The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis
Lewis closes this short book with an Appendix: Illustrations of the Tao. He offers numerous illustrations of Natural Law to be found in history and in many cultures: ancient Egyptian, Jewish, Chinese, Old Norse, Babylonian, Roman, Hindu, Christian, Anglo-Saxon, Greek, Australian Aborigines. In some cases, specific authors are noted: Confucius, Locke, Cicero, Plato, and authors of various Epistles from the New Testament.
He formats his review in sections (the summaries are mine):
The Law of General Beneficence: there is the negative (various versions of “Thou shalt not…”) – presenting a list longer than one that would be consistent with punishment under libertarian theory; and the positive (various versions and extensions of the Golden Rule).
The Law of Special Beneficence: drawing out the special relationships of humans with humans – beginning with immediate family, extending to a broader “kin,” and eventually to one’s community and native land.
Duties to Parents, Elders, and Ancestors: demonstrate respect toward father and mother and their traditions, extending even to deceased ancestors.
Duties to Children and Posterity: educate them well, show proper care.
The Law of Justice: three subsets are presented. Sexual Justice: do not commit adultery; Honesty: do not steal, make shameful gain, do not do mischief unless it is done to you first; Justice in Court, etc.: do not take bribes, bear false witness.
The Law of Good Faith and Veracity: Do not lie; do not make a false oath; keep your promises.
The Law of Mercy: feed the hungry, make intercession for the weak, never strike a woman, do not desert the sick, leave a sheaf from the harvest for the poor.
The Law of Magnanimity: it is injustice to fail to prevent another from injury, show courage and do not leave the battle, death is better than life with shame, put on immortality in your thoughts, the soul should conduct the body, he who loves his life will lose it.
As noted, these are to be found in numerous cultures around the world and throughout history. God has placed these things in men’s hearts – all men’s hearts. Yet the fruits – turning Natural Law or the Tao into action – have varied from place to place and time to time.
This brings me back to the development of law, custom, tradition and culture in medieval Europe. It did develop here, and it did last for centuries. Why? Did the Germanic ethic best capture the honor and justice that is called for? Was this Natural Law best captured in the Christian tradition? Christians would respond, “yes, obviously!” As it was the Creator of this Natural Law that was also the foundation for Christianity, what else could be expected?
Further, if these are “Natural Laws,” can a society long survive in significant violation of these? What might this mean for how to think about the non-aggression principle in such a context?
Finally, what is not drawn out by Lewis – at least in this short book – is the “why?” Why any of these “Laws” as opposed to others? What makes this list “Natural”?
For this, it seems to me that the answer is to be found in Aristotle.