Henry Mark Holzer Interview: Part Two

U.S. postal stamp featuring Ayn Rand.
Ayn Rand postage stamp, released in 1999.

For part one click here.

Do you remember the context in which Rand made her (surprisingly sympathetic) comment? I don’t take you to be trying to turn her into a posthumous champion of animal rights. Yet her remark would seem to suggest she was not as dismissive and hostile to the idea as many writers influenced by Rand seem to be. Is that how you took it?

My wife and I were in her apartment, in the room she used as an office. I had recently brought the Kosher Slaughter case and, on the fly, we were saying something about animal rights. Erika had just crossed the threshold between her office and the hallway, as I approached it. Ayn was still in the room. Almost to my back Ayn made the statement I have quoted above.

I do not believe she was anything approaching “a champion of animal rights” because she ate meat, wore fur, and never once—except that time—ever said anything to me even remotely suggesting that she had given the subject any thought. Frankly, when she made the statement I was, to say the least, quite surprised. “Reason is paramount,” etc. And animals can’t reason, etc.

That said, however, she said what she said, with apparent sincerity. That’s how I took it. We never returned to the subject. Her acolytes, who to this day deny that she could ever have made such a statement, are mistaken. They were not there. Erika and I were—and that’s what Ayn said.

Film poster
A poster for the 1942 Italian version of We The Living, starring Alida Valli and Rossano Brazzi.

You and your wife played a remarkable role in rediscovering the film version of Rand’s novel We The Living. The movie was originally made in Italy in 1942; thanks to your efforts, a new version of the movie played in North America in 1986 and received terrific reviews. How did you rediscover the film and what challenges did you have to overcome to bring it to the screen?

My wife and I found the film, no one else. She and Duncan Scott, per Rand’s instructions, restored the film and wrote some 4,000 subtitles.

We found the film by backtracking a few slim leads Rand provided, and by utilizing some contacts in Italy. It’s a very long story which has been told, in part, elsewhere. (See www.wethelivingmovie.com).

The challenges included: finding it, making a deal with the people who owned it, copying the highly inflammatory nitrate negative onto safety stock in Rome, shipping everything to New York, convincing US Customs that the safety stock was safety not nitrate, quarantining the nitrate and eventually destroying it, having Rand tell us what to cut from the nearly four-hour film (in the midst of her breakup with Nathaniel Branden), storing the film from August 1968 to the mid-1980s, making a deal with her estate, cutting the film, writing the subtitles, finding a distributor, and promoting the film. Other than that, it was easy.

One of the reasons we were interested in interviewing you is that you do not fit the stereotype of an animal rights advocate. Rather than a hippie or Green Party member, you’ve long been active on behalf of libertarian and conservative causes. Have you ever encountered the view that animal advocacy and right-of-centre political beliefs are incompatible? What would you say to counter it?

I often encounter that attitude because it is a fact that most animal advocacy comes from the left. It is an interesting question as to why. One could say, superficially, that the left is where the bleeding hearts are, and concern for animals is consistent with those kinds of values. The mistake is that those on the right are also “bleeding hearts” (note the quotation marks), but we simply bleed for other things: victims of terrorism, crucified businessmen, our military, deserving students who lose out to affirmative action, the unborn—and more. In other words, because one of the left’s big lies, too long unchallenged, is that it is they who “care,” they have had a near monopoly on animal advocacy. But the right has a strong claim to it as well—even given the NRA, hunters, etc.—but they have not often asserted it. I am sure the macho problem of many on the right has something to do with this as well.

Are animals gaining more advocates outside the left? Former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully, for example, made a big splash with his 2002 book Dominion. Aside from Scully, are you aware of any other prominent libertarian or conservative voices on behalf of animals?

Not that I am aware of. I fear that in libertarian and conservative circles, though there are of course exceptions, there are not many animal advocates. Anecdotally, the few non-prominent voices tend to be more libertarian than conservative. Don’t forget, to the extent conservatives are religious (quite a few), there is a lot of biblical baggage regarding animals and humans having sovereignty over them. Among all the animal advocates I know, only one is a conservative. Finally, it needs to be understood that by “animal advocate” I mean someone who acknowledges that animal have rights, even though the nature and scope of those rights are complex to define and to apply.

Looking back over your career as an animal rights proponent, what would you say your biggest victory has been?

My biggest victories have been (a) launching a movement of lawyers who now work for animal rights, (b) introducing into federal and state case law the literal term “animal rights,” (c) helping legitimize the very concept of animal rights and showing that it is very much more than the proverbial “little old ladies in tennis shoes.”

2 thoughts on “Henry Mark Holzer Interview: Part Two

  1. Nowadays, many in the animal rights moment shy away from the word rights.

    For example: this is what a fellow animal rights supporter wrote to me the other day “In my version (of a radio fur ad we are working on) I stayed away from mentioning NHARL – just because the point of this is to get less people to buy fur and a lot of people are put off by the “animal rights” part – they think PETA and radicals attacking women in fur coats.”

    This is disturbing that we in the movement are afraid to define ourselves as animal rights. My feeling is that we especially need to define ourselves as that so that these people who are “put off” by us see that most of us are law abiding and sane citizens just like they are.

    I wish Mr. Holzer may like to respond to this. Maybe in a private email to me. Thank you.

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