Bullfights – The Beginning of the End?

Bullfights – The Beginning of the End? 
August 4, 2010
Alvaro Vargas Llosa
Washington Post Writers Group

WASHINGTON—Bullfighting has been debated for centuries, and banned by popes and governments. Even Ernest Hemingway conceded in “The Dangerous Summer” that “anything capable of arousing passion in its favor will surely raise as much passion against it.”

But the decision by the parliament of the Spanish region of Catalonia to proscribe bullfighting after 2012 is the greatest victory ever for the detractors of the sport. It was taken in a country that is the very birthplace of thecorridas, at a time when global pressure groups are using politically correct subterfuges to demonize traditions.

For Catalonian nationalists, bullfighting is a weapon against Spain. The ban follows the decision by Spain’s constitutional court to strike down the provision of the autonomous charter that defines Catalonia as a “nation.” Aware that bullfighting has been in decline in their region for some time, the Catalonians knew they had a chance to fire the perfect bullet at the heart of Spanish culture.

The moral case of Catalan politicians would have been credible if meat and foie gras had also been prohibited, or if they had not made an exception for correbous, a ritual in southern Catalonia that involves lighting fire to a bull’s horns and dragging it by the tail. But moral consistency is not part of Catalonian nationalism, whose encroachments on local freedoms are shameless. Half of the people of that region consider Spanish their mother language but laws dictate that primary education be taken in Catalan and businesses display their information in that language.

Bullfighting’s detractors have every right not to go to a corrida, to skewer the sport in the media and to demonstrate against it. But banning it is a totalitarian act. Spaniards at large have understood this. A recent poll showed that 60 percent of them do not like the sport but 57 percent disagree with the ban in Catalonia.

It is possible that bullfighting will wither as a widespread cultural tradition. Surveys show that the under-35s are uninterested. Moreover, one effect of globalization is the quickened pace of cultural cross-fertilization, meaning that old customs have a harder time enticing the younger generations, exposed as they are to international influences. But do I have the right, as a bullfighting fan, to forcefully shield youths from outside influences to preserve this cultural tradition that in its modern version dates back to the eighteenth century? I have no more right to do that than the Catalan parliament has to decree the extinction of the tradition.

Many forms of animal treatment are cruel. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 8.6 billion chickens, 570,000 cattle, 839,000 goats and 113.7 million hogs were slaughtered in America last year. The total weight of bovines and pigs slaughtered in Europe in 2008, says the European Commission, was 8 million tons and 22.5 million tons respectively. Anyone familiar with some of the methods involved would consider bullfighting, where the matador risks much more than do butchers, a less gory and one-sided confrontation.

Taken to its logical extreme, the argument against bullfighting would deprive humans of any animal-related food. It would get rid of grazing cows that degrade the ecosystems. Since farming threatens the ecosystem, we would have to dispatch that too. If the undoing of all domination over nature is what critics want, that is exactly what they should argue for. It is more honest to spell out the endgame than behave in the hypocritical, fallacious way in which the Catalan parliament has banned the sport even though barely 5 percent of bullfighting bulls are used in Spanish festivities each year.

Spain’s national fiesta has preserved an entire breed of cattle for the last three centuries. The bullfighting bull would probably be extinct—in the manner of its ancestor, the Aurochs, in the 17th century—were it not for the selective breeding and care with which the animals are raised on Spanish and Latin American ranches. Is animal protection the right name for a campaign that would kill this entire breed?

One aspect of bullfighting does deserve condemnation—government subsidies. About 500 million euros are spent annually by the European Union and the three levels of the Spanish government. Would bullfighting disappear without the subsidies? It might. But this is a decision for free individuals to make. Culture that lives on diktats ceases to be culture.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa
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Alvaro Vargas Llosa is Senior Fellow of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. His weekly column is syndicated worldwide by the Washington Post Writers Group, and his Independent Institute books include Lessons From the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, and Liberty for Latin America. 

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