In our last class of our course on the history of the biomedical sciences, we discussed the relation between humans and other animals. My presentation was on the article by Tröhler and Maehle: "Anti-vivisection in Nineteenth-century Germany and Switzerland: Motives and Methods" in Vivisection in Historical Perspective.
This movement was a form of expressive politics. Its arguments were not only against vivisection, but contra reductionist materialism. The aristocratic Lady Marie-Espérance von Schwartz used her literary skills to convince and influence people and politics. The medically trained Ernst Grysanowksi provided the movement with medical argumentation and theoretical foundation. Ernst von Weber organized the movement and developed its methods in creating support for the anti-vivisectionist cause.
From 1879 to 1885 the conflict between anti-vivisectionist and advocates of vivisection, most medical scientists (Virchow, Koch, Ehrlich, Hermann, Vogt) was brought from the public arena of popular writing (books and pamphlets) to the political arena. Here, the isolation and lack of political power of the anti-vivisection movement became painfully visible. Medical scientists and politicians had a strong alliance, while the anti-vivisectionists did not have massive support of the general people and proved to be a small elite group of enthusiastic, radical activists. The difference between instrumental and expressive politics, was the difference between advocates and antagonists of vivisection.
The failure of the anti-vivisection movement can also be sought in the philosophical background and socio-cultural beliefs. The anthropocentric perspective of the animal protection societies, founded from 1840, was less radical and more in consensus with the public perception of animal experimentation. Animal experimentation was only harmful if it was public or the public was offended. Legislation was also focused on this aspect of cruelty to animals, a main reason why vivisection has been more secluded from the public ever since. The scientific status of medicine and its dependence on animal experimentation was impossible to take apart, as were the strong links with politics. The value of medicine to politicians and public may have been greater than the harm of vivisection, either to man or animal.
Because the anti-vivisection movement did not nuance its stance on vivisection, it neither got the support from the larger animal protection societies, nor got it into a fruitful debate with scientists. Its isolation from the public was another reason for its eventual failure.
This article and its topic perfectly correspond with the term civil society, the free association of people outside politics in societies. The influence between the two, societies and politics, is an interesting theme, running through the article. The larger cultural and social background of the anti-vivisection movement is also interesting. Further research is needed to get a better view on late nineteenth century science, politics, elite, and public.