systematic injustice and oppression suffered daily by devalued humans and other animals.”

p.164. (about the Humane Slaughter act).
While advocates for other animals continually criticize the USDA for its minimal enforcement of the act, the public is officially assured that other animals who are converted to “food” are slaughtered humanely – a key ideological benefit. Furthermore, the lengthy and protractive legislative process also served as a divisionary function focussing the passion and energy of advocates on this minimal reform. To this day, the act diverts the energy of advocates, who expend great effort to monitor it enforcement and to obtain closely guarded evidence that of continued illegal and torturous practices, embroiling them in quicotic political struggles for effective enforcement rather than further change

p. 167. “Like the Humane Slaughter Act, the Dogs and Cats act , and most other pieces of key legislation that ostentibly regulate huge profitable industries, these efforts are significant as uses of state idelogical power in ways that largely stifle industry critics and quell public concern.

David Nibert (2002) Animal Rights, Human Rights, Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Abstract from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

This accessible and cutting-edge work offers a new look at the history of western “civilization,” one that brings into focus the interrelated suffering of oppressed humans and other animals. Nibert argues persuasively that throughout history the exploitation of other animals has gone hand in hand with the oppression of women, people of color, and other oppressed groups. He maintains that the oppression both of humans and of other species of animals is inextricably tangled within the structure of social arrangements. Nibert asserts that human use and mistreatment of other animals are not natural and do little to further the human condition.

Nibert’s analysis emphasizes the economic and elite-driven character of prejudice, discrimination, and institutionalized repression of humans and other animals. His examination of the economic entanglements of the oppression of human and other animals is supplemented with an analysis of ideological forces and the use of state power in this sociological expose of the grotesque uses of the oppressed, past and present. Nibert suggests that the liberation of devalued groups of humans is unlikely in a world that uses other animals as fodder for the continual growth and expansion of transnational corporations and, conversely, that animal liberation cannot take place when humans continue to be exploited and oppressed.




  1. Wonderful review, Trudi. Adding it to my reading list. I too have always thought that oppression must be endemic (socially) in order to be successful; it’s probably why the vegan movement alone isn’t enough. We just can’t seem to break though social norms that have been hard-wired over generations.

  2. Pingback: Can I look at you in peace now? Premiere of Dominion in Ghent – The Bruges Vegan

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