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.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Leo Strauss and Natural Law: Locke's Great Dissemblance

OH IF LOCKE HAD LIVED TODAY, where there are no penalties but rather praise attached to being a secular liberal, how untrammeled would he have been, and how much clearer it would have been for his readers to see what he had intended to say! But then many our founding fathers, at least those who were practicing Christians, would not have chewed on his fat. Yet nevertheless we would not have to read between the lines and read so carefully. Instead, the social strictures of the time in conjunction with his temporal prudence caused him to write Hobbesthought using Hookerspeak. Carefully read, however, "a summary comparison of [Locke's Second Treatise] with the teaching of Hooker and of Hobbes would show that Locke deviated considerably from the traditional natural law teaching and followed the lead given by Hobbes." Strauss, 221. Strauss engages in such a comparison in his book Natural Right and History, which will not be addressed here.

But in one area, Locke disrobes, and we see his deviant Hobbesian skivvies that cover up his swelling atheistic pudendum. Strauss identifies for us Locke's "radical deviation" from Hooker. What and where is it? It is to be found in Chapter II of his Second Treatise, entitled "Of the State of Nature." It is the notion that in the state of nature, "every one has the executive power of the law of nature." Locke, Sec. Tr., § 13; see also § 8 ("every man hath a right to . . . be executioner of the law of nature.") Locke admits that this doctrine is "strange," that is, novel, Sec. Tr., §§ 9, 13, but he asks for the reader's indulgence and begs no hasty judgment. That man has "executive powers" in a state of nature to enforce the law of nature (in other words, in a state of nature, I can act as judge and jury and executioner against a fellow man who has infringed the natural law) is not to be found in Hooker. Nor is it to be found in any classical or Christian treatment of natural law. Why, then, does Locke insist upon this executive power in man in a state of nature? Why does he risk an express breach with the words of Hooker and the distrust of his fellows?

It is because in Locke's view, for natural law to be law at all, there must be sanction, and for there to be effective sanction, there must be enforcement. The traditional view taught that natural law's sanction was "supplied by the judgment of conscience, which is the judgment of God." Strauss, 222. Locke, however, who rejected a natural law that contains within it the notion of "nature's God," had to find the sanction/enforcement mechanism elsewhere than in conscience or God. So he wrests it from conscience, the spark of God in man, and puts it in the soiled hands of brutish men with clubs. Look at Locke's deprecatory notion of conscience: for Locke, the conscience "is nothing else but our own opinion or judgment of the moral rectitude or pravity of our own actions." (Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, I.iii, § 8) Our own opinion? This is fully and entirely Hobbesian: "private consciences . . . are but private opinions." Hobbes, Leviathan, Chap. 29. Conscience, for Locke, not only is no guide, it supplies no sanctions, and it hardly need be said that it is in no wise linked to God. For God is not the God of opinions, but of truth. Thus, in Locke's view, only men can enforce this partial natural law in the state of nature, which means, at the end of the day, that the law is not a natural law at all, but a man-made law. In a state of nature, man is its executive. Under social contract, that executive power is conveyed to the Leviathan State. God is altogether out of the picture, in theory and in practice.

The law of nature is indeed given by God [a concession of Locke to the times], but its being a law does not require that it be known to be given by God, because it is immediately enforced, not by God or by the conscience, but by human beings.

Strauss, 223. Is Locke's view any different from Hobbes's? Once the veils are removed, manifestly no. Has he departed from Hooker? Once the smokescreen clears, manifestly yes.

But the problem is even worse than merely a lack of enforcement mechanism tied to God. God is entirely out of the picture in the matter of promulgation of this "partial natural law."
Man would know the law of nature in the state of nature if the "the dictates of the law of nature" were "implanted in him" or "writ in the hearts of mankind." But no moral rules are "imprinted in our minds" or "written on [our] hearts" or "stamped upon [our] minds or "implanted." Since there his no habitus of moral principles, no synderesis or conscience, all knowledge of the law of nature is acquired by study: to know the law of nature, one must be "a studier of that law." . . . . [Therefore] the law of nature is not promulgated in the state of nature. Since the law of nature must be promulgated in the state of nature if it is to be a law in the proper sense of the term, we are again forced to conclude that the law of nature is not a law in the proper sense of the term.
Strauss, 225-26.

So the natural law of Locke, it turns out, is not natural law at all. It requires no knowledge of God, of its promulgation by God, of its enforcement by God. It requires no belief in judgment after death, or in life after death. There is no room in it for God. It requires no conscience to inform man of it, or to account to man that he has violated it. It is no law at all. It is in fact only desire, a desire to pursue happiness. Locke's natural law, or perhaps replacement for natural law, is desire. The pursuit of happiness, then, becomes the one-and-only law of man, and it follows from the desire for self-preservation. It requires property to be fulfilled. Hence, Locke's trilogy of rights: life, liberty, property. Naturally, for Locke, the pursuit of happiness, being entirely natural, is happiness without God. Some people, by the way, would call this Hell.


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