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Natural Law: Roots of Legal Chaos

Men are always disagreeing with one another.  While many unthinking pacifists would like to abolish this, disagreement in itself is not necessarily an evil, for through reason, men may come to resolve the discord in a way more satisfactory, with more understanding for all involved parties.  Yet because men are not always reasonable, laws are established, so that there might be adherence to right action even when comprehension is utterly lacking.

Unfortunately, while the need for law is, with rare exception, universally recognized, the basis for and the purpose of law–not to mention the particulars in which it is manifested–are themselves a topic of not infrequent social discord.  Those commonly called progressive view law as a fluctuating, mutable establishment of the will of the people (sometimes but far from always the majority of the people), while those called conservative perceive it as the particular embodiment of the natural law.

The appeal to natural law has been the backbone of conservative social and political defense for centuries; and yet the advocation of perversions permeates Western society more thoroughly every year.  Upright and moral men of the early third millennium simply shake their heads in disappointment and disgust as federal judges rule in favor of homosexual “marriage” while the federal legislature slides stultifying, stupefying egalitarian employment quotas into financial regulation bills.  How has it come to this–not merely that the people can blindly elect an illegitimate government–illegitimate by reason of its unreason–but that any government could be so unreasonable?  How is it that arguments for natural law have not been trumped, or thwarted, or discarded, and yet they are seemingly disregarded nonetheless?

It is easy, and in one sense correct, to say that progressives (to use the term for convenience’s sake) invariably wear blinders and see only what they would like to see; that no matter how often the truth is put before them, they avert their eyes; quite true, in fact.  Yet at the same time, to hold those with whom one disagrees as fully culpable for the disagreement in any situation is a sure way to perpetuate adherence to falsehood; it is to despair of the efficacy of the good and the true, to despair of every man’s innate desire for God.

So it is that the question, “what is the natural law?” begs re-examination.  Progressives are decreasingly dismayed by the use of the term natural law, in part because of its overuse, but more devastatingly because of the lack of significance in its use.  Prayers are used repetitiously, and yet, understood, investigated, inquired into, they become ever more meaningful; each repetition becomes a reinvigoration. That all too often conservative argumentation for the preservation of some objective, universal truth should not bear the same pattern is absurd.

To get at the true root of the problem, it must be traced from its fruits.  Why is the concept of the natural law perceived as decreasingly opprobrious to progressives?  On a superficial level of semantics, a law derived from or based upon nature will, in the eyes of the progressive, atheistic materialist, be one that is derived from the strictly physical components of beings; having a wholly distinct immaterial and objective reality to which it corresponds requires a leap that most are not willing to make and that, from a standpoint of strict reason, they cannot be faulted for not making.  The natural law, according to the principles they accept, therefore perdures and binds only insofar as nature itself perdures and gives grounds for binding–something which, by all appearances, it does not do.  Strictly material being is always, as Heraclitus noted, becoming something else; the material being of every being is perpetually inchoate.

Alternatively, one may interpret the natural law in an entirely contrary manner, one which bears great resemblance to Manichaeism.  This interpretation perceives the natural law as existing outside of nature, or as something almost superadded to it externally by which it is limited and governed; as that which exist incorporeally, be it in the mind of God or something unknown.  It requires therefore not merely a leap from the material to the immaterial, but a conception of the person as always at least somewhat–intellectually–independent of corporeality.  Moral order becomes a merely mental concept, superimposed on physical behavior.

In either interpretation, however efficacious they may have been at one time or another, there is an inconsistency with the lived human life of the 21st century.  In the former sense, the natural law is as fixed as material being itself; meaning that whatever can be moved may be moved, the natural law no less malleable than a blade of grass.  In the incorporeal interpretation, natural law appears as an arbitrary power attempting to enforce conformity in the actions of particular beings.  Consequently, nature itself seems to be in revolt against the natural law, as when animals act homosexually, or people feel perverse urges; in the materialistic-derivative interpretation, nature endorses perversion.  To the eyes of the average progressive, then, natural law is then either based upon a principle which is itself rightly rejected (a principle of purely negative and metaphysically incoherent, Manichean morality) or an endorsement of material manipulation.

These two common ostensibly contrary but equally impotent interpretations have only served the progressive agenda.  The strictly materialist interpretation (that being what it devolves into for someone metaphysically disinclined) of a derivative natural law undermines not only the conception of rights, but all positive laws based thereon.  That which is immoral is only immoral because it is as it is–and if it may be made other than as it is, it might no longer be immoral.  If promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality, gluttony, and sloth are sinful they must seem sinful to the materialist only because of their diversion of the course of physical nature; if science, technology, and human ingenuity can enable their enaction without diverting nature’s physical course, then they must seem no longer immoral.

The semi-Manichean interpretation does even greater harm; for whereas the materialist interpretation defines morality through ability, through that which can be done and that which can be averted, the semi-Manichean defines morality through the will.  If the intellect is treated as a separate, incorporeal faculty of man and yet he does not encounter with it God, or the ideas of God, or anything physically insubstantial but the ideas of his own and the ideas of other men–if material being is merely a disorganized, chaotic mess of accidental composition–then what is morality, what is law, what is nature but the successful exertion of the will to power?

To be continued.

  1. S. Petersen
    July 11, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Par. 6, you’ve got “decreasingly opprobrious”. One of us misunderstands the meaning of these words together in this context. Is it I?

    • July 11, 2010 at 9:18 pm

      Meant in the sense of less off-putting, disgraceful; less offensive, if you will. I just like the word opprobrious.

  2. David
    July 11, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Aristides – I think your blanket condemnation of progressives as averting their eyes to the truth is a gross and false generalization – apologetics in the naughty sense of the word. I’ll only stop to point out that at least some progressives use the same tenets of natural law which seem to undergird your presentation here to make universal claims about human rights. These claims have nothing to do with either materialism or some super-added law.

    • July 11, 2010 at 9:19 pm

      David, that depends upon what you mean by calling someone a progressive. If you mean someone who seeks to improve things, then of course not; but I mean someone who seeks progress for progress sake, which, by its very nature as a principle, stands in stark contradiction to any decent interpretation of natural law.

      • David
        July 12, 2010 at 6:32 pm

        Fair enough.

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