After the Natural Law
How the Classical Worldview Supports Our Modern Moral and Political Values
By John Lawrence Hill
Ignatius Press, 2016
309 pages, $22.95
To order: ignatius.com or (800) 651-1531
This book should be in every home, offering every family the opportunity to better understand the natural law as something that comes from God himself and is built into creation to order and direct it.
There was a time when our country understood this well enough to acknowledge, in our own Declaration of Independence, the existence and primacy of natural law in pointing to the “laws of nature and of Nature’s God” as the source of human rights. However, our Founding Fathers did not discover natural law, but inherited it from thinkers going back to the dawn of Western civilization (to say nothing of the biblical indications of a moral law written in the human heart).
In this book, John Lawrence Hill traces the natural-law tradition from Plato and Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas and then describes how and why modern philosophers, beginning with Sanchez, Descartes, Locke and Hobbes, began to chip away at this truth and essential support to our liberties. (Hill, who teaches constitutional law at Indiana University, Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, entered the Catholic Church in 2009).
Professor Hill undertakes to convince his readers that the theory of natural law is not only true, but necessary, to provide a rational basis for Western values; without it, there is no sure foundation on which we can rely for the permanence of values we take for granted. And this is a crucial argument for our own time, when long-held values are newly questioned and challenged. So despite his scholarship and academic credentials, professor Hill’s project is supremely practical.
This is not necessarily the easiest book to read, but it is well worth the time invested. Among the many critical moral and societal issues that an understanding of the natural law sheds light upon are pornography, abortion, same-sex “marriage,” women in combat, drug addiction and divorce.
To believe in the natural law is to believe human beings have the capacity to know a number of important things about God, though he is immeasurably beyond our capacity to comprehend completely. In general, we can know a good deal about good and evil and can use this knowledge to form our characters by habitually striving to choose the good and reject the evil. We further understand that physical, moral and mental health can best be pursued by bringing ourselves into conformity with the moral order.
Without such an understanding of the underlying intelligibility, consistency and coherence of creation and its laws, we have the incoherent and contradictory contemporary calls for untrammeled personal freedom, but also an increasingly interfering state that, despite pretensions of being tolerant and nonjudgmental, judges and condemns thoughts, words and actions that violate its ever-multiplying public creed.
Opus Dei Father C. John McCloskey resides at the Reston Study Center in Virginia.