I first met Tom and Nancy Regan at the RSPCA’s Rights of Animals symposium at Trinity College Cambridge in 1977. Recently, I caught up with them at their home in Raleigh, NC.
Tom and Nancy always inspired me to learn as much as I can about animal rights and showed me the importance of ethical action as the capstone to our action for animals.
In 1977, I was the campaigns organiser at Compassion In World Farming. Compassion’s founder, Peter Roberts, took me to the RSPCA’s symposium. This was a special moment in the history of the animal rights movement. With the notable exception of Peter Singer, leading philosophers, advocates, authors, and politicians came together for two days to consider animal ethics and the emerging animal rights movement.
I was an angry young vegan who, unbeknown to myself, was beginning a career with some of the world’s leading animal rights organisations. Tom was already an acclaimed moral philosopher and a prominent speaker in animal rights. But not everyone present at the conference was a card carrying vegan animal rights advocate.
As I recall in my book, Growl, I remember Tom and Nancy, and Peter Roberts and myself, and other vegans being exiled to what was called the ‘vegetarian table’ in the college’s baronial dining hall. We were fed meagre rations of dull 1970s veggie food. Everyone else at the conference dined on venison that was the charred remains of body parts of deer who had once grazed Trinity College’s grounds. We ate our veggie food in disgust, tut tutting our fellow conference attendees and speakers.
Since then, Tom and Nancy’s and my life have crossed many times and, in particular, after I moved to the USA in 1987.
I heard Tom speak often at animal rights conferences throughout America. He was always an inspirational speaker. In particular, I appreciated how he situated a commitment to nonviolence as central to his animal rights declaration.
The philosophy of animal rights stands for peace, and against violence. The fundamental demand of this philosophy is to treat humans and other nonhuman animals with respect. This philosophy, therefore, is a philosophy of peace. But it is a philosophy that extends the demand for peace beyond the boundaries of our species, for there is an undeclared war being waged everyday against countless millions of nonhuman animals.
His unique contribution to moral philosophy is, of course, much more than animal rights and particularly The Case for Animal Rights published in 1983. In addition to nonviolence, his writings on environmental ethics were instrumental in challenging environmentalists to consider animal rights.
The philosophy of animal rights demands only that the logic be respected for any argument that plausibly explains the independent value of human beings implies that other animal have the same value and have it equally. And any argument that plausibly explains the rights of humans to be treated with respect also implies that these other animals have the same rights and have it equally also.
With our respective organisations, the Animals and Society Institute and the Culture and Animals Foundation, we coproduced the International Compassionate Living Festival for a number of years.
Tom helped me to understand the importance of bringing together animal advocates with moral philosophers, authors and artists engaged in animal issues, and business leaders with musicians. Compassionate change is needed on many fronts, he always said.
Tom and Nancy and their fellow directors at the Culture and Animals Foundation work tirelessly since its foundation in 1985 to promote cultural change for animals.
By appealing to individual intellect, creativity and compassion, the Culture and Animals Foundation believes we can awaken people to the plight and grandeur of kindred animals–and ultimately build a deeper understanding of human-animal relationships and a greater respect for basic animal rights.
On Tom’s retirement the North Carolina State University established the Tom Regan Animal Rights Archive, which is the only archive of its kind in the world. Tom introduced me to the librarians and archivists at NCSU Libraries. Thanks to him, we convinced NCSU Libraries to accept the valuable collections I had established at the Animals and Society Institute. This included The Animal Rights Network Archive, The Animals’ Agenda Archive, the Argus Archives, the Animal Welfare Institute Archives, and the Claire Necker Collection of Cat Books and Collectibles.
As much as I am a republican and not a monarchist, Tom is the only person I would accept as a ruling monarch. King Tom would rule us as the very best of benign dictators. With one sweep of his hand across this realm he would stop people from eating meat, he would liberate animals from research laboratories, and he would inspire compassion for all.
What of democracy, may you ask? Its sacrifice would be a small price to pay.
But, thankfully, King Tom is not our ruler but he is the animal rights philosopher and elder statesman. But he is more than that as I consider him to be my friend and mentor. He continues to inspire me—personally and professionally—to work harder and better for animal rights.
It was great fun to spend the day with Tom and Nancy and reminisce the past and speculate the future of animal rights.
New to Tom Regan and want to learn more but unsure where to begin?
I recommend starting with his book Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights (2004) followed by Animal Rights Human Wrongs: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (2003) and Defending Animal Rights (2001). There is a selection of videos of Tom Regan to watch on his website, too.