Friday, May 21, 2021

A Video, All About Me!


I sent an email to Paul VanderKlay regarding the topic of natural law, a concept that until recently and rarely, neither he nor others in this meaning crisis conversation have incorporated.  To my pleasant surprise, he not only replied to the email, he incorporated it fully into a video, with my email beginning here. 

Following are my thoughts, with no further clarification.  I included several of these in the comments of the video, but not all – too many.


I will want to watch this a couple of times before deciding if I have anything more substantial to add than the following, but here goes....

What I have gathered thus far (I am a little over an hour into it) is that Peterson, Pageau, Vervaeke, and PVK are, in fact, in search of a natural law ethic, but they just don't want to or don't choose to use the words natural law.  Fair enough, I'm not the one doing the talking.

Second, from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "As an empirical matter, many natural law moral theorists are also natural law legal theorists, but the two theories, strictly speaking, are logically independent. One can deny natural law theory of law but hold a natural law theory of morality."

I do not advocate, nor have I ever advocated, that the natural law ethic should also be civil law.  It won't work, and the state is the wrong institution through which this ethic should be both taught and enforced.  At the risk of further upsetting Karl, and the bigger risk of using Scripture to make a point to a very well-educated pastor...Jesus gave advice and counsel to the woman caught in adultery; He did not turn this violation of natural law into a civil punishment matter.


OK, I finally had time to finish the video one-time through.  I thank you, Paul, for taking time to address and incorporate my email – I have survived!  I will go through the video again at least once more before deciding what, if any, further comments I have.  But here is one more for now – from the very end:

PVK: I’m interested in the frontier of where we are now and finding new language and new formulations and continuing the very long project of what we’ve been at all along.  I don’t think it’s a mystery that the Orthodox come and say, “you know, we had a bunch of stuff buried in the basement and I think this stuff might help.”

Wait a minute, Paul.  New language and new formulation to be found in the two-thousand-year-old Orthodox tradition, but not in Aquinas’s seven-hundred-year-old development?  A development that the West did a pretty good job of incorporating and integrating (nowhere near perfectly) until about 125 years ago?


Language…had Luther understood Aquinas better instead of taking down a strawman, imagine what the story of Christendom might have been (not to say that there weren’t many other issues with the Catholic Church).

Old words…it is interesting that it is the oldest tradition, Orthodoxy, that seems to be making the most traction today; within Catholicism, the Latin Mass has the strongest adherents; in Protestantism, as one example, the PCA is growing while the PCUSA is shrinking.  Maybe people are looking for old words.

“Say that to an atheist; you need to figure out another way to say it”: I was writing an email to a Christian pastor, a Christian pastor who has, at least up to now and to my understanding, pushed back on any mention of natural law.  How else would I write to a Christian? 

Frankly, I had much more concern about citing and interpreting Scripture in an email to a Christian pastor than I did about being taken to task for citing Scripture to a Christian pastor.  As I noted in a reply to Karl elsewhere in these comments, I have written dozens, maybe hundreds, of posts on natural law without citing Scripture – it is discoverable by believer and non-believer alike. 

“Do good things and good things happen, do bad things and bad things happen.”  For any society that violates natural law long enough, this will be the case – certainly the “do bad things” part.  Living according to a natural law ethic doesn’t guarantee good things; living in violation of it might have a short-term gain (one lifetime, a few lifetimes).  Meaning crisis – it has taken over a hundred years in the West for these violations to result in bad things.

“’Human rights are objective’ is the modern frame.”  This is baffling.  There is nothing about human rights in the modern frame that is objective.  A man can be a woman – this is a human right in the modern frame.  What is objective about that?

The Israelites in Psalm 1 & 2 weren’t living by natural law.  That was the point.  But, again, living by natural law doesn’t guarantee good things on earth.  Nothing does.  Violating it guarantees bad things – maybe not immediately, but always eventually.

Rohlin points to the idea of natural law as starting with the Enlightenment.  That is so wrong that either I am not understanding him or he doesn’t know anything of what he is talking about.

“’If you violate those laws, things start to go sideways for you in one way or another’ which is basically what bionic mosquito wrote.”  Yes, and no.  Individuals can violate natural law for a lifetime, and “win” significantly in terms of wealth, sex, power, etc.  Stalin violated natural law, but never faced any consequences on this earth for it.

“We need a new model individually, and we need a new model collectively, and language is, in many ways, the connection between that.”  Not if we allow language to be whatever we want whenever we want.  New words never capture the meaning of the old words.  I don’t know a word in Greek that doesn’t take ten words in English to somewhat understand.

I don’t know about the phone stand becoming a citizen.  That is too much of a strawman too address at all.

“I don’t know that natural law works for people who haven’t spent all kinds of time in classrooms.”  I guess I didn’t write clearly enough in my email.  Teach love, as Jesus meant it.  Isn’t this kind of the main mission of the church?

“If you want to get ahead of it, work in the area of religion, not law.”  I did that in my email, and you say it doesn’t translate today.  As I noted in an earlier comment – natural law as an ethic need not translate into natural law as law – and I would never advocate such a thing, except to the extent that one’s natural rights are violated (oh, another outdated term; violations of life and property are the only legitimate places for civil law, and one recognized by many Thomists and, of course, libertarians).  I am not yelling this.  I AM YELLING THIS: NATURAL LAW SHOULD NOT BE THE BASIS OF CIVIL LAW.  RELIGION MUST DEAL WITH THE ETHICS OF NATURAL LAW.  The proper intermediating institution is the church, not the state. 

Laws against cheating: you raised the point of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.  This is exactly my point, but somehow you turn it against me: Jesus advocated advice and counsel, not punishment.  That is my point. 

Rohlin speaks of natural law, referring to four authors from the fifth century.  This is OK, but referring to the language of Aquinas eight centuries later is a problem?

“If we can only get back to [the Middle Ages, Geneva, etc.).” This isn’t the desire nor the point.  It was either Lewis or Chesterton, I really don’t recall: the point is to return to the center.  This isn’t a case of regressing to some earlier time; it is a case of returning to a proper norm.

“I think ‘law’ is the more problematic of the two.”  I agree.

“Natural Law vs. ordered.  Which is a better word?”  Natural: according to one’s nature.  Law: something which, if violated, will be detrimental to both individual and society.  I agree, law is the problematic word.  Call it natural ethics.  It is still Aquinas – a name I have rarely if ever heard from any of Peterson, Vervaeke, Pageau, or PVK – while hearing of dozens or hundreds of others. 

Natural law is not an intramural Christian thing.  It is the thing that has been lost in the West, that is being searched for by all in this discussion.  Now, you can say that all of those discussing are Christian, whether they know it or not.  Fair enough.  But so is everyone watching these YouTube videos.  “I count the atheists in the West as Protestants.”  Exactly.  Call it intramural; we are all on the same playing field.


  1. You make a good point about allowing language to be whatever we want. When law is defined by language it rarely resembles natural law. I see this in libertarian works as well with some of the most respected authors arguing themselves into defending deplorable acts. 

    I somewhat disagree with your position that natural law "should" not also be civil law. I think natural law "cannot" also be civil law. Not only can it not be truly codified, but if a "new" language were somehow discovered in which it could be, lawyers would immediately set about altering the language and those rules it describes.

    1. Jeff, you are so right on the point in your second paragraph (well, your first paragraph as well). When law is written, the power shifts to the authorities, and away from the people. See the following, taken from Fritz Kern:

    2. My favorite excerpt from the book Alice In Wonderland, Chp. 4:


      ‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’

      ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”’ Alice said.

      Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’

      ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”’ Alice objected.

      ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

      ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

      ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’

      Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

      ‘Would you tell me, please,’ said Alice ‘what that means?’

      ‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’

      ‘That’s a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

      ‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’

      ‘Oh!’ said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.


    3. Growing up, I remember being proud of living in the U.S., which billed itself as a nation of laws not men. Alas, a nation of laws is a nation of lawyers, as the late Gore Vidal once noted.

      So we're still a nation of men. Worse, we're now also a nation of women (i.e., feminists), non-binaries, and assorted degenerates. Cry, the beloved country.

    4. "When law is written, the power shifts to the authorities"

      More on this point from Claes Ryn in his essay "Which American?":

      "The Framers assumed that, for the Constitution to work, its institutions had to be manned by individuals who embodied its spirit. These individuals had to be predisposed to virtues like self-restraint, respect for law, and a willingness to compromise. They had to have what I call a constitutional personality. The spirit of the written Constitution stemmed from America’s unwritten constitution, that is, the religious, moral, and cultural life that had inclined Americans to constitutionalism in the first place. The Constitution could not survive without character traits that the Framers hoped would be wide-spread. All know Benjamin Franklin’s answer to the woman who asked what the Constitutional Convention had produced: "A republic, if you can keep it." The primary reason why today the U.S. Constitution is a mere shadow of its former self is that it cannot be sustained without the constitutional personality."

      And from another essay of his entitled "Political Philosophy and the Unwritten Constitution", Claes has to say the following:

      "A consideration of what the Framers assumed and implied will demonstrate the inadequacy of interpretations that look for the meaning of “the Founding” in texts abstracted from historical settings and concrete substance. Neglect of the unwritten constitution may serve as an example of the debilitating effects of abstractionist, ahistorical modes of thought in contemporary political philosophy...The Framers assume the preponderance of a particular type of moral responsibility with deep roots in classical and Christian civilization. The virtue they admire and hope will assist the realization of their plans is not some abstract precept or ethereal sentiment. It is a virtue of character and concrete obligations that generates social relationships and institutions of a certain type and quality. This moral ethos can be contrasted with a very different notion of virtue, one that has become increasingly influential in the Western world. While the older kind of virtue manifests itself in individual, personal responsibility and tends to foster private and local community and a decentralized society, the more recent kind of virtue manifests itself in abstract ideas and sentiments and tends to foster a collectivistic and centralized society. The two types of morality may resemble each other in terminology, but they represent incompatible views of human nature and society and have radically different social and political ramifications."

      The Framers wrote the Constitution thinking it would act as a check on government power, but being written and thus simplified, it became vulnerable to abstraction from the constitutional society without which it could not survive and the ceaseless efforts of the ambitious towards the will to power (which so often included lawyers!).

      But probably one of the the best discussions of this topic you'll find at the Abbeville Institute, courtesy of Don Livingston in a lecture entitled, "What is Wrong with Ideology"

    5. ATL, example 1,398,475,203 of the reality that culture precedes and drives politics. Worrying about liberty (NAP) before concerning one's self with the culture necessary is a losing game.

    6. Maybe the law should be stated that good culture precedes good politics, because certainly bad politics can negatively affect culture. Certainly it should be our pre-eminent goal (and all those who care about liberty, beauty, and traditional virtues) to reform ourselves, our families, and our culture first and foremost.

      Claes also has something to say on this:

      "Society’s long-term evolution is profoundly affected by those who shape the mind and imagination of a people. They set the tone in the arts, the entertainment industry, the publishing houses, the electronic media, the press, and academia. When these are pulling in the same direction, not even a landslide political victor can overcome them. For real and lasting change to be possible, first the culture has to change." - Not by Politics Alone: Arts and Humanities

  2. "“I think ‘law’ is the more problematic of the two.” I agree."

    I think it's the combination of the two words together. "Natural" means not made by man. Even if not talking about civil law, the term "natural law" speaks truth to power in a way most are going to be uncomfortable with.

    1. Jeff,

      I think that "natural" does not always denote something above or beyond mankind which speaks truth to power; it can also mean that mankind, as the most advanced of all that is 'natural,' is sovereign and therefore unlimited by the decrees, tenets, or commandments of any supernatural authority.

    2. "I think that "natural" does not always denote something above or beyond mankind which speaks truth to power; it can also mean that mankind, as the most advanced of all that is 'natural'..."


      I didn't intend to imply that the meaning I offered was the only one. And, I feel certain that it applies the the term "natural law."

      Also, I think there might be a misunderstanding about how I was proposing that "natural law" speaks truth to power.

      The act of supporting natural law says to the ruling class: "you have zero authority to codify your ideas of morality."

      I hope that makes my comment more clear.

      Your comment below is excellent!

    3. Thanks Jeff! Certainly I agree with you on natural law. Rothbard used to say that the natural law ethic is really the only ethic we can count on to provide a solid resistance to the philosophical enticements of the state. The utilitarian ethic certainly is not robust enough even though there are a very notable exceptions.

  3. Very cool. Poor Paul. He knows not what he has gotten himself into.

    "it is interesting that it is the oldest tradition, Orthodoxy, that seems to be making the most traction today" - BM

    Rodney Stark mentions a similar finding in his book 'The Triumph of Christianity' wherein he states:

    "...people do not flock to faiths that ask the least of them, but to those that credibly offer the most religious rewards for the sacrifices required to qualify... For a variety of reasons, various Christian churches have greatly reduced what they ask of their members, both in terms of beliefs and morality, and this always has been followed by a rapid decline in their membership and a lack of commitment on the part of those who stay."

    It is typically the older religions that ask more of their members. The newer ones are more apt to treat their religion like a YouTube channel, bending their message to whatever accords them the most views and likes, but this only results in lukewarm faith, which quickly transitions into the cold shoulder. Like the Left is serious about politics, we on the right have to be serious about our faith.

    "This isn’t a case of regressing to some earlier time; it is a case of returning to a proper norm." - BM

    Yes! The pendulum was set in motion by ancient wrongs, and so it was just to begin its motion, but now it had gone too far forward. The solution is not to swing it all the way back but to arrest the swing and find the true center of gravity or the position of balance (and I don't mean midway between evil and good, but a balance of collective governance vs individual freedom, the material and the transcendent concerns, the virtues of the scientific mindset and those of the religious one, etc.).

    Of course, the real world analogy would be more like a thousand different pendulums each representing different aspects of human life, which, at no point in human history, were ever all aligned in the stationary or balanced position.

    I also don't look to a static society where nothing changes as an ideal. I look to a society in which the foundations of belief, morality, and civility have become established truths and are fixed voluntarily in the minds of enough people with enough resilience to hold sway. But there is plenty of room for innovation, dynamism, diversity, and beauty on top of this foundation.

    "The true rightist is not a man who wants to go back to this or that institution for the sake of a return; he wants first to find out what is eternally true, eternally valid, and then either to restore or reinstall it, regardless of whether it seems obsolete, whether it is ancient, contemporary, or even without precedent, brand new, "ultramodern." Old truths can be rediscovered, entirely new ones found. The Man of the Right does not have a time-bound, but a sovereign mind. In case he is a Christian he is, in the words of the Apostle Peter, the steward of a Basileion Hierateuma, a Royal Priesthood" - Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, "Leftism"

    1. "eternally true, eternally valid" = return to the center!

    2. I'm fine being a centrist. I sort of hate seeing the advocacy of sane governance and traditional Christian values as some sort of radical position. Nothing to me could be less radical.