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Why “Liberalism” Needs Natural Law

Over the past few years, we’re witnessed a resurgence of a long-standing critique of what’s often called “liberalism” by prominent conservative and Christian intellectuals. This goes far beyond arguments which have long preoccupied some traditionalists concerning market economies and their impact upon culture. It’s evident from reading these contemporary critics of liberalism and proponents of forms of what’s called integralism that the market often functions as a proxy for two larger targets. One is the American Founding. The other, by extension, is the type of liberal constitutional order which assumed decisive form in the Anglo-American world from 1688 onwards.

There is, however, an ambiguity marking many of these sallies against liberalism (itself a term that’s invested with often-contradictory meanings). It can be summarized in the following way.

Do today’s anti-liberals believe that the core problem is an ideology of radical autonomy, one that preaches liberation in the name of “tolerance-respect-diversity” while simultaneously shoving unscientific gobbledygook like gender theory down our throats? Or, do they also regard what I’ll call “liberal institutions” as antithetical to the good life? To put it more crudely: are particular structures and commitments such as constitutionalism, rule of law, due process, market economies, legally-recognized and often constitutionally-guaranteed rights, and a strong distinction between the temporal and spiritual realms, essentially reflections of a very destructive creed?

Many anti-liberals would, I suspect, acknowledge the pre-Enlightenment origins of many of these institutions. The economic arrangements which we call capitalism, for example, first manifested themselves in a relatively systematic form in medieval Europe. Once we dispense with Marxist and fellow-travelling mythologies about the origins of the market, the historical record on that point is hard to dispute.

It’s equally difficult, I’d argue, to deny that the roots of modern constitutional orders which seek to organize political life in ways that promote liberty and justice go back further than 1776 and 1688 to the early-modern and late-medieval worlds and even, some believe, to particular Roman and Greek thinkers. There’s also strong evidence to suggest that the idea of natural rights, so associated with the Age of Reason’s approach to politics, existed several centuries before Thomas Hobbes, John Locke or Thomas Jefferson put pen to paper.

If all this is generally true, it’s worth considering whether liberal order can be premised on claims about human nature that don’t presuppose preferential options for utility-maximization or atomistic visions of society. In short, we should explore the possibility of grounding liberal institutions upon markedly non-utilitarian ideas which embody conceptions of freedom closer to that articulated by Aquinas than John Stuart Mill and John Rawls. That requires, however, more attention to something which hasn’t featured strongly thus far in the liberalism-integralism discussion. This concerns the relationship between liberal order and the tradition of natural law in our post-Enlightenment world.

By “natural law,” I don’t mean “natural rights” per se. Indeed, if rights are to be distinguished from what are often no more than rationalizations of what temporary majorities or the powerful just happen to desire, then they must be grounded in a robust account of natural law. And by that, I mean right (“law”) reason (“natural”): the reason possessed by all people that, in principle, allows us to identify what is good and just (rather than simply useful or efficient) for individuals and communities but which also helped give rise to liberal order.

When we examine the character assumed by liberal institutions from the late-seventeenth century onwards, it becomes apparent that a major influence upon their development were various accounts of natural law. Political philosophers such as Paul R. DeHart have illustrated how an exemplar of eighteenth-century liberal order like the United States Constitution presupposes the type of moral underpinnings we find in the writings of ancients like Aristotle and Cicero, medievals such as Aquinas, and more modern supporters of natural law like William Blackstone, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, Edward Coke, Hugo Grotius, Richard Hooker, Samuel von Pufendorf, and Emer de Vattel.

A good example of this is the thinker and politician who’s considered emblematic of the Anglo-American tradition of ordered liberty.

Today, Edmund Burke is associated with the conservative emphasis upon the tacit knowledge contained in customs, conventions and traditions, something that goes hand-in-hand with his critique of Enlightenment rationalism. Yet Burke also spoke very positively about freedom, but not the radical autonomy targeted by today’s anti-liberals. As he stated in 1774, “The only liberty that is valuable is a liberty connected with order; that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them. It inheres in good and steady government, as in its substance and vital principle.”

But from whence did Burke see this order arising? On one level, Burke derived it from the inferred knowledge contained in tradition, especially religion. At the same time, as Peter J. Stanlis demonstrated 60 years ago in Edmund Burke and the Natural Law (1958), Burke’s vision of free and ordered societies is heavily informed by natural law reasoning and sources.

In his posthumously published Tracts on the Popery Laws, Burke refers to “the will of Him who gave us our nature, and in giving impressed an invariable law upon it” when explaining why the anti-Catholic penal laws operative in eighteenth-century Britain and Ireland were fundamentally unjust. Nor did Burke hesitate to invoke older traditions of natural law in his criticisms of how the French Revolution’s supporters used the language of rights.

In the realm of economics, Burke grounded his core arguments for free markets firmly upon natural law. We see this most vividly in his Thoughts and Details on Scarcity (1795), but also correspondence with his son Richard in which he spells out the unjust character of laws that drastically restricted the property-rights of Catholics in Ireland. In these and other instances, concerns for utility take a very secondary place. As for the conduct of nation-states, it’s notable that Burke’s justification for ongoing war against the French Revolution involved extensive reference to the Law of Nations: the ius gentium which natural law thinkers ranging from Aquinas to the more modern Vattel considered part of that aspect of positive law immediately derived by deduction from the natural law and universally applicable across national boundaries.

In summary, Burke regarded what some call “liberalism” today as incomprehensible, unworkable and unjust in the absence of widespread commitment to natural law. A similar argument can be made in our own time.

Without natural law foundations, for instance, how can we determine what is and isn’t a right other than appeals to raw power or utility, neither of which can provide a principled case for rights? Or, on what other basis besides natural law can we articulate reasoned accounts of the origin and nature of national sovereignty over and against globalist organizations seeking to impose plastic conceptions of human nature upon entire nations in the name of “tolerance-respect-diversity”? And above all: how can we achieve acceptance of principles of natural justice in a world, and an America, marked by religious pluralism without appealing to some common basis that can be recognized by anyone as just precisely because it is grounded in right reason?

Some critics of this line of thought object that it’s futile trying to re-found liberal institutions on natural law, let alone seeking to reinvigorate America’s constitutional order by recovering and unfolding its underlying classical moral design. Not everyone, the argument goes, is convinced by the claims of natural law. We consequently must look elsewhere if we want a political order free of illiberal liberalism. That may be why some have concluded that integralism offers a better way forward.

The fact, however, that some people disagree with natural law isn’t a strong reason to abandon efforts to reconstitute liberal order on natural law principles. On the contrary, it underscores the imperative of (1) explaining natural law to those many intelligent people of good will who have never encountered natural law or — more commonly — have been exposed to caricatures of it; (2) defending natural law against its critics; and (3) illustrating how natural law can supply a coherent basis for liberal institutions that liberal ideology can’t.

Of course, as long as humans are fallible, natural law reasoning won’t guarantee a liberal order free of imperfections. It does, however, offer us a way of avoiding the Scylla of authoritarian liberalism presently threatening us and the Charybdis of integralism which, I believe, can’t help but produce the type of relationship between church and state that not only blurs their respective competencies but usually ends up being very damaging to both politics and religion.

Reader Discussion

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on May 10, 2018 at 10:13:31 am

Excellent essay - well reasoned and articulated.

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Paul Binotto
on May 10, 2018 at 11:21:52 am

Competition leads to "creative destruction" and the erosion of all kinds of past practices. People who favor the status quo inevitably argue that deviating will cause the sky to fall. Evidence rarely vindicates their predictions.

But that doesn't mean that the predictions COULDN'T be true. People argued that if we fail to constrain market forces, we'll drive certain species to extinction--and they were right.

So I want to give a fair hearing to arguments claiming that our existing liberal order (The goose that lays the golden eggs) requires us to sacrifice in order to preserve it. But I approach the subject with a jaded eye. In particular, I have generally not found teleological arguments persuasive. Rather, I favor consequentialist arguments.

Without natural law foundations, for instance, how can we determine what is and isn’t a right other than appeals to raw power or utility, neither of which can provide a principled case for rights?f

Utility theory has practical challenges, especially as applied to groups. But I find no problem with the principle that we should adopt policies that maximize social utility.

Or, on what other basis besides natural law can we articulate reasoned accounts of the origin and nature of national sovereignty over and against globalist organizations seeking to impose plastic conceptions of human nature upon entire nations in the name of “tolerance-respect-diversity”?

Arguably the Union sought to impose its plastic conception of human nature on the sovereign states of the Confederacy in the name of "tolerance-respect-diversity." Was this contrary to natural law? The US overthrew the (undemocratic) government of Iraq. Was that contrary to natural law?

And above all: how can we achieve acceptance of principles of natural justice in a world, and an America, marked by religious pluralism without appealing to some common basis that can be recognized by anyone as just precisely because it is grounded in right reason?

Utility maximization works for me: The alternative to freedom of religion is endless religious wars.

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nobody.really
on May 10, 2018 at 11:40:06 am

Respectfully, "Utility maximization works for me" - does this include: maximizing health care dollars by: encouraging (sooner or later requiring) abortion of the unborn found to be Downs, otherwise seriously impaired, or simply to reduce "over-population; promoting (sooner or later requiring) euthanasia or PAS for elderly, terminally ill, chronically ill?

Not to be unfair, admittedly, I am taking your comment and intent out of context.

"Utility maximization works for me: The alternative to freedom of religion is endless religious wars" - Couldn't it be for some (many) that lack of freedom of religion would be considered a means to maximizing power over social issues that are decidedly contrary to most/many/some religious practice and beliefs?

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Paul Binotto
on May 10, 2018 at 11:44:40 am

nobody:

OK, but will you concede that while utility, in fact, has its utility that it is not sufficient (nor may it be necessary) to resolve all political / social / cultural questions?
Further, the pursuit of "pure utility" (hey maybe Kant should have used that title ... imagine) appears to have led us to a world dominated by those who purport to be scientific experts and the attendant damage to social harmony, diminution of "political" (in Reinsch's sense) engagement by the citizenry.

Yep, let us not do dumb things, let us not throw wrenches into the gears - but let us recall that not all is machinery.
And Yep again: There is certainly a high utility value in religious pluralism. further, it is clear that the Founders were aware of, and weighed favorably the utility value of that pluralism - YET, is there (was there?) not another compelling reason for the Founders to advance such a proposition - conscience rights / consent, etc?

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gabe
on May 10, 2018 at 11:45:06 am

[…] The great British political thinker Edmund Burke regarded what some call “liberalism” today as incomprehensible, unworkable and unjust in the absence of widespread commitment to natural law. A similar argument can be made in our own time, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg: […]

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Liberalism needs natural law – Acton Institute PowerBlog
on May 10, 2018 at 12:37:30 pm

"it underscores the imperative of (1) explaining natural law to those many intelligent people of good will who have never encountered natural law or — more commonly — have been exposed to caricatures of it"

The point about caricatures cannot be overemphasized. Generations of law students have been taught that natural law is equivalent to superstition, and that that is all they need to know about it. Most law professors simply brush it aside with a few snarky comments, treating it as beneath any rational person's attention. Homes and Posner were all-too-seductive proponents of this view. Years after law school, I finally learned on my own, by reading John Finnis, that there is a coherent (and in my opinion persuasive) secular account of natural law. This needs to be disseminated among law students and poli sci students, at a minimum.

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Delawarean
on May 10, 2018 at 12:39:10 pm
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Delawarean
on May 10, 2018 at 13:07:50 pm

“Utility maximization works for me” – does this include: maximizing health care dollars by: encouraging (sooner or later requiring) abortion of the unborn found to be Downs, otherwise seriously impaired, or simply to reduce “over-population; promoting (sooner or later requiring) euthanasia or PAS for elderly, terminally ill, chronically ill?

It might. So let's imagine a world in which scare resources lead people to use abortion and euthanasia. So let’s compare 1) a world in which impaired fetuses are aborted and seniors are euthanized to 2) a world in which an equivalent number of random fetuses are aborted and random people are euthanized. Would natural law favor one world over the other? Would utility maximization favor one over the other? And would these two principles lead to different conclusions?

Then again, you suggest that the trade-offs arise out of an effort to maximize heath care dollars. So another way out of this dilemma would be to acquire more health care dollars. A desire to maximize social utility might justify increasing taxation and social spending (just as it might also justify reducing taxation and social spending, depending on the circumstances). Does natural law support similar outcomes? Or does natural law merely label some behaviors as naughty, but fall silent when it comes to evaluating strategies for reducing those behaviors?

Couldn’t it be for some (many) that lack of freedom of religion would be considered a means to maximizing power over social issues that are decidedly contrary to most/many/some religious practice and beliefs?

Sure, I guess. For example, some jurisdictions may regulate the treatment of animals in a manner that conflicts with Santeria practices. Practitioners of Santeria might object that their religious liberty is being disrespected.

I’m not sure how natural law would address this issue.

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nobody.really
on May 10, 2018 at 13:34:43 pm

"[D]oes natural law merely label some behaviors as naughty" - No, natural law is not so ambiguous or sentimental. That is the purvue of moral relativism.

[B]ut fall silent when it comes to evaluating strategies for reducing those behaviors? " - Natural law has never been silent on offering solutions and strategies for reducing those behaviors; it is, however, often muzzled by those who do not wish to hear what it has to say.

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Paul Binotto
on May 10, 2018 at 13:36:17 pm

[W]ill you concede that [theory] is not sufficient (nor may it be necessary) to resolve all political / social / cultural questions?

John Rawls concurs that utility theory is insufficient. But I am not yet persuaded.

[T]he pursuit of “pure utility” ... appears to have led us to a world dominated by those who purport to be scientific experts and the attendant damage to social harmony, diminution of “political” (in Reinsch’s sense) engagement by the citizenry.

I would not yet characterize our current world as one solely dedicated to the pursuit of utility, unconstrained by other forces.

But, for what it’s worth, I’m rather fond of our current world. If you’d like to indicate any prior state of the world that you found preferable because it gave less weight to pursuing utility, please do so; we could then make a comparison.

There is certainly a high utility value in religious pluralism. further, it is clear that the Founders were aware of, and weighed favorably the utility value of that pluralism – YET, is there (was there?) not another compelling reason for the Founders to advance such a proposition – conscience rights / consent, etc?

Is there any conflict between utility maximization and conscience rights/consent? It would be useful to have an example to illustrate such a trade-off—but I can’t think of one.

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nobody.really
on May 10, 2018 at 13:39:26 pm

Natural law has never been silent on offering solutions and strategies for reducing those behaviors; it is, however, often muzzled by those who do not wish to hear what it has to say.

Delighted to hear it. What does natural law say about the appropriate level of taxation and social spending?

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nobody.really
on May 10, 2018 at 14:04:06 pm

That's an all together different question; you asserted Natural Law is silent on offering solutions and strategies for reducing those behaviors; solutions and strategies do not only/always entail governmental spending, while requiring nothing in terms of self-restraint, or personal responsibility, I should think is fair to say?

And, now, so as not to be accused of being unable to pracitce self-restraint, I am going to tip my hat to you, Nobody, as the gentlemen (and/or gentlewoman) we are, and say, "Good day, friend, got to go".

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Paul Binotto
on May 10, 2018 at 14:05:49 pm

Yes; and vice-versa!
https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/natural-law-liberalism/understanding-liberalism-a-broader-vision/AEE7D5D40680AB5376C6962ABA3D1E68

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CJ Wolfe
on May 10, 2018 at 14:18:32 pm

Stifle yourself, Edith!

I offered no "conflict" between utility and conscience rights, etc. I merely suggested that there are, and properly should be, other considerations when diagnosing, evaluating and proffering policy prescriptions.

It is certainly cheaper to shoot or, for that matter, hang all miscreants rather than spend, as California does, $76.000 per year on incarceration. Gee where is the utility value in that?

So stop deflecting the arguments of others onto the path you feel most comfortable engaging. Up to your old tricks again, aren't you?

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gabe
on May 10, 2018 at 14:22:34 pm

Yep, and nobody's snarking against natural law and his consistent praise of utility and "homo economicus" leaves us all feeling a bit bewildered at the obstinate refusal of some to overcome the caricatures that have been ingrained in their pysches by their *learned* teachers.

BTW: Hey, "homes" is Ok. al the hommes object to natural law - Ha!

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gabe
on May 10, 2018 at 14:26:43 pm

nobody.really: [Y]ou suggest that the trade-offs arise out of an effort to maximize heath care dollars. So another way out of this dilemma would be to acquire more health care dollars. A desire to maximize social utility might justify increasing taxation and social spending (just as it might also justify reducing taxation and social spending, depending on the circumstances). Does natural law support similar outcomes? Or does natural law merely label some behaviors as naughty, but fall silent when it comes to evaluating strategies for reducing those behaviors?

Paul Binotto: “[D]oes natural law merely label some behaviors as naughty” – No, natural law is not so ambiguous or sentimental. That is the purview of moral relativism.

[B]ut fall silent when it comes to evaluating strategies for reducing those behaviors? ” – Natural law has never been silent on offering solutions and strategies for reducing those behaviors….

Nobody.really: Delighted to hear it. What does natural law say about the appropriate level of taxation and social spending?

Paul Binotto: That’s an altogether different question; you asserted Natural Law is silent on offering solutions and strategies for reducing those behaviors; solutions and strategies do not only/always entail governmental spending, while requiring nothing in terms of self-restraint, or personal responsibility….

Ah. So natural law offers us no guidance regarding the problem you’ve described about lack of resources. It merely tells us what NOT to do when struggling with those challenges. That’s so much better than simply labeling certain behavior NAUGHTY. Thanks for clarifying.

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nobody.really
on May 10, 2018 at 14:54:43 pm

I offered no “conflict” between utility and conscience rights, etc. I merely suggested that there are, and properly should be, other considerations when diagnosing, evaluating and proffering policy prescriptions.

Why? If you reach the same conclusions using utility theory or concerns for conscience rights, why engage in redundant analyses?

The only reason you’d need to consider both utility theory and conscience rights is if they lead to DIFFERENT conclusions. Thus I asked, when would they conflict? It’s a sincere question.

It is certainly cheaper to shoot or, for that matter, hang all miscreants rather than spend, as California does, $76.000 per year on incarceration. Gee where is the utility value in that?

First, I’d like to see some evidence in support of your assertion that it’s cheaper to execute prisoners than to keep them in prison. I suspect you underestimate the cost of litigating capital cases.

But assuming the truth of your assertions: Some people value reducing the state’s role in killing. Some people acknowledge the legal system’s flaws and want to preserve people’s opportunity for exoneration. I’m not sure what your point it here.

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nobody.really
on May 10, 2018 at 15:52:20 pm

1) My conception of execution is more akin to the philosophy espoused by Judge Isaac Parker.

https://www.legendsofamerica.com/ar-isaacparker/

why waste time and money when you know the *sucka* is guilty! _Ha!

Moreover, all of the current delays in executing a condemned killer may be said to stem from a concern that a prisoner is provided ALL OF HIS NATURAL RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS, n'est ce pas?

2) " I’m not sure what your point it here." Precisely what you say in the preceding sentences. Some matters are best determined NOT by recourse to utility, in this instance dollars - but by a conception of what is proper. So you further my point, not refute it.

3) Earlier you assert that natural law can not inform us as to the proper level of taxation. Had I 300 pages to (and the time) to waste, I suspect that we could demonstrate how natural law does inform us on these issues. Derivative of natural law postulates that no man may be obligated without his / her consent AND other natural law derivatives on the proper AND LIMITED role of government in the lives of those who provide such consent, we may (roughly) approximate what is a proper burden of taxation. No, it will not be able to declare with clarity that my tax rate ought to be 27% or 30%, but it would, if natural law limits upon governmental interventions were to be respected, yield a rough approximation of what a citizen should be required to contribute. Then again, as it is a matter of contentious debate, even absent natural law influences today, I suspect it is not unreasonable to also assert that YOUR utility model HAS NOT DONE a very good job at defining the proper level of taxation either.

So once again, we observe that nobody really is unable to live according to the dictates of his "homo economicus" model. Nobody else believes that you can either.

Then again, consider your MPAD theory. Does this not also support natural law and can it not be said to be consistent with the tenets of natural law and conscience rights. Under MPAD, personal belief (in many instances, personal stupidity / bigotry / ignorance) trumps the utility value of anti-discrimination laws.
You yourself asserted as much in the last week or so in response to a query of mine on MPAD and the potential for additional disharmony if MPAD were enacted.

So what shall it be, nobody?

MPAD and natural law when it suits your fancy or no MPAD when we seek to promote the false "homo economicus" model of human behavior?

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gabe
on May 10, 2018 at 15:55:57 pm

You've forced me to put my hat back on (I knew you would) - I made no suggestion that there is a "lack of resources", I only questioned if that is a legitimate trade-off in an utilitarian world without Natural Law?

I was satisfied with your answer, "it might". You need not have elucidated any further. In my view, it can't be justified as legitimate trade-off, we differ there, and we'll need to agree to disagree.

But, I would in closing (for good this time on this exchange) submit, it (Natural Law) was telling what to "Not" do long before those challenges became major ones; but rather, they only became (predictably, in fact it was predicted) major challenges in subsequent years when it (N.L.) was no longer recognized or regarded as valid.

As Mr. Gabe woruld say, "See ya!"

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Paul Binotto
on May 10, 2018 at 16:52:02 pm

Paul:

See my comment below:

nobody really actually does recognize N.L, even if he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that many of his arguments have as their root a basis in natural law.

Constancy, my friend nobody - "Constancy" - but wait, a PROPER understanding of Natural Law would compel one to aspire to constancy not utility. nobody really believes that utility, in spite of the experiential evidence, trumps the constant principles of natural law.

Seeya, brudda!!!!

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gabe
on May 10, 2018 at 20:14:41 pm

It seems to me that saying "Liberalism needs natural law" is sort of like saying "The Grinch needs a heart transplant."

Samuel Gregg seems to ignore the fact that natural law presupposes the capacity to develop habitual benevolence as a fundamental element of human nature, as well as being a duty to our fellow humans, and therefore (in the "neo-Ciceronian" thinking of Hutcheson, Burlamaqui, Vattel and the American Founders) a/the source of natural rights.

Samuel Gregg conflates the thought of Jefferson with that of Hobbes and Locke. That would seem to be untenable, if Gregg has the Declaration of Independence's reference to "unalienable rights" in mind. Once again, in the minds of the Founders, following Hutcheson, Burlamaqui and Vattel (but not Hobbes or Locke), unalienable rights correspond to fundamental duties -- in particular, the duty to act for the well-being of our fellow humans and for the general good of society.

With that said, the point shouldn't be carried too far: Hutcheson, for example, specifically mentions individual self-interest together with our obligation to our fellow humans as the twin sources of natural rights. (We have the right to act innocently in our own behalf, as long as this doesn't conflict with the well-being of others or of society, and as long as there is no social need limiting such self-motivated action.) Hutcheson's point is based on the need to promote industry among the people (as an imperative for collective survival), and self-interest is a fundamental motivator toward that.

I am inclined to suspect that Samuel Gregg sees Lockean liberalism as an insufficient ideological foundation for a healthy society. As Heinrich Rommen (a German legal scholar who fled Nazi persecution) has summed up, Locke understands natural rights as being the “innate and indefeasible rights of individuals,” including “the rights to life, liberty, and estate or property”; but Locke discards “the traditional understanding of natural law as an order of human affairs, as a moral reflex of the metaphysical order of the universe revealed to human reason in the creation as God’s will.” (Rommen 1998, 79) Instead, Locke’s conception of natural law is “a rather nominalistic symbol for a catalogue or bundle of individual rights that stem from individual self-interest. Any order of law is accordingly the product of the contractual will of the individuals concerned, and it has for its object the protection and promotion of individual self-interest.” (Rommen 1998, 79, emphasis added)

Samuel Gregg mentions "the imperative of explaining natural law to those many intelligent people of good will who have never encountered natural law."

Here is brief synopsis of the Ciceronian natural law tradition (including the 18th-century Hutcheson, Burlamaqui and Vattel) that informed the thinking of the American founders:

1) Humans are by nature interdependent as well as independent, and liberty/natural rights are circumscribed by the needs of society.
2) Humans have an innate capacity to develop virtue, with the foremost virtue of justice being rooted in benevolence, or love of our fellow humans. Natural rights correspond to our fundamental duties to (our Creator and) our fellow humans.
3) Habitual virtue, or “perfection” (mature moral development) is the source of happiness. The pursuit of happiness means the development of virtue, especially habitually benevolent behavior toward our fellow humans.
4) Human nature is such that humans don’t become habitually virtuous unless guided by family and society. Government (and religion) play(s) an essential role in the promotion of virtue. This last point, if taken seriously, would seem to not bolster liberalism but rather transform liberalism into something else.

Samuel Gregg points to the thinking of Edmund Burke in relation to natural law. This brings up the question of why James Wilson -- a signer of the Declaration of Independence, one of the principal architects of the Constitution, and an original Supreme Court justice, associated Burke with TYRANNY. As Wilson said/wrote in one of his 1790 law lectures: “Tyranny, at some times, is uniform in her principles. The feudal system was introduced by a specious and successful maxim, the exact counterpart of that, which has been advanced by Mr. Burke” who argued, as Wilson summarized, that “the connexion between man and his natural rights is intercepted by the institution of civil society.” (Wilson 2007, 2:1057) Was there a fundamental disconnect between natural law as understood in the nascent USA and as understood by Burke?

Perhaps Samuel Gregg or somebody else can say whether Burke saw the societal/governmental need to promote the development of virtue (especially habitual benevolence) in the members of society. A quick search pulled up the following tangental quote : “A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it; but a good patriot, and a true politician, always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country.”

Would Burke have supported the following quote from the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution?

"Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people."

https://malegislature.gov/Laws/Constitution#chapterVSectionII

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John Schmeeckle
on May 10, 2018 at 20:22:48 pm

nobody really actually does recognize N.L, even if he steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that....

1. I may indeed recognize natural law without realizing it. That's the nature of any thought: It might rest on some unacknowledged premise.

The challenge is not to assert this premise; the challenge is to DEMONSTRATE it.

2. You think that I'm reluctant to recognize N.L.? Oh, sure--why should ye who are in the American League cast the first stone?

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nobody.really
on May 11, 2018 at 09:10:00 am

well because we have DESIGNATED HITTERS - so we can mix things up a bit more than you N.L.'ers.

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gabe
on May 11, 2018 at 09:12:18 am

D.H - totally a perversion of the natural law!

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Paul Binotto
on May 11, 2018 at 10:38:03 am

The issue as I take it with liberalism is not the radical autonomy as the extreme embodiment of liberalism, but the problem of liberty as the object of political action.
"The only liberty that is valuable is a liberty connected with order; that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them. It inheres in good and steady government, as in its substance and vital principle.”
In this sense, liberty connected to order is restriction, constraint and limit. There may be a meaning of the term liberty that is coherent, but this only exposes the ambiguity of using the term in the first place. Liberty rather often takes on a question begging way of establishing what restrictions ought to be put into place.
Liberal conservatism continues to submit to this ambiguity in embracing some notion of liberty. Conservatives used to realize that Christianity was superior to other religions and necessary for good society with other religions tolerated, but restricted in their ostensible opposition or interference with Christianity. This is now taken as illiberal nonsense and in the name of a question begging liberty an order is imposed which restricts, constrains and undermines Christianity's objective superiority and goodness for society. Similarly, conservatives used to believe murdering children was something absolutely to be restricted, however, in the name of liberty even conservatives now embrace that women may murder their children if their conception was sufficiently violent.

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Semiotic Animal
on May 11, 2018 at 10:40:52 am

[…] My take on: Why “Liberalism” Needs Natural Law […]

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Why “Liberalism” need Conservatives | Infinite Semiosis
on May 11, 2018 at 11:57:35 am

“Burke regarded what some call ‘liberalism’ today as incomprehensible, unworkable and unjust in the absence of widespread commitment to natural law. Without natural law foundations . . . how can we determine what is and isn’t a right other than appeals to raw power or utility . . . ?”

“. . . some have concluded that integralism offers a better way forward.”

“. . . as long as humans are fallible, natural law reasoning won’t guarantee a liberal order free of imperfections. It does, however, [avoid both] authoritarian liberalism . . . and . . . integralism which . . . can’t help but produce the type of relationship between church and state that not only blurs their respective competencies but usually ends up being very damaging to both politics and religion.”

Huh? Aren’t politics and religion to be kept separated?

Traditional scholarship follows edicts such as “write in English” and “write for the audience,” constraining the writer in two ways: 1) he or she cannot express the message because of obsolete, unrelated, or temporal usage of terms---words and phrases, like “liberalism” and “natural law”, and 2) the audience is so diverse and aggressive the writer can satisfy few if any readers. I reject instruction so as to record my message for the few readers who will learn my glossary. I cannot deliver my message when I’m gone, so I’ll do it while I’m here and hope someone cares enough to seek clarity when my fallibility prevails.

To address Samuel Gregg’s essay, I’d like to agree with the overall premise and suggest an attainable, better future. The basis is the-objective-truth, which can only be discovered, rather than natural law, traditionally based on reason.

I think Gregg’s premise is that humankind has discovered so much of the-objective-truth yet developed so many diverse civilizations that most people, with perhaps 80 years expected life, have lost hope for individual liberty. In other words, while technology has advanced exponentially, scholars debate civic morality imagined some 300 years ago, dampening enthusiasm for the next 80 years.

The mature human being is so physically and psychologically powerful that it takes about three decades for a well-coached and encouraged infant to acquire the understanding and intent to live a full life. The aware young adult has the individual power, energy, and authority (IPEA) to develop integrity. Most don’t; some think crime pays. But there are outliers who develop integrity.

“Integrity” exceeds honesty. Integrity requires five practices: 1), a) the work to comprehend an-objective-truth and understand how to benefit; b) when action is required but the-objective-truth is unknown, choose the action that most closely conforms to the theory of the-objective-truth, 2) behavior so as to benefit from the-objective-truth, 3) public expression of the understanding and benefits, and 4) open-mindedness for discovery that demands change in behavior for benefit.

Those who develop integrity also develop comprehensive fidelity. Its basis is the-objective-truth and fidelity extends, both respectively and collectively to self, to immediate family, to extended family and friends, to the people, to the world, and to the universe.

When IPEA motivates integrity and fidelity, the individual, in every thought, word, and action, neither initiates nor tolerates harm. This practice is beyond intention, and if he or she errs, it’s because of oversight such as consequences for another party. On notice, he or she effects correction soon, if possible. He or she approaches individual infallibility.

The individual manages the lesser authorities each human faces: appetites (banality), civilizations (coercion), government (power), and the unknowns (fear or doubt). Respecting the unknowns, the individual serenely develops his or her comforts and hopes. That is, every harmless religion flourishes.

Humankind is comprised of individuals at different chronologies and with different natural abilities, each living in a distinct civilization and culture. Therefore, the variations on acceptance/rejection/misuse of IPEA are as many as the people living at any moment. However, it is important to recognize that humankind is divided: some are developing integrity and some not.

A transcending culture of mutual, comprehensive safety and security seems achievable if most humans accept IPEA and choose to develop integrity. Effecting this change worldwide seems remote. However, the USA was designed for IPEA. The first, legal sentence in the constitution for the USA, the preamble, asserts that the willing people authorize the laws and institutions for stated purposes, and among the articles is the authority to amend the constitution so as to increase integrity. By “willing people” I mean those citizens who trust-in and commit-to the agreement that is stated in the preamble. The sentence addresses civic issues, leaving comforts and hopes respecting the unknowns for individual attention.

With a majority of citizens accepting IPEA and developing integrity, the people may approach infallibility.

These ideas have developed upon collaboration by about sixty people in public library meetings in Baton Rouge, LA, into our fifth year. Here, citizens are infamously divided: Democrat vs Republican; black vs white; African-American Christian vs perhaps all others; the poor vs the affluent; incorporated Baton Rouge vs the proposed St. George City.

What began as a proposal to consider being We the People of the United States (as specified by the legal agreement that is offered by the preamble to the constitution for the USA) developed into the additional articulation that each individual has the power, energy, and authority to develop integrity and fidelity. So far, IPEA has been well received, but not by all hearers and readers.

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Phillip Beaver
on May 22, 2018 at 00:01:37 am

[…] Read More […]

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Why “Liberalism” Needs Natural Law - The Aquila Report

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