A perfectly natural Fourth of July
Will you be celebrating “natural law” on July 4? You should. Your Founding Fathers did.
In declaring their independence and asserting their God-given rights, the Founders acknowledged the “Laws of Nature and Nature's God.” These were no minor things.
Indeed, maintained the Founders, you were entitled to them. (Those were days when an entitlement meant something rather than everything .) The Founders believed that, in the course of human events, they and their countrymen were at long last rightfully assuming these rights “among the Powers of the Earth.” They were not only declaring their independence from the British Crown; they were asserting self-evident truths and claiming certain unalienable rights that were theirs not only as Americans but humans.
So, what of this natural law?
What does it mean?
And why does it still matter?
“There can be no doubt that those delegates in Philadelphia who adopted that Declaration (of Independence) believed in, and based the nation's independence on, the natural law,” says Robert Barker, professor emeritus of law at Duquesne University.
Addressing the American Founders Lecture Series, held quarterly at Pittsburgh's Rivers Club by the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, Barker defines natural law thus:
“God, in creating the universe, implanted in the nature of man a body of law to which all human beings are subject, which is superior to man-made law, and which is knowable by human reason.”
The natural law as understood by the Founders, says Barker, was the same that for two millennia had been a “traditional and essential” element of Western civilization.
Illustrating the point, Barker marshals the likes of Aquinas, Sophocles, Aristotle and Cicero. Among them, he cites Sophocles' play “Antigone,” where the heroine is condemned to death by an unjust king.
“I had to choose between your law and God's law,” she tells the king, “and no matter how much power you have to enforce your law, it is inconsequential next to God's. His laws are eternal ... . No mortal, not even you, may annul the laws of God.”
As Aristotle put it, the natural law is a universal law that transcends earthly regimes and stands common to all human beings, “even when there is no community to bind them to one another.”
Cicero saw natural law as true law:
“True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting ... . It is a sin to try to alter this law ... and it is impossible to abolish it entirely.”
He added that “whoever is disobedient” to the natural law “is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature.”
The natural law is profound and has been profoundly rejected by liberals/progressives. And beyond liberals/progressives, there are countless millions of ordinary Americans who likewise couldn't care less:
Natural Law? Sounds boring .
Well, it isn't. Few things are actually as exhilarating and uplifting. Think about it: The Creator implanted in you — that is, in your very nature — a body of truth and law to which you and all human beings are subject; it is superior to man-made law and it is accessible and knowable by human reason.
Sounds like something worth knowing.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama‘s Mentor” and “Dupes: How America‘s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.”