Political Agency in Humans and Other Animals

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Abstract

In virtue of their capacity for political agency, political agents can possess special rights, powers, and responsibilities, such as rights to political participation and freedom of speech. Traditionally, political theorists have assumed that only cognitively unimpaired adult humans are political agents, and thus that only those humans can be the bearers of these rights, powers, and responsibilities. However, recent work in animal rights theory has extended the concept of political agency to nonhuman animals. In this paper, I develop an account of political agency that identifies the capacities that one must possess to be a political agent and captures the fact that political action is a distinctive type of action. Crucially, this account makes sense of the standard assumption that only some humans count as political agents, and explains why few nonhuman animals, human infants, and severely cognitively impaired humans are likely to possess the capacity for political agency. I go on to reject the view, recently advanced by Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, that nonhuman animals can be ‘non-intentional political agents.’ I conclude by suggesting that most nonhuman animals, as well as human infants and humans with severe cognitive impairments, cannot straightforwardly be assigned rights to political participation.

© 2020, The Author(s). The attached document (embargoed until 27/07/2021) is an author produced version of a paper published in CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL THEORY uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Political Theory
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2020

Keywords

  • political agency
  • political responsibility
  • nonhuman animals
  • zoopolis
  • democratic participation

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