The left is taking the country to chaos through bizarre misinterpretations of the law. No longer relying upon precedent or even the strict lines of the Constitution, just about anything can be legally justified—abortion, assisted suicide, complete sexual license, new “transgender rights,” pronoun tyranny and other practices. Law is fluid and changeable to whatever suits the person’s passions.
Thus, anyone who affirms that there is a higher unchangeable law can expect opposition. When such a legal theory becomes widespread, it terrifies the left. Liberals perceive someone is calling their bluff. They fear a law that has solid foundations and definitions.
The Immense Traction of Natural Law Theory
The growing acceptance of natural law theory among frustrated Americans is shaking the legal field. The leftist journal Current Affairs recently expressed its alarm with an article titled “The Resurgence of ‘Natural Law’ Theories Should Scare Us All.” Author K. Wilson notes that “natural law is gaining immense traction among conservative jurists and legal scholars.”
Natural law is the legal theory upon which the Christian West was founded. It holds that a moral code is written on the hearts of men, valid for all peoples and places, providing a basis for moral certainty guiding human action. This moral law in human nature provides the general guidelines upon which all law is based. The Ten Commandments, for example, are often described as a succinct summary of natural law.
Positive Law’s Distortion
Modern law, however, severed the connection with natural law theory in the nineteenth century with a legal school of law called “legal positivism.” It stripped law of its moral foundations and turned it into a set of human-made rules governing society, representing the sovereign will of the people through representative institutions. Laws represent social constructs adapted to the circumstances without a specific moral dimension.
Thus, anything (except systems similar to natural law) is acceptable. Positive law does not need to correspond to objective reality but only its legislators’ dispositions (and whims). Moreover, as society decays, law no longer can rely upon the moral fiber that once sustained order in society. The degenerative course of positive law allows for increasingly absurd interpretations.
Conservative legal scholars and jurists are latching on to natural law as an anchor of security and truth in a legal climate where everything is possible, and nothing is certain.
For some time, conservatives relied upon originalism, reading the Constitution in the light of the original intent of the Framers and later legislators. However, this conservative reading of the Constitution has proven unreliable and inadequate to safeguard a moral interpretation of the law. Liberal judges and jurists hid inside the imagined penumbra of the Constitution to promote their agendas and legislate from the bench.
Now legal scholars are embracing natural law since it allows for immense freedom to determine law inside a solid moral framework.
The liberal legal establishment is alarmed by the development since it does not believe in a higher law that provides the basis for all others. Liberals hate natural law because it restores a moral vision of law and society. It hinders the movement toward an increasingly dissolute society.
Misrepresenting Natural Law
For this reason, leftists deliberately misrepresent the concept of natural law. They present it as a totalitarian, theocratic set of rigid rules built upon unproven premises. They say it “imposes the laws of God rather than the Constitution.” K. Wilson wrongly concludes it is “a justification for using the state to enforce the natural law theorist’s moral convictions.”
And yet there is nothing farther from the truth. When God created humanity, He embedded a moral order in the soul. Natural law’s general precept, from which all the others follow, is that “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I–II, q. 94, a. 2) This is hardly an arbitrary theocratic platform for tyranny.
Natural Law Explained
Natural law is based on the inherent nature of things that function according to their ends. A chair that does not allow seating does not fulfill its function. A glass that does not hold liquid is at odds with the internal logic of its existence.
So also with humanity and society. By natural reason, one can perceive what is good and bad for the functioning of society. For example, it is in the nature of speech that truth be told. Lying is an abuse of speech and, therefore, wrong and contrary to the good order of society. Stealing is always wrong since it deprives another of that which is due. These are not subjective judgments but part of the working order of things.
Far from rigid rules, natural law is a set of guidelines that both empowers and limits government in its pursuit of the common good of the political community. Natural law prevents tyranny and abuse by preventing law from drifting into whim and fancy. It supports order, the state of things where everything functions according to its nature and end.
With natural law as a guideline, human lawmakers can make just laws. Natural law serves as the criteria upon which all law is based, not a straitjacket for a totalitarian regime. It allows immense freedom for legislators to adapt their laws to the circumstances and gravity of the issues to be resolved. It facilitates the maintenance of the social order.
There is nothing new about natural law. In Antiquity, it is found in both Greece (Antigone, lines 440–70, by Sophocles) and Rome (On the Republic, bk 3, no. 33, by Cicero). However, the Church developed, enriched and systemized it, and it was universally accepted in the development of Western Christian civilization. It is the foundation of all law.
The American legal tradition has natural law roots, as demonstrated by the statements of the renowned English jurist Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), who profoundly influenced colonial common law. He posits a “law of nature” that is “binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.”
That is to say, natural law is not a novel imposition upon society but a return to the wellspring from which America can regenerate its law in a climate of certainty, order and logic.
A Nominalist Denial of Universals and Definitions
There are more profound reasons why liberals hate natural law. The opposition lies with the definitions of good and evil, order and common good. Such definitions tie things to reality. Natural law recognizes an unchangeable nature of things that can be known and acted upon.
By denying natural law, liberals are saying that the nature of things, humans and society cannot be known. It is a kind of legal nominalism that rejects universal concepts and relies only upon the social constructions of the times.
Thus, the legal nominalists cannot accept natural law as written on the hearts of men, valid for all peoples and places. They see all law as the product of facts, observations and experiments. Such a vision makes law easily manipulated by passions and whims that can degenerate into tyranny and fantasy.
The rejection of definition reflects a refusal to restrain the passions. In his book, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira defines the essence of liberalism as “the right to think, feel and do everything the unrestrained passions demand.”
For this reason, the liberal political system is increasingly at odds with natural law. It rejects a universal notion of law based upon human nature and replaces it with a more rigid universal rule that says unrestrained passions must not be suppressed.
A Freudian Obsession with Sexual Liberation
Finally, liberals hate natural law because it opposes the primacy of individualistic pleasure. Liberal hostility toward restraint is especially directed toward sexual passions. According to natural law, the end of the sexual act is primarily procreation. When measures are taken to frustrate this act or destroy the marriage bond that protects it, it is contrary to natural law.
Thus, liberals were terrified by the repeal of Roe v. Wade. They hold a Freudian view of nature that says the unbridled passions, especially sexual appetites, must be gratified and cannot be restrained. Any law or action contrary to this unrestraint is “unnatural” and must be opposed. The natural law deniers are, above all, promoters of the sexual revolution. They would prefer to suffer all the disastrous consequences of unrestrained passions upon individuals and society than accept that happiness is much more obtainable by conforming to nature rather than succumbing to its excesses.
Thus, the open door to depravity and fantasy is a big reason why natural law has so much opposition. It is not the noble desire to further the common good or advance freedom that motivates those who deny natural law. Instead, it is selfish gratification that will accept no restraint or definition and eventually leads to the destruction of order in society and enslavement to vice.
How Natural Law Terrifies the Left
Natural law attracts legal scholars and jurists because they see the destructive power of moral decay. Only a universal view of human nature can provide the way out of the present crisis. Inside a legal framework of the natural order, society can fulfill its function and fallen humanity can obtain some degree of happiness.
When the present legal system becomes based on subjective judgments and whims, its positive law becomes an everything-but-natural-law extravaganza. Ironically, it leads not to more diverse law but a single rigid and tyrannical law system that supports ever more enslavement to the passions. Once in place, it cancels everything and allows no freedom to return to order.
Natural law terrifies the left that assumed it had long died. Leftists cannot admit that there might be those who welcome ordered liberty and restraint. They cannot see that nihilism awaits on the other side of a flawed legal positivist system that will lead to every mode of emptiness and despair.