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The letter is from Thomas Hardy to the editor of The Humanitarian, to mark the Humanitarian League’s 20th year. Many humanists in history have expanded their ideals to encompass the animal world, and the wider environment, including in defence of the rights of animals and – especially in recent decades – to action on climate change. The Humanitarian League was founded on humanist principles by freethinker Henry S. Salt, intending to draw progressive thinkers together in the pursuit of positive social reforms. In this letter, Thomas Hardy outlines his own belief in the application of the ‘golden rule’ to the ‘whole animal kingdom’, and expresses his gratitude for the work and ideals of the League. Hardy adds that the principle of ‘equal justice’ should be applied to all people, everywhere – a humanist ideal. The letter read: 

Sir, – I am glad to think that the Humanitarian League has attained the handsome age of twenty years – the Animals’ Defence Department Particularly.

Few people seem to perceive fully as yet that the most far-reaching consequence of the establishment of the common origin of all species is ethical; that it logically involved a readjustment of altruistic morals, by enlarging, as a necessity of rightness, the application of what has been called “The Golden Rule” from the area of mere mankind to that of the whole animal kingdom. Possibly Darwin himself did not quite perceive it. 

While man was deemed to be a creation apart from all other creations, a secondary or tertiary morality was considered good enough to practise towards the “inferior” races; but no person who reasons nowadays can escape the trying conclusion that this is not maintainable. And though we may not at present see how the principle of equal justice all round is to be carried out in its entirety, I recognize that the League is grappling with the question.

– Your obedient servant, THOMAS HARDY.

Image: The Times, Tuesday 3 May 1910

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