The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States both satisfy the predicates of Natural Law. Natural law realizes its limits and stops there. The current United States government doesn't. Natural law finds its equivalent in our founding documents. Our current national government is natural law's antithesis.
In 1955 in Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. How could she feel justified in doing so? Ms. Parks understood the concept of natural law.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that
A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God... An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.There is a lot of unnatural law being enacted these days. Laws which
Natural law is negative. It says things such as 'you cannot steal' or 'you cannot enslave your neighbor'. Natural law is not positive. It does not say 'you must wear your seat belt' or 'you must purchase health insurance' or 'you must sit in the back of the bus'.look the other way when a Wall Street tycoon steals money from the poor are unnatural. Laws which purport to correct the injustices caused by previous unnatural law are often themselves unnatural. The enactment of one type of unnatural law to counteract the other is a prime illustration of how 'two wrongs do not make a right'.
By natural law, we often think today of such things as chemistry or gravity. In earlier times, the phrase "natural law" regularly evoked thoughts regarding human nature. As opposed to the laws of science, which we have no choice but to obey, the law of human nature is something that we can decide to disobey. So, too, can our representatives in government. The likelihood that politicians will disobey natural law rises in proportion to the propensity of the general populace to want something for nothing, which is itself a direct contravention of natural law.
John Locke, a philosopher widely read and respected by the American Founders, reminded us that
Reason, which is th[e] law [of nature], teaches all mankind... that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health or possessions.It is natural for governments, as Thomas Paine wrote, to protect an individual in "his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the rights of others." It is not natural for them to do much else.
John Adams wrote that
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.In other words: choose your morals. Choose your religion. But make sure you choose them. If you don't subscribe in some way to both of them, you don't subscribe to the concept of natural law. In its absence, you entertain the chaos that ensues a burgeoning national government that thinks it can do just about anything that it judges to be in the general welfare of its citizens.
Your religion and your morality won't agree in every detail with the morality or religion of any other person. They will, however, generally comport with natural law. C.S. Lewis illustrates by absurd contrast how everyone generally 'gets' the naturalness of natural law.
Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well imagine a country where two and two make five.The Declaration of Independence--and by association, the Constitution of the United States--recognize the immutability of natural law. The second paragraph of the Declaration states
Mere Christianity, p. 6
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...It is in this light that the Constitution was ratified. It ensures that a properly functioning federal government knows its proper, limited place. In order to clarify the Constitution's adherence to natural law, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution two years after its ratification. In case any confusion existed as to the limits of the federal government, the 10th Amendment made it clear.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.Natural law dictates that except for limited circumstances,
Laws which purport to correct the injustices caused by previous unnatural law are often themselves unnatural. The enactment of one type of unnatural law to counteract the other is a prime illustration of how 'two wrongs do not make a right'.men are to be left free to exercise their rights.
Natural law is negative. It says things such as 'you cannot steal' or 'you cannot enslave your neighbor'. Natural law is not positive. It does not say 'you must wear your seat belt' or 'you must purchase health insurance' or 'you must sit in the back of the bus'.
As soon as law becomes 'positive'--or in other words, unnatural--we feel as did Rosa Parks on that Alabama bus in 1955. Natural law tells us instinctively that our government has no right to do that to us. Natural law inspires us to see to it that unnatural man-made laws are changed. It may even embolden us to accept the consequences of disobedience to man-made laws that do not comport with it.
Cicero, a Roman statesman, strove to protect his country from ruin by warning his fellow leaders what happens when man-made law diverges ever further from natural law. Natural law, Cicero taught, is
True law, [or] right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application. It is impossible to alter it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an...interpreter of it. [It is] one eternal and unchangeable law that will be valid for all nations and all times...
C.S. Lewis reminds us that, because we are all imperfect, "None of us are really keeping the law of nature" completely. Hopefully, though, we are all trying to do so, since, if we don't, we'll become as the falcon in William Butler Yeats's poem, The Second Coming.
TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Thomas Jefferson defined "a wise and frugal Government" as that
which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.
I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of government taking from the mouth of this laborer and the mouths of his family members in order to give to those who already have too much. I'm also getting pretty peeved by their policies that perpetuate the poverty of the poor as a pretext to take even more from me.
It's got to stop. It's just not natural.