Friday, July 16, 2021

Why They Hate Natural Law


A friend sent me an essay by John Daniel Davidson, entitled “Calling Natural Law ‘White Nationalism’ Is Racist, Period.”  For the background behind the purpose of Davidson’s essay:

An innocuous comment from Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney, suggesting we need to teach natural law in public schools, prompted Matthew J. Peterson to reply that it’s not enough to ban critical race theory, we need to replace it with natural law. This in turn inspired Yale University philosophy professor Jason Stanley to aver (in a since-deleted tweet) that natural law is “a dogwhistle to white Christian Nationalism.”

What followed, as described by Davidson, was…

…a string of outraged tweets about natural law, mostly from people who don’t seem to know what natural law is, confusing it for social Darwinism or some such.

It is clear that many people do not understand natural law.  I suspect this is by design, an intentional effort via public education, mass media, and government policy developed to supply a compliant and malleable population, one that is left with a superficial understanding of liberty – the same liberty held by the lion in the zoo.

But what about the idea that natural law is confused with Social Darwinism?

Social Darwinists held that the life of humans in society was a struggle for existence ruled by “survival of the fittest,” a phrase proposed by the British philosopher and scientist Herbert Spencer.

I will suggest…if man does not have as his telos, his purpose – in fact, his highest purpose – as love, Social Darwinism is quite natural.  Instead of natural law, we get the law of nature – similar words, very different meaning: survival of the fittest.  But natural law grounded in and refined through Christianity holds no such view.  Love is man’s purpose, his telos.  Survival of the fittest does not fit into a worldview that is guided by a natural law ethic.

Returning to Davidson, and writing about Professor Stanley:

He should also know that suggesting, as Peterson did, that an education grounded in natural law is infinitely superior to one grounded in critical race theory isn’t some kind of racist dogwhistle.

If we want to live as human beings, it is true.  Of course, who is any longer surprised about the quality and substance of the professors at the top universities in the country?  The long march through the institutions didn’t take very long after all.

Indeed, he should know that natural law stands in stark opposition to racism of any kind, because it posits that all human beings, regardless of their race or any other characteristic, have inherent rights, which can be discovered and applied through reason. Those rights arise from the fact of their humanity, not their race or religion.

Yes…and no.  Natural law does stand in stark opposition to racism because God breathed into man – all men and all women.  Yes, this specific form and meaning of equality can be known and discovered by believer and non-believer alike.

But, no: natural law should not be confused with natural rights.  Natural law is an ethic, describing how one should behave and act; natural rights are behaviors that one can demand from another.  Natural law demands that I act charitably, however no one has a natural right to force me to do so.

My natural rights are limited to my body and my property.  Don’t hit first, don’t take my stuff.  The non-aggression principle.  This isn’t just me saying it; Thomas Aquinas deals with this in question 96 in the Summa: The power of human law.  In Article 2, he asks “Whether it belongs to the human law to repress all vices?”  He answers:

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.

Human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.  In other words, don’t hit first, don’t take my stuff.  Thomas continues:

The natural law is a participation in us of the eternal law: while human law falls short of the eternal law.

Look, I know what I am about to write is doctrinally unsound, but give me a little leeway… God tried it the “law” way, dictating hundreds of laws and commands to try to shape a virtuous people.  It didn’t work for God, so why would it work for us?  Instead, He tried a different way, summing all the commandments into two: love God, love your neighbor.  Love being the ultimate telos for human beings.  The force of law doesn’t bring on virtue; aiming at virtue is the only way one might approach becoming a virtuous person. 

Continuing with Thomas:

Now Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5): "The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence. Nor, if this law does not attempt to do everything, is this a reason why it should be blamed for what it does." Wherefore, too, human law does not prohibit everything that is forbidden by the natural law.

Natural law: acting according to one’s nature, with love as man’s highest purpose; human law: don’t hit first, don’t take my stuff.

Returning, again, to Davidson:

As Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once said, “Those who deny natural law cannot get me out of slavery.”

Of course, he is right.  Without natural law, we have Social Darwinism.  Superior and inferior, based on race, eugenics, might makes right, survival of the fittest.

[Professor Stanley] might even know that one of the foremost proponents of natural law today is Francis Arinze, a Nigerian cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. If natural law has anything to do with white Christian nationalism, no one has apparently told Cardinal Arinze.

This reminds me…the loud and obnoxious Stephen A. Smith got into hot water twice this week: first, for criticizing Shohei Ohtani for not being able to speak English, and second, for making fun of the names of the Nigerian basketball players that just beat the team from the United States.  Had a white ESPN personality done either of these things…sayonara, bro’.  Instead, just another day at the racist, virtue-signaling mothership of sports broadcasting.

Returning to Davidson’s essay…what does this have to do with why they hate natural law?  Well, Davidson was focused on one point addressed by natural law – critical race theory.  I started thinking about other issues also addressed by natural law, and replied this way to the friend who sent me the link to the piece:

Natural law speaks not only against critical race theory, but also against gender fluidity, marital confusion, child mutilation, abortion, egalitarianism of all varieties, forced human lab experiments, compulsory public education (indoctrination), overseas war, central banking (the source of the only kind of usury worth condemning), taxation (at least to the extent taxes are used to fund any of the above, which is probably 90% of taxes), and monopoly governance institutions.

In other words, it is pretty much against the reigning culture, economics, and politics of modern Western society.

Natural law, when developed through the Christian lens (the only lens through which it ever gained full form) also offers the opportunity for meaning.

An ethical regime that comports with natural law and a law regime that comports with natural rights, giving each individual room and cover to find proper liberty and use it to fulfill his telos.  This is what gives man meaning.

So, I ask you: who could be against natural law?  To ask the question is to answer it.

That would be pretty much all of the children of our modern libertine society and those who gladly use them in order to further consolidate wealth, power and control.  Which pretty much describes the left in the West today, which includes the Democrat party and most of the Republican party.  All of these would be against natural law, because it would bring an end to their game.

And that’s why they hate it.


  1. "I will suggest…if man does not have as his telos, his purpose – in fact, his highest purpose – as love, Social Darwinism is quite natural. Instead of natural law, we get the law of nature – similar words, very different meaning: survival of the fittest. But natural law grounded in and refined through Christianity holds no such view. Love is man’s purpose, his telos. Survival of the fittest does not fit into a worldview that is guided by a natural law ethic."

    I think this idea explains why intellectuals rejected natural law eventually. If you formulate natural law from the basis of fallen, sin broken nature, then the results are not very attractive. At the same time, materialists will not accept that there is anything else besides fallen, sin broken nature.

    Natural law doesn't work without Christian belief. Or a nonbeliever would have to have some idea of "higher ideals", recognizing that the broken parts of nature should not be the basis of natural law but only the things produce a good and pleasant life.

  2. There is no need to be "doctrinally unsound."
    God did not "try it the law way" first. Scripture is very clear that the Law was never about the proposition that man is able to keep it if he tries; but rather about the demonstration that whatever he does, he will never be able to achieve righteousness legally.
    So the giving of the Law was with the express purpose of showing that man requires something else if he is ever to accord with God's righteousness.

    1. So...even with my acknowledgement and warning that I am being doctrinally unsound, I am criticized for being doctrinally unsound.

  3. You said: "But natural law grounded in and refined through Christianity holds no such view." Natural law is not "grounded in" Christianity.

    In the Old Testament God never called His people to return to "natural law". The usual biblical term is "natural revelation," which is meant to drive us to the "specific revelation" of God's revealed truth for individuals and for nations.

    Like ancient Israel under judgment, God has a controversy with America: "...the law is ignored and justice is never upheld..." (Hab 1:4). That's talking about the Mosaic Law of the Covenant (Ex 20-24), not some subjective "natural law." Until we start making this a priority we can expect no relief from the heavy hand of God's judgment.

    1. God never used the word "Trinity" either...but there you have it.

      Are you suggesting a return to stoning as the cure?