What does abolition mean?

Many circular arguments about abolition in relation to veganism and animal ‘welfare’ have blasted across the cybersphere.

Differing views on the subject maintain that veganism and animal ‘welfare’ are complementary, that veganism and ‘welfare’ are mutually exclusive, that abolitionists only have to believe that animal use should end, that no one cares about ‘the details’… and so on.

Abolitionist veganism as a theory arose out of the movement for the abolition of human slavery in America in the 19th century.

It shares the same underlying commitment to the idea of abolition as it was conceived in the 19th century.

The historian  James McPherson defines an abolitionist as someone who:

before the Civil War had agitated for the immediate, unconditional, and total abolition of slavery in the United States.

He didn’t regard Abraham Lincoln or the Republican Party as abolitionists, as they advocated a gradual end to slavery.

Likewise, when the philosopher Tom Regan initially used the term in relation to animals, he promoted unconditional and total abolition of animal use, not measures such its regulation, which perpetuated animal use rather than abolished it.

This is also the meaning that Gary Francione adopted and developed.

The “immediate, unconditional, and total abolition” of animal use doesn’t refer to impossible expectations that animal use around the world will stop tomorrow or that abolitionist vegans should expect this.

As far as i know, abolitionist vegans, or anyone else, for that matter, do not have the ability to turn the world vegan overnight.

What abolition does refer to is making a case for people to immediately, unconditionally and totally abolish animal use, since doing less would mean advocating some form of animal use (whether ‘improved’ or otherwise).

Persuading individuals over time is what changes society, not some all-at-once, instantaneous magic that converts the world.

An abolitionist, then, is NOT simply someone who wants to see animal use end, but someone who proposes actions that are consistent with those ends.

For instance, veganism is consistent with abolition, regulation of animal use isn’t. Promoting veganism is consistent with abolition, single issue campaigns aren’t, since they don’t ask for an immediate, total abolition of animal use, only a partial end to a specific form of animal use.

Likewise, asking people to become vegan immediately is consistent with abolition, while telling them they should take their time making the change isn’t.

Neither abolitionist or non-abolitionist methods will achieve the end of animal use ‘overnight.’

The difference, though, is that abolition seeks to achieve its end using means that are consistent with its goal: it aims to change society individual by individual, being direct that animal use is wrong.

It doesn’t aim to achieve the right goal using the wrong means. Of achieving love by making war. Of advocating freedom while endorsing slavery.

It provides a clear path for people: if they want to stop using animals, they should become vegan.

It asks them to immediately, unconditionally, and totally abolish their use of animals.

If they decide not to, then at least they’ve been presented a clear argument to end animal use, which may cause them to take other measures in the meantime, and lie dormant until one day it blossoms.