Sunday, December 16, 2012

Natural Law

Natural Law and the Founding
P. Schultz
December 16, 2012

Just some fun on a Sunday morning. My responses to one of the many posts on my Facebook page from a friend. This one is worth reading and the link is below.

"Schlueter pushes this argument in a somewhat unusual direction: he claims that the founders were altogether cognizant of a tradition about which he admits they had little explicit to say. Following Christopher Wolfe, he calls this “natural law liberalism,” and argues that this is our true inheritance. He contends that “it does not matter that none of the American founders ever articulated the principles of natural law liberalism in a systematic way…. As John Cardinal Newman said of the Apostles, the American founders did not build better than they knew, they knew more than they said.”

Schultz: I believe the correct label for people who make such arguments - the founders were driven by arguments they never articulated - is sophistry. Of course, I prefer a less "correct" label: People like Wolfe are "prostitutes." And I have never understood the appeal of whores. Nor do I understand why one should debate them.

"The reason why my claims about the self-undermining nature of the liberal founding so disquiet many of my conservative friends, I believe, is that they raise anxiety that our tradition may have fewer native resources than we might believe or want for the restoration of the virtuous republic that we all desire."

Schultz: Well, here is Deneen's error clarified. There can be no "restoration" of that which never existed and was never even intended to exist. As is clear from the Federalist, the goal was to establish a "commercial republic" not a "virtuous republic." There is a world of difference between the two. And it is a stretch to label even the Anti-Federalists proponents of a "virtuous republic" as they were proponents of "small republics," meaning among other things "small minded republics." You might even say they wanted local commerce, rather than national commerce, if you understand "local" and "national" as more than geographical. They advocated for small for the sake of maintaining relative equality, not for the sake of virtue as Deneen wishes us to understand it. And I will add that if "the restoration of the virtuous republic" means that people like Deneen and Wolfe will "rule," than I for one do not desire it. As Thoreau once said: "If I know a man is coming to my house to make me good, I run like the wind." Or something like that.

Schultz: Last comment - maybe: Deneen is pretty good here exposing the sophistry of these arguments for a "natural law" tradition. But he at one point connects this tradition to Aristotle. Problem: Aristotle never used the phrase "natural law" and he couldn't because his view of nature - incomplete and in need of completion by humans - would not allow it. Often, Aristotle says that nature intended certain things, such as that the bodies of "freemen" be visibly different than those of "slaves" but of course failed in this intention. Well, if I am not wrong, this throws the whole argument in favor of slavery as "natural" into a tizzy and makes it less than plausible. And, of course, as a Greek, Aristotle knew that men loved men and women loved women, which goes unmentioned in his account of the origin of the "natural" polis based on the "natural" connection between the opposite sexes. Well, even the Catholic church recognizes that same sex attraction is natural, if sinful if acted upon. Of course, Aristotle did not agree with the second part of this sentence. Anyway, Aristotle knew that his argument that the polis is natural was and is and always will be controversial. He made it anyway - perhaps to complete what "nature" intended.

"Schlueter’s natural law liberalism, then, is a chimera, a combination of parts of fundamentally different creatures that does not and cannot exist in reality. The two are, in fact, contradictory and mutually exclusive. One wishes their union was an option, but wishful thinking is not a substitute for political philosophy."

Schultz: Deneen at his best. I am happy to see that Notre Dame will employ Deneen as I can think of other Catholic institutions that would not. Can you think of any?

P.S. I have reconsidered my equating Deneen with the likes of Chris Wolfe, et. al. and have decided that he is worth reading. They are not.

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