Natural Law, Liberalism, and Christianity, by Frank Van Dun (FVD)
Please note: I will only cover the introduction and conclusion of this piece, before adding some closing thoughts. FVD’s work is rather detailed and thorough, and try as I might I cannot find a reasonable way to summarize it and do it justice at the same time.
Classical liberalism arose at a time when Christian orthodoxy was still vibrant.
It will be good to understand specifically what FVD means when he uses these terms:
By “classical liberalism,” I mean the liberalism of those who postulate a necessary link between liberty and objective law and justice, i.e., respect for natural persons, their property, and contractual obligations.
By “Christian orthodoxy,” I mean the interpretation of the Bible that became authoritative within the main churches as a result of the efforts of Saint Augustine and other early church fathers. However, I shall consider only its moral ontology. Moreover, I shall discount Augustine’s doctrine of hereditary sin.
So, returning to the opening line: FVD is making clear his view that classical liberalism and Christian orthodoxy were connected – the former was born while the latter still held sway. You might say it is coincidence; you might say that classical liberalism could have sprung forth (or still could spring forth) anywhere – in the environment of any other religion or no religion or multiple religions.
You might say this, but there is no evidence for this. So…after several thousand years of recorded history, perhaps we might take the evidence of this as reasonably meaningful; perhaps we can consider the connection as mandatory and even the order as relevant.
How does FVD make the connection?
Liberalism and Christian orthodoxy, sharing a number of fundamental ideas about the nature of man and of interpersonal relations, presuppose the same moral ontology of natural law. The high tide of Christian orthodoxy and classical liberalism belongs to the era when natural law was the fundamental concept of all serious thought about the human world.
Unless someone in the audience has evidence that such “fundamental ideas about the nature of man and of interpersonal relations” are also shared with other religious philosophies – and given the thousands of years of evidence from which you have to find such examples – perhaps we can dispense with the idea that classical liberalism (or its offspring, libertarianism) can be had by all, is equally valid for all, etc.
As an aside (and as I recently commented at the blog), I explored once the Japanese medieval tradition, to see if something approaching the relatively libertarian law of medieval Europe could be found. On the surface, the two societies have much in common. Yet, there was nothing in Japan that one might describe as being the roots of the NAP or natural law. Guess what was missing?
There is no sense of the worth of the individual, no sense of decentralized law – just decentralized power ([and only] toward the latter part of the period in question). There is no concept of natural law, of man made in God’s image, of oath, of law following the oldest custom and tradition, of religion as a check on political power.
China? India? Haven’t checked, but I am willing to make a bet.