• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Vegetarian Communard

Elisee Reclus, the French anarchist and geographer, was a proselytizing vegetarian who held progressive views of other animals. Serving as a militia member, he was an active participant in the Paris Commune of 1871, a working-class uprising that Karl Marx dubbed “the glorious harbinger of a new society.” After his capture by government forces, Reclus was initially to be deported to New Caledonia, an archipelago off the coast of Australia. But due to the intervention of his supporters, which according to some sources included Charles Darwin, Reclus’ sentence was reduced to banishment, which allowed him to live in Switzerland.

Reclus was sensitive to violence against animals as a young child. “One of the family had sent me, plate in hand, to the village butcher, with the injunction to bring back some gory fragment or other,” Reclus wrote, recalling an example. “I still remember this gloomy yard where terrifying men went to and fro with great knives, which they wiped on blood-besprinkled smocks. Hanging from a porch an enormous carcass seemed to me to occupy an extraordinary amount of space; from its white flesh a reddish liquid was trickling into the gutters.” Overwhelmed by the sight of the slaughterhouse, Reclus apparently fainted.

Reclus wrote perceptively about the process which allows humans to commit such violence, a process we might call speciesist socialization. A child’s horrified reactions to the exploitation of animals “wear off in time; they yield before the baneful influence of daily education,” Reclus stated. “Parents, teachers, official or friendly, doctors, not to speak of the powerful individual whom we call ‘everybody,’ all work together to harden the character of the child with respect to this ‘four-footed food,’ which nevertheless, loves as we do, (and) feels as we do.”

Perhaps anticipating the work of writers such as Joan Dunayer, Reclus recognized the role language plays in denying or rationalizing animal exploitation. “The animals sacrificed to man’s appetite have been systematically and methodically made hideous, shapeless, and debased in intelligence and moral worth,” Reclus wrote. “The name even of the animal into which the boar has been transformed is used as the grossest of insults; the mass of flesh we see wallowing in noisome pools is so loathsome to look at that we agree to avoid all similarity of name between the beast and the dishes we make out of it.”

And of course Reclus believed there was a connection between violence against animals and violence against humans. “Is there then so much difference between the dead body of a bullock and that of a man?” Reclus asked. “The dissevered limbs, the entrails mingling one with the other, are very much alike: the slaughter of the first makes easy the murder of the second, especially when a leader’s order rings out, or from afar comes the word of the crowned master, ‘Be pitiless.'”

Reclus died in 1905 at the age of 75. “It is reported that his last days were made particularly happy by news of the popular revolution in Russia,” according to Camille Martin and John P. Clark. “He expired shortly after hearing of the revolt of the sailors on the battleship Potemkin.”

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. Visit his website at JonHochschartner.com.

More articles by:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

May 23, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Belligerence of Empire
Ralph Nader
What and Who Gave Us Trump?
Ramzy Baroud
Madonna’s Fake Revolution: Eurovision, Cultural Hegemony and Resistance
Tom Engelhardt
Living in a Nation of Political Narcissists
Binoy Kampmark
Challenging Orthodoxies: Alabama’s Anti-Abortion Law
Thomas Klikauer
Why Reactionaries Won in Australia
John Steppling
A New Volkisch Mythos
Cathy Breen
So Many Wars: Remembering Friends in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Kurdistan and Turkey 
Chuck Collins
Ending the Generational Abuse of Student Debt
Robert J. Burrowes
Understanding NATO, Ending War
Nyla Ali Khan
Dilution of “Kashmiriyat” and Regional Nationalism
May 22, 2019
T.J. Coles
Vicious Cycle: The Pentagon Creates Tech Giants and Then Buys their Services
Thomas Knapp
A US War on Iran Would be Evil, Stupid, and Self-Damaging
Johnny Hazard
Down in Juárez
Mark Ashwill
Albright & Powell to Speak at Major International Education Conference: What Were They Thinking?
Binoy Kampmark
The Victory of Small Visions: Morrison Retains Power in Australia
Laura Flanders
Can It Happen Here?
Dean Baker
The Money in the Trump/Kushner Middle East Peace Plan
Manuel Perez-Rocha – Jen Moore
How Mining Companies Use Excessive Legal Powers to Gamble with Latin American Lives
George Ochenski
Playing Politics With Coal Plants
Ted Rall
Why Joe Biden is the Least Electable Democrat
May 21, 2019
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Locked in a Cold War Time Warp
Roger Harris
Venezuela: Amnesty International in Service of Empire
Patrick Cockburn
Trump is Making the Same Mistakes in the Middle East the US Always Makes
Robert Hunziker
Custer’s Last Stand Meets Global Warming
Lance Olsen
Renewable Energy: the Switch From Drill, Baby, Drill to Mine, Baby, Mine
Dean Baker
Ady Barkan, the Fed and the Liberal Funder Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
Maduro Gives Trump a Lesson in Ethics and Morality
Jan Oberg
Trump’s Iran Trap
David D’Amato
What is Anarchism?
Nicky Reid
Trump’s War In Venezuela Could Be Che’s Revenge
Elliot Sperber
Springtime in New York
May 20, 2019
Richard Greeman
The Yellow Vests of France: Six Months of Struggle
Manuel García, Jr.
Abortion: White Panic Over Demographic Dilution?
Robert Fisk
From the Middle East to Northern Ireland, Western States are All Too Happy to Avoid Culpability for War Crimes
Tom Clifford
From the Gulf of Tonkin to the Persian Gulf
Chandra Muzaffar
Targeting Iran
Valerie Reynoso
The Violent History of the Venezuelan Opposition
Howard Lisnoff
They’re Just About Ready to Destroy Roe v. Wade
Eileen Appelbaum
Private Equity is a Driving Force Behind Devious Surprise Billings
Binoy Kampmark
Bob Hawke: Misunderstood in Memoriam
J.P. Linstroth
End of an era for ETA?: May Basque Peace Continue
Weekend Edition
May 17, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Trump and the Middle East: a Long Record of Personal Failure
Joan Roelofs
“Get Your Endangered Species Off My Bombing Range!”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Slouching Towards Tehran
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail