Posts Tagged ‘natural law’

June 11th, 2015

From personalism to liberalism?

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In his paper “Personalism, Community and the Origins of Human Rights,” Samuel Moyn argues that a relatively understudied current of Catholic political thought—known as personalism—played a key role in the affirmation of human rights as today’s dominant ideological framework. This may initially appear surprising given the well-known opposition of traditional Catholic social doctrine to the values normally associated with liberalism, modernity and the French Revolution.

However, Moyn’s argument is that Catholic political thought underwent a transformation in the middle part of the twentieth century, developing a distinctive doctrine of human rights on the basis of a concept of the human “person,” which turned out to be crucial for the inscription of human rights within the juridical and political framework of the post-war order. Indeed, Moyn argues that this Catholic rediscovery of human rights took place at a time (the early 1940s) during which other, more progressive, intellectual and political currents were relatively uninterested in them. Thus, he provocatively suggests that the widespread prestige this notion enjoys today has its roots in an essentially “conservative” political project of the mid-twentieth century.

June 3rd, 2015

Not Church history?

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When Samuel Moyn talks about Church history, it is usually not meant as a compliment. He has shaken up the field of human rights history with his pointed criticisms of the historiographical fallacies to which many of its practitioners fall prey. The worst offenders are precisely Church historians, either in a figurative (like Jonathan Israel) or literal sense, those who succumb to “the general flaws of teleology, tunnel vision, and triumphalism.” Now, with his new book Christian Human Rights, Moyn delves straight into the heart of historiographical darkness itself, challenging the pieties of Christian (as well as some leftist) evangelists. The results are very impressive: Moyn writes intellectual history on a global scale, complete with archival finds and a subtle grasp of theological concepts.

April 12th, 2010

“Sorry comforters” and the new Natural Law

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I read the Chicago Council Task Force Report, “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy,” as a student of the history and politics of international law. From this perspective, the report evokes Immanuel Kant’s famous denunciation of Grotius, Pufendorf, and Vattel in his 1795 essay Toward Perpetual Peace as the “sorry comforters” of the law of nations. For Kant, the principles and doctrines of the early modern natural lawyers not only lacked all “legal force” in restraining the belligerence of nation states, but, by appropriating the voice of international legality to the interests of power rather than right, they were ultimately apologists for such belligerence. Kant accordingly denounced these juristic advisers to historical states as “political moralists,” who, by basing their conceptions of justice on the political governance of conflicting interests in an attempt to humanize relations between warring nation-states, subordinated principles to ends and became thereby accomplices to war, imperialism, and colonialism.

December 22nd, 2009

Dean of natural law

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In the New York Times Magazine, David Kirkpatrick writes about Robert P. George, one of the architects of the recently-unveiled Manhattan Declaration and a legal scholar who is emerging as a leading voice among Christian conservatives. He is also an outspoken proponent of natural-law reasoning.

February 19th, 2009

Justice and theism

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<p></p>The central claim of Nicholas Wolsterstorff’s Justice: Rights and Wrongs is that justice is based on natural human rights that inhere in the worth of human beings, a worth that is bestowed on each and every human being through God’s love.  He contrasts this view of “justice as inherent rights” with an alternative notion of “justice as right order,” the view that was espoused by pagan philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle and dominated philosophical thinking until relatively recent times. […]

July 24th, 2008

“Call it X”

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I am grateful for the kind and thoughtful comments posted at The Immanent Frame about Islam and the Secular State. It is fascinating and instructive to see a text grow to have a life of its own, with some readers adding clarification and more effective communication of what one is attempting to say. Even misunderstanding is helpful in alerting an author to the risks of miscommunication, instead of assuming that people do understand what we say as we mean it. Indeed, it is the combination of the author’s purpose and the reader’s comprehension that determines what is actually communicated. It is that complex outcome unfolding over time, and not an author’s unilateral theorizing, that can make “a good theory,” for according to Kurt Lewin’s helpful insight, “there is nothing so practical as a good theory.” In this light, I offer the following reflections in the spirit of contributing to a process of collaborative theory-making. […]

July 14th, 2008

Arguing with An-Na`im

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What is interesting about An-Na`im’s arguments is that they ground the case for the secular state not in the Quran, not in claims about the presence of the imago Dei in the person or in some other source of the person’s intrinsic dignity, not in natural law, some closely similar type of practical reason, or universal moral precepts, but rather in what might be called “second order” observations about the phenomenology of belief, the character of government, the lessons of history, and the like. To be sure, good reasons for the secular state lie therein. But are these arguments sufficient to ground an Islamic case for constitutionalism, human rights, and the secular state? I doubt it.