Acton Institute Powerblog

Liberalism needs natural law

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The great British political thinker Edmund Burke regarded what some call “liberalism” today as incomprehensible, unworkable and unjust in the absence of widespread commitment to natural law. A similar argument can be made in our own time, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg:

Without natural law foundations, for instance, how can we determine what is and isn’t a right other than appeals to raw power or utility, neither of which can provide a principled case for rights? Or, on what other basis besides natural law can we articulate reasoned accounts of the origin and nature of national sovereignty over and against globalist organizations seeking to impose plastic conceptions of human nature upon entire nations in the name of “tolerance-respect-diversity”? And above all: how can we achieve acceptance of principles of natural justice in a world, and an America, marked by religious pluralism without appealing to some common basis that can be recognized by anyone as just precisely because it is grounded in right reason?

Some critics of this line of thought object that it’s futile trying to re-found liberal institutions on natural law, let alone seeking to reinvigorate America’s constitutional order by recovering and unfolding its underlying classical moral design. Not everyone, the argument goes, is convinced by the claims of natural law. We consequently must look elsewhere if we want a political order free of illiberal liberalism. That may be why some have concluded that integralism offers a better way forward.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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