Has society the right to pass judgement at all on matters of morals? If society has the right to pass judgement, has it also the right to use the weapon of the law to enforce it? If so, ought it to use that weapon in all cases or only in some; and if only in some, on what principle should it distinguish?
For animal advocates, Devlin’s questions are pertinent: Why should the moral treatment of animals be distinguished by not receiving the attention of the law? In other words, why haven’t parliaments and legislatures passed laws protecting animals — giving them legal rights — more than they already have, which isn’t much in most cases? The answer, of course, is that animal interests are enshrined in law but those interests happen to human ones and not for the animals. There are always exceptions, mercifully, where effective legislation has been passed in some countries (e.g., the British Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000 was based on moral grounds).
But as Holden so ably demonstrates in the decades since the Second World War, the British Parliament effectively addressed such moral issues as prostitution, homosexuality, abortion, pornography, contraception, censorship of the arts, capital punishment, in-vitro fertilisation, divorce, etc., but not as significantly animal issues. Why is that? Answer: Animal issues are not a mainstream political issue.
Holden’s recounting of Britain’s political struggle with moral issues is one of the most important reads in some time. There are no easy lessons to be learned from this book to making animal issues a mainstream political issue. But there is one important insight: the cliche “Politics is the art of possible” has never rung more true than after reading this book.
Political victories are won by a mixture of hard, painstaking work that can be undone in moments by stupid publicity stunts or being caught in flagrante. It can be won by being at the right place at the right time and knowing the right person to talk to. Above all, it is about relationships and perseverance toward building a groundswell of support. It is not an impossible task but one that takes time and perseverance.