The Uniqueness of Western Law: A Reactionary Manifesto, by Richard Storey
The first part of Storey’s book is entitled Natural Law. He finds in natural law the roots of libertarian law, the non-aggression principle. Libertarianism is nothing more or nothing less than this – the non-aggression principle. Many – both in and out of the so-called libertarian community – confuse the issue, adding various open borders and egalitarian social norms; others confuse the issue by insisting that the non-aggression principle is for all – universal. It is none of these things.
Libertarian law has its roots in the Indo-Europeans from whom all European civilizations are descended. It is a law that came from these roots and only these roots; it is a law to be found in no other civilization or tradition – certainly not in any meaningfully sustained way or outside of a small handful of philosophers.
There is a uniqueness in the Western law, “making the law the king of kings.” The social norm that was necessary to ensure this position for the law was the norm to be left alone in life and property.
…the king could not violate the private property rights of another free man for fear of retribution from other powerful lords on the one hand, and the loss of honour, glory and respect from one’s kinsmen on the other.
It was this law that was studied and refined in the west. Storey cites Augustine, who identifies evil as that which corrupts the measure, form or order that belongs to nature. It seems a sentiment that has its thread connected to the natural law as developed by Aristotle and Aquinas. The study of this Western tradition has been decimated, lost; Story finds that this loss is no accident, with a view that has prevailed in the universities in the 1960s and 1970s.
Libertarians might consider the consequences of evil that corrupts nature’s order; if ignoring some portion of natural law results in such evil, does liberty stand any chance of success?
This natural law has its roots in the Indo-European environment of ancient Greece, with the desire to live for one’s own sake ushering in the emergence of individualism. The Romans confused this natural law, with a mix of private and public law: private law defending property, and public law encroaching it. This continued to the point where the citizens preferred life under the barbarians as opposed to imperial rule.
Citing the early fifth century priest, Salvian: Rome collapsed in the west because it denied the first premise of good government – justice to the people. The wish of the people, once captured by the barbarians, was to never again return under imperial rule; the barbarians were the liberators. The root cause of this wish was the loss of natural law.
The Christianity of Northern Europe worked to clean up the mess made by the Romans: law by custom, conforming to nature. Excommunication worked to both discipline the king and to allow the people to consider the king invalid. Where the emperor attempted to select the pope, Pope Gregory VII established the College of Cardinals as the only legitimate means of selection – keeping very separate the Church and king.
This self-determination for the Church was mirrored in other institutions: universities, guilds, free-cities, etc. No authority had complete political, religious or intellectual authority. This mosaic of institutional authorities made room for individuals to find freedom. The Renaissance unleashed the forces that would eventually destroy this balance.
The roots were in Christianity and the Greek tradition of the environment in which it was nurtured. Jerusalem was a Greek city; Paul was educated in the Greek tradition; Christ is identified as the logos, the Word, the ordering principle of the universe. It was in this tradition where the individualism that libertarians claim was to be found; absent this tradition, we get the individualism of social justice and Cultural Marxism.
Storey reminds us that Lady Justice – depicted often as a solitary figure – has a sister: Prudence. Justice without prudence is truly blind, lacking any guidance toward any rationally observable order. One could consider that the non-aggression principle – with the characteristics of purely objective justice – is incomplete without prudence if one wants the fruits of natural law made possible by the two sisters working in concert: jurisprudence.
Libertarianism without the natural law as its foundation is lost. Justice requires that the natural order is maintained and defended; this is prudent. It is for this reason that libertarians such as Hoppe and Deist speak of community; this common grounding in a natural law tradition is necessary if one is to enjoy the fruits of libertarianism.
Can this Western natural law tradition of liberty survive a community that does not uphold Western natural law? To ask the question is to answer it. Yet it is on this point that libertarians – and also the wider community – split. One can find the split in reactions to pretty much anything Hoppe writes and in reaction to Deist’s blood and soil comments.
Yet we might as well throw out the libertarian project without recognizing this tradition.