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International Animal Rights ConferenceInternational Animal Rights Conference
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Saturday, 13.09.2014   10:00-10:50   Room B
Seeing is believing: Nonhuman animals and liberal democracies
Siobhan O`Sullivan

Liberal democratic forms of engagement have come to dominate the political landscape, with most countries either having some kind of recognizable liberal democratic state, or professing to be democratic despite actual practice. This victory of values presents a puzzle: what benefits do liberal democracies afford animals? Nonhuman animals are incapable of political participation, yet they live among us. They have been "contracted in" and are profoundly entrenched in our social, economic, legal and political apparatus. Nonhuman animals are incapable of political participation, but so too are many humans and liberal democracies allow citizens to advocate on behalf of "others". Yet animals` inability to self-represent, and associated reliance on the willingness of humans to take up the nonhuman animal cause, is fraught with challenges, not least of all because nonhuman animals are often mostly socially invisible.

In my address I will argue that liberal democracies carry with them two promises that might be effectively used to safeguard the interests of nonhuman animals: the promise of equity, and a commitment to transparency and citizen engagement in decision-making. Combined, these fundamental liberal democratic principles might be leveraged to safeguard the interests of nonhuman animals. However, liberal democratic values are no panacea. Overcoming animal-invisibility and the disjuncture between harm to animals and profit to humans is essential if nonhuman animals are to benefit from liberal democratic forms of political organization.













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