Friday, September 17, 2021

In the Application of Natural Law

 “The confusion of natural law and politics proper has produced evil, and not unfrequently disastrous consequences.  On the one hand, men have seen that, without establishing firm and absolute principles, all would be confusion and insecurity.  On the other hand, they have been so far misled by principles drawn from natural law, as to judge every political question by theory alone, disavowing experience, expedience, and a due regard to the elements which were given wherewith to work....”

“Again, men felt that the abstract principles of natural law were insufficient to guide them in many practical cases, and they fell into the error of rejecting it altogether, relying only on power as the foundation of all right, on mere expediency as the sole guide of political action.

“Analogous to the term abstract law for natural law, we might call this branch applied law, which would include both political, civil and penal law, in as far as it remains general.  The existing law is called positive.”

-Francis Lieber, Manual of Political Ethics

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Natural Law

 “It appears to me, that the only axiom necessary to establish the science of natural law is this: ‘I exist as a human being, therefore I have a right to exist as a human being.’  This once acknowledged, the rights of men in their various relations as individuals, husbands, or wives, fathers or mothers, as citizens individually and collectively in the state to other independent states and to the collective citizens within the state, may consistently and justly be established.  Though some ancient and modern writers have maintained that no right exists antecedent to the magistracy deriving the right of this from some extra-political, and in some cases even from some extra-human source, it is nevertheless true, that if we do not deny our own existence and the existence of truth, the reality and truth of natural law can be scientifically and irresistibly established with as much certainty as that of other sciences....”

“Natural Law then inquires into the rights of man to be derived from his nature, both physical and moral, for the latter is closely connected with the former; it inquires into quid sit justum aut injustum, not into quid sit juris, (what is law or lawful).  The word nature is a term used in so many various significations, that it has led to great confusion of ideas in several branches; and it is not an uncommon mistake to believe that natural law is that law which existed in the erroneously supposed state of nature, on which, as has been indicated already, I shall have to dwell in the next book.  The law of nature, or natural law, on the contrary is the law, the body of rights, which we deduce from the essential nature of man....”

“Nor are natural law and moral law or ethics the same.  The difference is material.  Ethics treat, among other subjects, of the duties of man, and secondarily of his rights derivable from his duties; natural law, on the other hand, treats, as the fundamental and primary subject, of man’s rights, and secondarily of his obligations flowing from the fact of each man’s being possessed of the same rights.  This distinction, though essential, has been, and to this day is frequently overlooked.  An equally good name with that of natural law, might be abstract law or pure law, as we have pure mathematics.”

-Francis Lieber, Manual of Political Ethics