The postmodern turn away from theories of natural law appears to have led to a less peaceful world. For natural law theories, e.g., those brought forth in the US Declaration of Independence, argue that certain human rights, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are proper to the nature of humanity. These rights demand of others the duty to respect natural, human rights, thus binding together society. When there is no respect for natural rights, trust breaks down, and thereby peace breaks down among nations.
St. John XXIII made the above “natural law rights and duties argument” central to his famous 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris. He saw a connection between the duty to respect natural rights, and the establishment of peaceful relations between individuals and among nations.
Western political elites have turned away from natural law in recent decades, in part because they see in natural law a threat to homosexual rights and to abortion rights. At the 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings, several prominent Catholic politicians rejected natural law. While some few jurists like Justice Thomas argued that one can sometimes construct substantial law from natural law, other jurists, including the late Judge Robert Bork, argued that more than natural law was needed to properly form law.
Whoever claims to be making a commonsense argument is sometimes making a natural law argument and might not admit it. But these commonsense arguments are often the only remaining natural law arguments allowed among political elites.
This is unfortunate, because St. John XXIII’s natural law arguments for peaceful relations among nations could still bring nations to respect one another.
Regrettably, for the sake of elites supporting radical lifestyle choices, natural law recognition of general human rights and duties has eroded. The world is thus a less peaceful place, since there is no widespread, worldwide common sense of the natural rights and duties that build trust and lead nations to peaceful relations.
The corrosive affect of abortion logic thus again has spread beyond sexual relations into relations between nations, and weakened them. As soon as one allows an innocent human life to have no rights, one allows the logic of no-rights to spread throughout society. Once a critical mass of individuals do not respect one another’s rights, eventually, neither do nations, and thus, over decades, our societal capacity to build trust and thereby achieve peace breaks down.
The world should turn once again to St. John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris for a way to peace. . . especially for nations and peoples who have little in common with one another except the capacity to respect each other’s common human rights.
© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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