Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Leo Strauss and Natural Law: Locke's "Partial Natural Law" Not Natural Law At All

LE SAGE LOCKE, "the sagacious Locke," is what Voltaire called John Locke. Thomas Jefferson called Locke one of the three greatest men who ever lived, rivaled in greatness only by Bacon and Newton. For Locke to have gained the respect of two such virulent haters of the Catholic Church and revealed religion should give one pause before accepting him hook, line, and sinker, or, perhaps more paronomasiacally, lock, stock, and barrel. If Locke, who quoted the Aristotelian/Thomistic Richard Hooker, "one of the least revolutionary men who ever lived," Strauss, 207, who appeared to advance a traditional notion of natural law, who feigned intimate knowledge with "those justly descried names" of Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza, was up front, then why are these two princes of the Enlightenment, these two chiefs of the Revolution, so bullish on Locke?

What's up with that? Were his traditional-sounding words part of a great dissembling? Was Locke the "Great Dissembler"? This seems to be the judgment of Leo Strauss:

We see, then, that, according to Locke, cautious speech is legitimate if unqualified frankness would hinder a noble work one is trying to achieve or expose on to persecution or endanger the public peace; and legitimate caution is perfectly compatible with going with the herd in one's outward professions or with using ambiguous language or with so involving one's sense that one cannot easily be understood.

Strauss, 208-09. Locke writes as if the New Testament revelation provides the perfect law, but he responds or acts in such a manner so as to belie that belief. As Strauss notes, actions speak louder than words, and Locke wrote "Two Treatises on Government, and not a 'Politique tirée des propres paroles de l’Écriture sainte.'"* Granted, it is difficult if not impossible to know whether the dissembling was the result of Locke's own doubt on revelation, or rather his concern that his audience had doubts with respect to it. Therefore, though his words sound pious, he seems to have been judicious though calculating nevertheless to advance a form of political teaching, of natural law, as independent of Scripture and Christianity, indeed as independent of God, as he could possibly make it. Strauss, 209. Locke appeared to believe that it was impossible, through the light of reason alone, to arrive at any conclusion on life after death for mankind. Accordingly, any law that referred to life after death, or a notion that "after death comes judgment," Heb. 9:27, was not, strictly speaking, a natural law based upon reason alone at all.
Therefore, if there is to be a law "knowable by the light of nature, that is without the help of positive revelation," that law must consist of a set of rules whose validity does not presuppose life after death or belief in a life after death.
Strauss, 212. Not only was the belief in life after death not materia propria for natural law philosophy, neither was the connection between virtue and happiness, since from the vantage point of any particular man's mortal life alone there seems to be little correlation between virtue "Locke cannot have recognized any law of nature in the proper sense of the term."
--Leo Strauss
and happiness or prosperity (That's why Billy Joel has the seducer sing to the Catholic Virginia who insists on the virtue of chastity: "Only the good die young!") But what was apparent on a micro scale to Locke was not necessarily so on a macro scale. And Locke seized on what he perceived was something arguable by reason alone: a necessary link between "several moral rules" and "public happiness," and on this linkage crafted a doctrine of a "partial law of nature," different from the "complete law of nature." Strauss, 213.

There exists, indeed, [in Locke's view], a visible connection between "public happiness" or "the prosperity and temporal happiness of any people" and the general compliance with "several moral rules." These rules, which apparently are a part of the complete law of nature, "may receive from mankind a very general approbation, without either knowing or admitting the true ground of morality; which can only be the will and law of a God, who sees men in the dark, has in his hands rewards and punishments, and power enough to call to account the proudest offender."

Strauss, 213. The "several moral rules" in this "partial" natural law seem rather limited, as even the laws of marriage Locke finds outside of them, apparently having difficulty justifying monogamous marriage from polygamy or even concubinage or incest (the latter two the dissembler simply remains silent about) under principles of natural law, and does not see marriage as a union for the life of the spouses, but only one that ought to be "more firm" and more "lasting" (whatever that may mean) in men, than say satyrs or rabbits, but only because of the length of time needed in the raising of children. It seems that for Locke, the civil society can legislate on marriage virtually in any way it wants, since the natural law has so little to say about it. Marriage is therefore in practice outside of Locke's "partial" natural law. There are other discrepancies between Locke's "partial" natural law and the teachings of Scripture, the details of which need not be gone into here. "It can safely be said," in any event, "that Locke's 'partial law of nature' is not identical with clear and plain teachings of the New Testament or of Scripture in general." Strauss, 219. A fortiori when we add the moral teachings of the infallible Church, which, of course, Locke, the good Protestant become Deist and incipient Atheist he was, had long ago jettisoned as having any relevance.

In Locke's take of the natural law, this "partial natural law," the law of nature is totally and thoroughly secularized, nay, more, temporalized. The "one thing necessary," the unum necessarium,--contemplation of God--has disappeared. Maries are ostracized from the natural law. The natural law is only for Marthas. (Cf. Luke 10:38-42) Indeed, "the 'partial law of nature' does not require belief in God." Strauss, 219.

There is yet another log in Locke's intellectual eye which prevents his teachings on "partial" natural law from being on a sound foundation. "Locke's political teaching stands or falls by his natural law teaching concerning the beginnings of political societies." Strauss, 215. "Locke's entire political teaching is based on the assumption of a state of nature," a notion that refers neither the pre-lapsarian or post-lapsarian state of man. Strauss, 215. Locke's notion of the "state of nature" is Hobbesian, and it is a notion, it may be observed, entirely at odds with Scriptural concepts. The Fall of Man has no meaning to Locke in his political theories. It is a notion, as Strauss notes, "wholly alien to the Bible." Strauss, 215.

So when Locke's suggestion that the natural law is contained in the Scriptures is compared to his "partial law of nature" and its contradiction to the Scriptures, "it follows that the 'partial law of nature' does not belong at all to the law of nature." Strauss, 219. Indeed, since the "partial law of nature" does not require belief in God, it follows that there is no enforcer or judge of it, which means, naturally, that the "'partial law of nature' is, then, not a law in the proper sense of the term." Strauss, 220. It is thus that Strauss concludes in a manner that he admits is "in shocking contrast to what is generally thought to be his doctrine." "Locke cannot have recognized any law of nature in the proper sense of the term." Strauss, 220.

Egads! Isn't Locke one of the principal inspirations for the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? And, if Strauss is to be believed, he did not recognize the natural law in any proper sense of the term? What does all this mean?


*The reference is to Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet's (1627-1704) work by that name. Translated, the title is: "Politics Drawn from the Very Words of the Holy Scriptures."

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