Debate: Cats Are More Libertarian Than Dogs
Do felines contribute more to human liberty?
Affirmative: Jason Russell
Cats don't take orders from anyone.
It's not that cats don't understand human speech or can't be trained. Cats just do what they want. "Cats don't do what you expect them to do," Charlotte de Mouzon, a cat behavior expert at the Université Paris Nanterre, told The New York Times last year. "But if cats don't come when we call them, it may be because they're busy doing something else."
Thus, it should be no surprise the queen of self-interest, Ayn Rand, was a cat owner. She wrote in a letter to Cat Fancy magazine: "I love cats in general and own two….I can demonstrate objectively that cats are a great value" (emphasis in original). She was seemingly referring to pictures she enjoyed in the charter issue of Cat Fancy, just one installment in the centuries of cat art that humans have enjoyed. Today, that enjoyment often takes the form of memes of grumpy cats or videos of cats in silly acts.
Entertainment aside, cats provide economic value. Cats work on farms, ships, and elsewhere to scare off and eat rodents and small creatures—and when their employers desire it and the cats consent, they accept scritches.
Meanwhile, far too many dogs are playing dead and leeching off the public dole. The worst are dogs in government work, like the K-9 cops who will narc on you for a victimless crime such as drug possession. A cute kitten stuck in a tree may mean a call to the fire department, but animal control employees used to be called dogcatchers for a reason. As the number of dog parks grew rapidly in the last decade, the vast majority have taken up public dollars and space that would be better used for human purposes.
When cats work in a government job, they're usually trying to keep government buildings mouse-free—not driven by a sense of public service, but instead by a self-interested desire to catch rodents. Public employee cats are actually saving taxpayer dollars by reducing money spent on pest control.
Cats don't ask the government to build them parks. They hardly ask their owners for any special space either—maybe a nice cat tree, but even the box from the last Amazon delivery will do. Cats find comfort and joy in things humans and other animals have no interest in.
Cats, like libertarians, think for themselves. In the Netflix show The Sandman, one cat says to another, "I'd like to see anyone—prophet, God, or king—persuade 1,000 cats to do anything at the same time." What could possibly be more emblematic of a group of libertarians?
Negative: Peter Suderman
To imagine that cats are more libertarian than dogs is to commit a fundamental error by assigning libertarian values to an animal's generalized character and behavior. It may well be true that cats are more independent-minded than dogs, that they follow fewer rules and orders, that they have an anarchic streak. But when determining whether cats or dogs are more libertarian creatures, the behavior of the animal on its own is irrelevant. The libertarian project is the project of human civilization and human liberty. A world with fewer anarchic cats—or even, for that matter, no cats at all—and far greater human freedom would obviously be a far more libertarian world.
The question, then, is whether cats or dogs contribute more to human liberty. Framed that way, the answer is quite clear: Dogs have been agents of choice and freedom for thousands of years. Humanity is happier, safer, more prosperous, and more peaceful because of dogs.
Humans have lived with dogs for nearly 40,000 years. Not only were dogs the first domesticated animals, but some scholars believe they were key to letting our ancestors outcompete and outlast their Neanderthal rivals. In a 2012 essay for American Scientist, the anthropologist Pat Lee Shipman argued that dog domestication gave prehistoric people a critical advantage, helping them hunt, particularly large mammoths, and perhaps assisting with carrying meat back to camp. Ever since, dogs and human beings have evolved together in a mutually beneficial bond: They helped our ancestors kill big game, and now we provide them with food in exchange for companionship.
That dogs are companions is no small matter. Research shows dog owners are less lonely, have fewer mental health issues, and get more exercise. Today's dogs may not help hunters strike down mammoths, but they are clearly good for human physical and mental health.
Unlike cats, dogs exhibit a clear bias toward private property and self-defense. Neighborhoods with more dogs are safer, in part because of people walking the streets with dogs. Dogs are protectors of property, and ownership facilitates a sort of private security network, no police needed.
Dogs also help with human sociability. Anyone who has ever lived on a block with a large number of dogs knows that dog owners get to know each other merely because their dogs want to meet. Dogs are ambassadors and intermediaries; they make the always awkward but important business of getting to know strangers easier. They build trust beyond households and kin networks, which is the key to peaceful civilization, trade, and mass prosperity.
Dogs aren't just our best friends. They are natural allies in the fight for a more libertarian world.
Subscribers have access to Reason's whole May 2023 issue now. These debates and the rest of the issue will be released throughout the month for everyone else. Consider subscribing today!
- Debate: It's Time for a National Divorce
- Debate: Artificial Intelligence Should Be Regulated
- Debate: Democracy Is the Worst Form of Government Except for All the Others
- Debate: To Preserve Individual Liberty, Government Must Affirmatively Intervene in the Culture War
- Debate: The E.U. Was a Mistake
- Debate: The U.S. Should Increase Funding for the Defense of Ukraine
- Debate: Mentally Ill Homeless People Must Be Locked Up for Public Safety
- Debate: Despite the Welfare State, the U.S. Should Open Its Borders
- Debate: Cats Are More Libertarian Than Dogs
- Debate: Make Housing Affordable by Abolishing Growth Boundaries, Not Ending Density Restrictions
- Debate: Bitcoin Is the Future of Free Exchange
- Debate: Be Optimistic About the World