Acton Institute Powerblog

Samuel Gregg: Bringing natural law to the nations

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“If sovereign states ordered their domestic affairs in accordance with principles of natural law,” says Acton research director Samuel Gregg at Law & Liberty, “the international sphere would benefit greatly.”

During periods of resurgent national feeling, it’s common for enthusiasts of liberal international order and human rights activists to begin emphasizing the importance of international law and the way they think it should guide and restrain the choices of nations. Since the United Nations Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in December 1948, much international law has been elaborated via sovereign states affirming various international declarations and statements of rights through devices such as national constitutions or ratification of international treaties.

The source of these rights, however, invariably goes unmentioned. The UDHR refers, for instance, to “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” Yet the document is silent on the foundation of this dignity and these rights—likely because the UDHR’s drafters disagreed profoundly about this subject. This makes for a conspicuous contrast with an 18th century text like the United States Declaration of Independence. This unequivocally locates the source of the enumerated rights identified in the document as “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” and man’s “Creator.”

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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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