As a frequent reader of both the articles and interesting comments posted at the Western Rifle Shooters Association (WRSA) web site I am quite familiar with the half- dozen main strains that make up the ‘patriot community’, or as we might more realistically be described, the disorganized assemblage of “freedomistas”.
Among these main strains are: religious conservatives, cultural conservatives, military geeks, Constitutionalists, libertarians, anarchists, and a smattering of nationalists, of both the ‘civic’ and ‘white’ variety. And the majority who have familiarity with most of the above groups but don’t strongly self-identify as belonging to any of them.
Common to several of these categories is a deep appreciation of and knowledge of the founding fathers, and one of the key philosophical ideas to which a number of them held, the idea of Natural Law, and the Rights descended from that Law.
The Natural Law concept is most often raised as a counter to the latest absurd and offensive policy of the government, often as not as one would expect on a web site nominally dedicated to small arms use, to more gun control.
Natural Law is described in Wikipedia thus:
“a philosophy that certain rights are inherent by virtue of human nature endowed by “God” or another “Divine” source, and can be understood universally through human reason. Historically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature to deduce binding rules of moral behavior from “God’s” creation of humans. The law of nature, as determined by nature, is universal”
The article goes on to explain the ancient origins of the idea in the Greek philosophers and later adoption by Christian philosophers in the Middle Ages, including St. Thomas Aquinas. Still, it’s best known due to its popularity with the Enlightenment philosophers, particularly John Locke, who had such great influence on America’s founding fathers.
I do not find argument based upon Natural Law compelling, and I believe the sooner we move beyond it the better for any cause needing rhetorical defense, including the right to keep and bear arms (RKBA). In the remainder of this essay I will try to explain why I think “retreat to Natural Law” is a failing argument in the current era.
One major factor is our current encounter with Islam. It seems likely that this would give serious pause to anyone claiming that their legal code is correct because it is “willed by God” or “divine”.
This is, of course, the explicit the claim made by Muslims for Sharia Law. It is the actual divine law, Islamic followers claim. It was handed down from Allah to Mohammed and Mohammed to man. Unlike the Western tradition, where Natural Law is mostly seen in the background and current laws are deduced from it, the Arab version is particularly well codified, well documented and resistant to any change whatsoever. (God’s law was complete when Mohammed completed the Koran, no additions are possible.)
As our culture changes to one where belief in God is less common, and the particular variations of religious belief are more varied – from Hinduism to Islam to a myriad of smaller sects, cults and belief systems – the argument for a divine origin for Law, that is Natural Law, becomes less and less compelling. Who’s God are we referring to? What about non-believers? If they don’t believe in your God, why would they believe in laws that were created by him?
The claims that such laws can be deduced by human reason, another facet of the Natural Law theory, is likewise a tendentious claim. We will quickly find that the human reason of an Arab will deduce that polygamy is permitted by natural law, while the human reason of a Western person will see that natural law holds that monogamy alone is legitimate.
The claims of “proof in nature” also fail as a practical matter. To say that all creatures have a natural right to self defense, due to Natural Law, really is a weak basis for claiming any given individual has a natural right to own an AK-47. ;
Like it or not, in the current era arguments of every other type have more power. Evidence based on data, appeal to emotions, appeal to altruism, appeal to tradition, appeal to law (though logically circular) — all of them have more currency and persuasive power than Natural Law.
John Lott has clearly trumped John Locke. John Lott’s ground-breaking book “More Guns, Less Crime” was destined to be, and has proven to be, a more compelling argument than retreat to Natural Law, with it’s underlying appeal to the supernatural.
I realize this is an uncomfortable situation for a many people. That doesn’t make it less true, though. The trajectory of America has been the power moving away from religious authority to secular authority. The Puritans were ruled by severe patriarchs. Successive generations of Americans have seen successive rounds of religious leaders cede more and more ground to the secular law. Many do claim that this has resulted in ‘bad things’, I probably agree with that.
Still that doesn’t mean that there is a realistic chance of returning the genie to the bottle, and making Americans a majority Protestant country with universal belief in the ideals of the European Enlightenment, and the supremacy of Natural Law in ordering the affairs of men.
Most people simply no longer accept “because God …” no matter how abstracted the concept of God is in that formulation. Best to move on to other forms of argument where there is more hope for winning the day. Even the most devout Christian’s, for instance, are not overly swayed by the arguments for Sharia Law.
There are several other promising avenues for crafting laws in this era besides the Divine Law Giver paradigm of our ancestors, and the sooner we master them the better for advocates of freedom everywhere.