Posts tagged with: natural law

Pope Francis' trip to the US

“Supporting markets as the economic arrangements most likely to help promote human flourishing doesn’t necessarily mean you accept libertarian philosophical premises” says Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg in an essay published today at Public Discourse.  This comes in response to “Koch Brothers Latest Target: Pope Francis,” an Oct. 14  article written by John Gehring at the American Prospect that claims the Acton Institute is part of a larger network of organizations behind “a decidedly different message than Pope Francis does when it comes to the economy and climate change.”  Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, labels various free-market organizations as “libertarian” and asserts that “libertarian thought … is the exact opposite of Catholic teaching.”

Gregg begins his response by noting some of the contributions that great libertarian thinkers such as Hayek and Mises have made to economics:

Libertarianism’s great strength lies in economics. Prominent twentieth-century libertarian economists, such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, made major contributions to the critique of socialist economics. While ridiculed by some at the time, their criticisms turned out to be spot-on.

In Socialism (1922), for example, Mises illustrated that socialist economies can’t replicate the market price system’s ability to signal the supply and demand status for countless goods and services to consumers and producers at any one point in time. However intelligent and statistically equipped the top-down planners might be (whether they take the form of a Communist politburo, a Fascist dictator, or a 1970s British government), they simply cannot know the optimal price for any good or service at any point in time. Any attempt to dictate prices from the top-down will lead, paradoxically, to economic disorder and dysfunction.

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The founding fathers possessed a vision of liberty illumined by philosophy and religion. In order to best understand their vision, it is wise to investigate which writers and thinkers inspired John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, and especially Thomas Jefferson in the drafting of the constitution.weal_06_img1219

John Locke, philosopher and physician, anonymously published his book on political philosophy, Two Treatises of Government in 1689. It is indisputable that the United States constitution was largely influenced by Locke’s work. Jefferson wrote later, “Neither aiming at originality or principles or sentiments, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American Mind.” While the constitution is not explicitly drawn from any one work, it was the culmination of much influential political thought and philosophy. J.W. Peltason states in his book Understanding the Constitution, that Locke’s Two Treatises of Government “was thought to be an authoritative pronouncement of established principles. Locke’s ideas provided ready arguments for the American cause, and they were especially embarrassing to an English government whose own source of authority was based on them.” (more…)

The Barna Group recently released a fascinating new study on morality in America. The press release is titled, “The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code.” It summarizes the study:

New research from Barna reveals growing concern about the moral condition of the nation, even as many American adults admit they are uncertain about how to determine right from wrong.

Sounds like a problem. And, indeed, the data does give reason to be concerned. But the framing of at least one question presumes a false dichotomy.

In particular, the question “Moral Truth: Absolute or Relative?” gives as possible answers only “Absolute,” “Relative,” or “Never thought about it.”

I presume that “both” wasn’t an option because the questioners believed that the two options were mutually exclusive. However, this is simply not the case. (more…)

Bishop Dominique Rey speaking at Acton's April 20 conference in Rome.

Bishop Dominique Rey speaking at Acton’s April 20 conference in Rome.

Yesterday in the French section of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, an exclusive interview finally appeared with the outspoken Bishop Dominique Rey of Toulon-Fréjus. Bishop Rey provided the interview when in Rome last month to speak about the current challenges to religious and economic freedom in Europe at the Acton Institute’s conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time“.

The May 19 headline “Sortir du prêt-à-penser” (Thinking Outside the Box) was based on the bishop’s appeal for a deeper study of Leo’s XIII’s  landmark 1891 social encyclical Rerum Novarum and Catholic social doctrine in general, but also his discontent with the way secular Western culture superficially appraises human nature and commonly proposes solutions to social injustice, while leaving God, natural law and human dignity out of the larger picture. Quoting him from the April 20 conference, we read:

Any analysis Rerum Novarum is based on the certainty that the answer to the evils of our time will come not so much as a particular technical solution, but more so out of respect for the natural law, that is, for man himself as God created him, and by recognizing God’s place in the society. Only opening up to such transcendence helps resist absolute [forms of] materialism and consumerism.

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Pope Benedict XVI often ventured into venues historically hostile to the Judeo-Christian tradition. A new collection of essays discusses many of these speeches, probing the relationship of reason to religion, the West, and natural law. Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought: A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law, edited by Marta Cartabia and Andrea Simoncini, explores the Pope Emeritus’ speeches as well as the implications they have for law and democracy.

Writing for Public Discourse, Acton’s Samuel Gregg discusses this collection of the former Pope’s essays, arguing the theme seems to be a return to reason:

The contribution of these essays to showing how Benedict’s speeches provided pathways for faith and reason to restore coherence to the foundations of Western law and democratic systems is best described as uneven. Among the stronger papers are those of Glendon, the legal scholar J.H.H. Weiler, and the moral theologian Martin Rhonheimer. Each of these authors grapples directly and cogently with Benedict’s arguments concerning how religion and full-bodied conceptions of reason must necessarily shape each other, and in the process of doing so, help infuse greater rationality into our legal systems and democratic institutions.

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Antonin Scalia

Antonin Scalia

One of the many great things about living in Europe is getting the chance to meet famous Americans visiting the Old Continent. They tend to be more relaxed and accessible than they ever would be in the United States, which means you may actually manage to have a pleasant conversation with them without others trying to jostle their way between you.

It’s an even bigger thrill when you talk with someone you truly admire, which was certainly the case when I met Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the annual Istituto Bruno Leoni lecture in Turin in 2013. My friends at IBL kindly invited me to the reception and dinner following the lecture, and there I was as the only other American chatting with Justice and Mrs. Scalia.

We talked about his old friend and poker buddy Walter Berns (whose health was ailing, he told me with real concern in his face and voice), the work of the Acton Institute in Rome, and “so-called” social justice, as he put it. I tried to get his views on St. Thomas Aquinas and natural law, but he somewhat facetiously said those were “above his pay grade.” (more…)

HaleLegal historian Sir Matthew Hale has been described as “one of the greatest jurists of the modern common law.” Yet during his lifetime (1609-1676), he chose not to publish most of his legal writings, going so far as to prohibit such publication in his will.

Against these wishes, many manuscripts were copied and circulated by other lawyers after his death. One such work, Of the Law of Nature, was written on multiple hand copies, and now, for the first time ever, it is available via CLP Academic.

As its title indicates, the treatise explores the natural law, its discovery and divine origin, and how it relates to both biblical and human laws. Hale’s close connection between law and theology also demonstrates the importance of natural law to early modern legal thought.

The work was most likely written as a series of private meditations and reflections by Hale, giving it a unique, free-flowing style. Hale also brings a unique theological background and perspective to the topic, as editor David Sytsma explains in the introduction:

Sometime between writing the Discourse (ca. 1639–1641) and the Law of Nature (ca. 1668–1670) Hale’s religious perspective underwent a shift in the direction of Arminianism away from the Calvinism of his youth…In a manuscript likely written in the late 1650s, Hale still affirmed the traditionally Calvinist belief that the light of nature is insufficient for salvation. But after the Restoration he moved toward an Arminian soteriology which understood the gospel of the new covenant as offering forgiveness of sins by a condition of imperfect, sincere obedience. He also came to affirm the view, commonly associated with Arminianism, that virtuous pagans could be saved through obedience to the natural law (discussed below). In the last years of his life Hale professed that “Points controverted between the Arminians and Calvinists” regarding God’s decrees, his influence on the human will, the resistibility of grace, and so forth were impossible to determine and of “inconsiderable moment.” …Whether or not Hale changed his mind in the last year of his life, the soteriology present in his Law of Nature is clearly representative of his Arminian turn.

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