All posts tagged: natural law

The History of Natural Right

Given this revisionary account of the development of natural law (click for previous instalment in this series) in western intellectual history, how does it relate to the story of natural rights? In the case of Aquinas, as with many other medieval theologians, and the canon law itself, the Christian exaltation of individual uniqueness and liberty led to a greater recognition of subjective rights in the sense of both claim and exercise rights than had previously been the case. However, the claims generally remained claims upon others to exercise their more primary duties, while exercise rights were attached to social roles whose duties were derived from justice as distribution.[1] Later, in the 16th century, in the case of both Catholic and Calvinist thought, there was a greater development of the idea of “rights” as attaching to human beings as such, especially with respect to life, freedom and ownership. Thus for example, Suarez no longer, like Aquinas, defined ius as id quod iustum est, or as the equitable, but as “a kind of facultas which every man …

The History of Natural Law

Ultimately, one can only attain to such a perspective (see: the series introduction for context) by invoking both the contrast and the continuity of natural right with natural law. The latter notion is generally misunderstood. It has a double historical origin. First, it can be mainly located in the works of Philo Judaeus as a coming together of Hebrew notions of the cosmos as subject to an omnipotent personal rule, with a Greek metaphysical discourse concerning the structures of being. In terms of this strand, natural law is thoroughly Biblical in origin, and indeed Philo thinks of the revealed law of the Hebrew Bible as alone fully proclaiming the natural law, even if the world constitutes a kind of megalopolis with one law and one constitution, to which the constitutions of cities are dubious “additions,” allegorically symbolized by Joseph in terms of the supposed etymology of his name and his coat of many colors. The Decalogue is a saving deliverance from this addition: thus it was proclaimed far from cities in the “deep desert,” and unlike …

A Revisionist Account of Natural Law and Natural Right

Discussions of natural law and natural right inevitably include accounts of their historical genesis, and where they do not, then often a fictive genesis is assumed, in such a way as vitiates the substantive claims for either law or right that are being made. This is most evidently the case for modern natural right, since this manifestly has an origin—it has been asserted always in particular circumstances and within a particular conceptuality that help to determine the sense of the notion. But it is also the case for natural law, because any attempt to ignore its origins in the Classical and Medieval past, and especially its links to theology and metaphysics, inevitably denature it and produce a novel, modern doctrine that is often much more reducible to a modern natural rights doctrine than its proponents imagine.[1] Therefore I will attempt, in this essay, to sketch in short compass an account of the historical development of natural right in relation to the older notion of natural law. My contention will be that the latter notion has, …

Why Is Christian Citizenship a Paradox?

The French Catholic press Ad Solem in early 2015 published my book on political philosophy entitled There Is No Power But of God (Tout pouvoir vient de Dieu), which outlined a much more expansive program of research on the relationship between theology and politics that I am working on at present. In general terms, this book was framed as a reflection upon the formulation of Saint Paul in Romans 13:1. It put the common political interpretation of this passage to the test of a historical, philosophical, and theological reception, whose most prominent landmarks are to be found in the Fathers of the Church, especially in Saint Justin, Tertullian, and Saint Augustine. The major aim of this book consisted in demonstrating that this formulation does not expound a Christian political doctrine, but rather a way of conceiving Christian citizenship in light of the requirements of the universal common good. Beyond the historical insight of this book, its readers are sure to grasp its contemporary relevance at a time when so much violence is seeking religious justification. However, …

What Is Integralism Today?

In the Catholic Church old debates that might seem to have been left behind are constantly returning. Thus, the debate in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries between “liberal” Catholics and their opponents, sometimes called “integralists,” has recently given signs of revival. One such sign is a seminar offered this semester at Harvard Law School entitled “Law and Catholic Thought: Liberalism and Integralism.” The seminar’s co-teachers can be seen as representing liberalism (Princeton University’s Professor Robert P. George) and integralism (Harvard’s own Professor Adrian Vermeule) respectively. George is certainly not a “liberal” Catholic in the sense in which that term is opposed to “conservative”—he is indeed one of the standard bearers of conservatism in the American Catholic Church. But he is a liberal as opposed to an integralist, because he thinks that political authority exists for the sake of the protection of individual rights, that one of the most important of those rights is the right of religious liberty, and that political authority should therefore not officially favor one religious confession more than others. Vermeule, …

Natural Family Planning and the Myth of Catholic Contraception

Is our culture close to turning a corner on Humanae Vitae, half a century after its promulgation and the widespread rejection of it that followed? There are reasons for cautious optimism. The historical context of the encyclical is important, given that it came just 38 years after Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, which had already reaffirmed the longstanding Christian prohibition on contraception. What occasioned Humanae Vitae was really the emergence of the pill, which unlike barrier methods of contraception did its work inside the body, and so looked scarcely different from confining sexual intercourse to the woman’s infertile period.[1] But while the pill is still the contraceptive of choice for many, there is now growing disquiet about its side effects. This is significant not just from the perspective of health but also a feminist one: We once thought the oral contraceptive liberating, but today the discourse is shifting towards recognizing that women are made to disproportionately bear the hormonal burden of birth control. Additionally, given our contemporary attraction to all things organic and natural, there …

The “New” Evangelization in the Americas: On the Catholic Origins of Human Rights

The introduction of human rights language into the social mission of the Catholic Church evident in Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in terris (1963) is often seen as a delayed response to the modern world. From this perspective, Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom rode on the back of America’s centuries-old first freedom. Even the magna carta of the modern social encyclicals, Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum (1891), has been characterized by some as a Catholic redaction of liberal theories of individual rights to property. But the Catholic vision of human rights, in fact, is neither “liberal” nor “American” nor “modern” for that matter. The plausibility of this rather unconventional claim rests on whether or not it can be shown that the commitment to human rights so essential to the social doctrine of the Church today has its roots in a debate internal to the Catholic tradition, rather than developing as a delayed response to a modern political order external to it. A turn to the evangelization of the Americas in the sixteenth century provides …