- Rod Dreher: Politics and Natural Law, Cont'd.
- Alan Jacobs: More on Natural Law Arguments.
- Rod Dreher: Why Natural Law Arguments Fail.
Natural law refers to the given-if-then method of analysis where the "given" is the nature of human beings and the world in which they live. This method can be applied to a number of distinct problems, the "if." When discussing moral virtues and vices, or the problem of distinguishing good from bad behavior, the imperative for which is supposedly based on human nature, natural-law ethics is the appropriate term (though such principles are sometimes referred to simply as natural law). When discussing the contours of the moral jurisdiction defined by principles of justice, or the problem of distinguishing right from wrong behavior, which is supposedly based on the nature of human beings and the world in which they live, the appropriate term would be natural rights.
In short, natural-law ethics instructs us on how to exercise the liberty that is defined and protected by natural rights. Whereas natural-law ethics provides guidance for our actions, natural rights define a moral space or liberty, as opposed to license67, in which we may act free from the interference of other persons. Although principles of natural-law ethics can be used to guide individual conduct, they should not be enforced coercively by human law if doing so would violate the moral space or liberty defined by natural rights. And human laws that violate natural rights do not bind the citizenry in conscience.While Barnett's approach here is heavily influenced by libertarian theory, it stands as a good compliment to the work of Aquinas and other natural law theorists. And as Barnett's essay demonstrates, the discussion of natural law and natural rights really are inevitable in the American system of law and politics. Those who would seek to downplay natural law and natural rights reasoning in our political sphere are not doing themselves any favors.