Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, is the most interesting conservative you have never heard of. He speaks barely above a whisper and must be the mildest disturber of the peace. But he is among the most disturbing.

If you value your peace of mind, not to mention your breakfast bacon, you should not read Scully's essay "Fear Factories: The Case for Compassionate Conservatism--for Animals." It appeared in the May 23, 2005, issue of Pat Buchanan's magazine The American Conservative--not where you would expect to find an essay arguing that industrial livestock farming involves vast abuses that constitute a serious moral problem.

The disturbing facts about industrial farming by the $125 billion-a-year livestock industry--the pain-inflicting confinements and mutilations--have economic reasons. Ameliorating them would impose production costs that consumers would pay. But to glimpse what consumers would be paying to stop, visit factoryfarming.com/gallery.htm. Or read Scully on the miseries inflicted on billions of creatures "for our convenience and pleasure":

"... 400- to 500-pound mammals trapped without relief inside iron crates seven feet long and 22 inches wide. They chew maniacally on bars and chains, as foraging animals will do when denied straw... The pigs know the feel only of concrete and metal. They lie covered in their own urine and excrement, with broken legs from trying to escape or just to turn..."

It is, Scully says, difficult, especially for conservatives, to examine cruelty issues on their merits, or even to acknowledge that something serious can be at stake where animals are concerned. This is partly because some animal-rights advocates are so off-putting. See, for example, the Feb. 3, 2003, letter that Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals--animals other than humans--sent to the terrorist Yasir Arafat, complaining that an explosive-laden donkey was killed when used in a Jerusalem massacre.

The rhetoric of animal "rights" is ill-conceived. The starting point, says Scully, should be with our obligations--the requirements for living with integrity. In defining them, some facts are pertinent, facts about animals' emotional capacities and their experience of pain and happiness. Such facts refute what conservatives deplore--moral relativism. They do because they demand a certain reaction and evoke it in good people, who are good because they consistently respect the objective value of fellow creatures.

It may be true that, as has been said, the Puritans banned bearbaiting not because it gave pain to the bears but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. And there are indeed degrading pleasures. But to argue for outlawing cruelty to animals because it is bad for the cruel person's soul is to accept, as Scully does not, that man is the only concern.

Statutes against cruelty to animals, often imposing felony-level penalties, codify society's belief that such cruelty is an intrinsic evil. This is a social affirmation of a strong moral sense in individuals who are not vicious. It is the sense that even though the law can regard an individual's animal as the individual's property, there nevertheless are certain things the individual cannot do to that property. Which means it is property with a difference.

The difference is the capacity for enjoyment and suffering. So why, Scully asks, is cruelty to a puppy appalling and cruelty to livestock by the billions a matter of social indifference? There cannot be any intrinsic difference of worth between a puppy and a pig.

Animal suffering on a vast scale should, he says, be a serious issue of public policy. He does not want to take away your BLT; he does not propose to end livestock farming. He does propose a Humane Farming Act to apply to corporate farmers the elementary standards of animal husbandry and veterinary ethics: "We cannot just take from these creatures, we must give them something in return. We owe them a merciful death, and we owe them a merciful life."

Says who? Well, Scully replies, those who understand "Judeo-Christian morality, whose whole logic is one of gracious condescension, or the proud learning to be humble, the higher serving the lower, and the strong protecting the weak."

Yes, of course: You don't want to think about this. Who does? But do your duty: read his book "Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy." Scully, a conservative and hence a realist, knows that man is not only a rational creature but a rationalizing creature, putting his intellectual nimbleness in the service of his desires. But refraining from cruelty is an objective obligation. And as Scully says, "If reason and morality are what set humans apart from animals, then reason and morality must always guide us in how we treat them."

You were warned not to read this. Have a nice day.