Last week, I read a story by Laura Poppick about the “retirement home” of N.I.H. research chimps: “Retired Research Chimps Get Second Chance at Life.” The article mentions that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may change captive chimpanzees conservation status from threatened to endangered to match the status of wild chimps [click here for further details]. I wonder what prompted the feds to categorize captive chimpanzees differently. Anyway, what interested me most in the article was the application of Kantian liberalism to chimps:
Plans announced this week by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to retire most of its 360 research chimpanzees introduces the question of where these chimps will go. The answer has yet to be determined.
Regardless, the plan promises to offer more autonomy to these intelligent animals. . . .
“A chimp born in a research center may [have] never climbed a tree before. They will learn to climb a tree,” said Jackson. “At no point will they be forced to be inside. They can say, ‘I want to sleep outside amongst the trees and the breeze.’ They are given that free choice.”
The Republic is ever timely and prescient. From the eighth book:
And is not the avidity of democracy for that which is its definition and criterion of good the thing which dissolves it too?
What do you say its criterion to be?
Liberty, I replied, for you may hear it said that this is best managed in a democratic city, and for this reason that is the only city in which a man of free spirit will care to live.
Why, yes, he replied, you hear that saying everywhere.
Then, as I was about to observe, is it not the excess and greed of this and the neglect of all other things that revolutionizes this constitution too and prepares the way for the necessity of a dictatorship?
How? he said.
Why, when a democratic city athirst for liberty gets bad cupbearers for its leaders and is intoxicated by drinking too deep of that unmixed wine, and then, if its so-called governors are not extremely mild and gentle with it and do not dispense the liberty unstintedly, it chastises them and accuses them of being accursed oligarchs.
Yes, that is what they do, he replied.
But those who obey the rulers, I said, it reviles as willing slaves and men of nought, but it commends and honors in public and private rulers who resemble subjects and subjects who are like rulers. Is it not inevitable that in such a state the spirit of liberty should go to all lengths?
And this anarchic temper, said I, my friend, must penetrate into private homes and finally enter into the very animals.
Just what do we mean by that? he said.
Why, I said, the father habitually tries to resemble the child and is afraid of his sons, and the son likens himself to the father and feels no awe or fear of his parents, so that he may be forsooth a free man. And the resident alien feels himself equal to the citizen and the citizen to him, and the foreigner likewise.
Yes, these things do happen, he said.
They do, said I, and such other trifles as these. The teacher in such case fears and fawns upon the pupils, and the pupils pay no heed to the teacher or to their overseers either. And in general the young ape their elders and vie with them in speech and action, while the old, accommodating themselves to the young, are full of pleasantry and graciousness, imitating the young for fear they may be thought disagreeable and authoritative.
By all means, he said.
And the climax of popular liberty, my friend, I said, is attained in such a city when the purchased slaves, male and female, are no less free than the owners who paid for them. And I almost forgot to mention the spirit of freedom and equal rights in the relation of men to women and women to men.
Shall we not, then, said he, in Aeschylean phrase, say ‘whatever rises to our lips’?
Certainly, I said, so I will. Without experience of it no one would believe how much freer the very beasts subject to men are in such a city than elsewhere. The dogs literally verify the adage and ‘like their mistresses become.’ And likewise the horses and asses are wont to hold on their way with the utmost freedom and dignity, bumping into everyone who meets them and who does not step aside. And so all things everywhere are just bursting with the spirit of liberty.
Autonomy’s hunger will not be quenched. When a society deifies such a beast, it will eventually offer itself up to its god for propitiation.