Journal Article

Dog Wars and Human Rights: Perceptions of Political Despotism at the End of the Ancien Régime

Norbert Schindler

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 24, issue 1, pages 1-38
Published in print January 2006 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online January 2006 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1191/0266355406gh361oa
Dog Wars and Human Rights: Perceptions of Political Despotism at the End of the Ancien Régime

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During the political crisis in the Salzburg archiepiscopacy at the end of the eighteenth century there was an increase in the number of violent clashes between huntsmen and poachers in the forest areas. The huntsmen exacerbated the anger of the rural communities by shooting dead any farm dogs they found running free. The farmers, for their part, ignored the decree which had been in force since the sixteenth century that they should either chain their dogs up or restrict their freedom with a Knüppel, a large piece of wood attached to the neck to hinder their chasing after game. These attacks by the huntsmen were felt by the peasants to be an arbitrary abuse of political power, and a threat to their farms. They were angered both that this limited the ability of the dogs to do their duty in guarding the farms, and also by the way the dogs' natural guarding instincts were being undermined. They thought of men and their animals as different creatures, but they were forced to acknowledge that the restriction of the dogs' freedom was also an attempt on their own liberty. The Dog Wars crystallized a conflict around traditional feudal symbols of subjugation. They show how the images that the ruling and the ruled had of each other began to crumble and give way to mutual mistrust. The Salzburg farmers had no need of revolutionary agitators to see that the archiepiscopal state was moribund. They had their own yardsticks, first and foremost poaching, with which to measure the effective limits set to their freedom by the state. They were not party to the contemporary intellectual debates on human rights, but the violence to their dogs was a clear sign to them of the revolutionary spirit of the times. The notion of human rights did not enjoy linear growth, but itself progressed by way of conflict. And this notion should not be limited to the human condition only—it must be extrapolated beyond the ideological fixations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the context of the history of dogs—man's longest-standing companion, after all—‘human’ rights take on a different hue, relativized and yet somehow more clearly defined.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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