Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘Natural Law’

bionic mosquito: The Priestly Caste

Posted by M. C. on February 23, 2021

What happens when this priestly class figures out that humans need an artificial god to worship, to go along with the artificial intelligence that have created? Something above the priest – not hidden, but to be known?

Jonathan Pageau had a conversation with Dr. Paula Boddington, who has done work in the field of developing a code of ethics for artificial intelligence.  A few excerpts….


We are the Priests

Of the Temples of Syrinx

Our great computers

Fill the hallowed hall

Artificial intelligence is creating a new priestly class.  AI – the making of a body that can host intelligence.  This is the work of God…or the gods.  We sacrifice to that creator-god, we trust it – Google, Facebook, the algorithm, etc.  It is the leaders, the tech elites, of these entities that are the new priestly caste; the will of the god manifests itself through them – these priests.

The priestly caste informs the people, telling them to look at the god – look to the statue, look to the AI.  AI is giving power to this priestly group.  The culture war is a war for what comes up first in a search on google. 

What happens when this priestly class figures out that humans need an artificial god to worship, to go along with the artificial intelligence that have created?  Something above the priest – not hidden, but to be known?


We’ve taken care of everything

The words you read

The songs you sing

The pictures that give pleasure

To your eye

How is it that tech companies are bringing about the Kafka state – the insane, bureaucratic, communist, totalitarian state; you don’t even know who to talk to, there is no human on the other end of the line, you don’t know how to appeal.  They game the system by making all of the rules opaque.

I have been thinking about this recently.  Are the tech companies more powerful than state governments?  On the one hand, it seems the answer is yes.  Except that the state can, at any time, crush the tech companies – break these up, destroy the wealth of the founders, etc.

The power remains with the state.  The state uses these tech companies.  Bribes are paid, via central banking largesse, driving up the net worth of the tech elites; these elites know the game.  The stand at attention, knowing that at any moment the multi-billions, tens-of-billions, and even hundreds of billions could be gone tomorrow if they decide not to play the game.


One for all and all for one

Work together

Common sons

Never need to wonder

How or why

Boddington: Intelligence is the capacity to reach your goals – that intelligence is just instrumental, utilitarian.  It is just used to maximize or increase happiness.  It fits into an Enlightenment ideal of reason – we are making progress, a Steven Pinker type view.

Pageau: I actually don’t mind that way of seeing intelligence – the capacity to reach your goals.  It’s just that there are higher goals and there are lower goals.  The materialist, Steven Pinker world is after the lower goals – the world of whims and desires, pleasures and pain.  Whereas virtue and the good, in the Christian or Platonic sense, is actually the goal – the goal of reality. 

Which brings me back to the end, purpose, or telos for man.  What are we made for?  If our entire purpose is to achieve material gain and superficial pleasure, we have arrived.  There is no meaning crisis if we have achieved a life that gives us meaning.  But this isn’t the case.

There are the higher virtues – faith, hope, and love.  Love: fulfillment through other-regarding action; beatitudo.  Intelligence – more precisely, wisdom, is the capacity of using reason to achieve these goals. 


Yes, we know

It’s nothing new

It’s just a waste of time

We have no need for ancient ways

Our world is doing fine

I can’t help but think of C.S. Lewis’s book, The Abolition of Man.  Man has spent the last four hundred years working to conquer nature.  I would have been pretty happy if we just stopped at air conditioning.  But the progress (toward what end…we shall see) is continuing. 

From Lewis:

They [the Conditioners – the elite] are not men at all.  Stepping outside the Tao [Natural Law], they have stepped into the void.  Nor are their subjects [us] necessarily unhappy men.  They are not men at all: they are artefacts.  Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.

The end that we are progressing toward is the abolition of man.


I can’t believe you’re saying

These things just can’t be true

Our world could use this beauty

Just think what we might do

What stops this progress?  Nuclear Armageddon is one possibility.  Destroying man’s will through the destruction of meaning is another.  Maybe success by artificial intelligence ethics experts like Dr. Boddington is another.

I hope it is not either of the first two (although each one currently holds a very strong position), and I am certain it will not be the third.  There is only one possibility: we return to the focus on the higher values, and recognize that there is a source of these higher values, a source above man, higher than man, untouchable by man. 

Again, from Lewis:

… [the Tao, natural law] is not one among a series of possible systems of value.  It is the sole source of all value judgements.  If it is rejected, all value is rejected.

The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.

Or, as Murray Rothbard notes:

…the natural law provides the only sure ground for a continuing critique of governmental laws and decrees.

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bionic mosquito: What of Rights?

Posted by M. C. on September 11, 2020

To have properly ordered rights, there must be a shared understanding of what is good. It still remains, as Murray Rothbard offered, that the foundation of natural law offers the only means by which such questions can be answered, therefore it is only through a foundation of natural law that we can defend individual liberty.

What of Rights?

When Rights Go Wrong, Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P. (audio)

Regarding the seeming failure of liberalism, Fr. Legge begins with a reference to Patrick Deneen’s book, Why Liberalism Failed: a major cause is the Enlightenment’s focus on autonomy and the rights of the individual. “Is the Enlightenment idea of liberty the core theoretical problem for liberalism today?”

Regular readers here have walked with me while I have developed my views. Fundamentally, an underlying cultural foundation (and, in my opinion, a specific cultural foundation) is necessary in order for liberty as promised in the Enlightenment to hold. Yet the Enlightenment, while offering that promise of liberty, at the same time offered that the cultural foundation was not fundamental.

Fr. Legge offers his perspective, well-preceding the Enlightenment: we must grasp the true nature between law, justice, and individual rights and the common good. He begins with Thomas Aquinas and the reality that man is born into a social environment. We have the possibility of conflicts horizontally (between individuals), and vertically (between an individual and the common good). I know the phrase “common good” is troubling for many libertarians; just sit tight.

Beginning with Aquinas, he offers that justice is according to God’s plan; God’s will is secondary to this – He acts according to the order He conceived. Therefore, law is not an expression of God’s will, but of God’s reasoned plan. Hence, law is an expression of reason – even for God.

I know there is this question: can God act contrary to this reason? For Aquinas the answer is no, and anyway, why would He – or, more specifically, why would He have to do so? God was quite capable of creating an order that would not require Him to act in a manner that was contradictory or arbitrary when compared to this order.

Aquinas’s definition of law is offered:

An ordination of reason for the common good, made by one with authority and promulgated.

Proper human justice takes this into account, along with the right ordering in human acts – both horizontally and vertically. For this, there are three key elements: first, an ordering; second, according to reason, third, to the good. The key issue when it comes to the downfall of the liberal order since the is this question of “good.” What is the “good”? This will come later.

With this, Fr. Legge is ready to take up the question of rights: does Aquinas have a theory of individual rights? It is often thought, incorrectly, that he does not. But it is through Thomas where an issue often raised against the Enlightenment – the explosion of individual so-called rights – can be addressed.

Aquinas does speak of objective rights, ius, that an individual can assert. The Latin word can translate into rights, the just thing, fair, or what is right. The ius is the object, or measure, of justice. Have I rendered what is due to you? Conversely, I am due something from you – this ius. And here, we can find a conception of a right – a right that can be enforced against others.

Aquinas does not conceive of these rights as an abstraction from the teleological order. I take this to mean (and it is consistent with my earlier work on this), that just because natural law dictates an act, it does not mean that another person can require me, by law, to perform that act.

So, if these rights are not an abstraction from the teleological order, then where are these from? Rights are a function of justice, directed toward the common good. And it is here where things went wrong – accelerated in the Enlightenment, but not born there.

To examine this, he starts with two other Catholics: one a Franciscan and one a Jesuit, who offer very different accounts of individual rights – “because they lost sight of the truth…” (after which the room erupts in laughter at this inside-Catholic-baseball humor from this Dominican) “…that justice, law, and ius all depend on, or are facts of, a wise and reasoned order of individuals to the good.”

He points to William of Occam, the fourteenth century Franciscan nominalist, as the primary culprit on this score. Occam rooted law, not in God’s reason or intellect, but in God’s will. Law ceased to be something that ordered us to the good, but became nothing more than God’s command.


He then points to Francisco Suárez, a seventeenth century Jesuit. While an opponent of Occam and often praising Aquinas, he would change definitions to the extent that the concepts presented by Aquinas were lost. I will admit, this portion was a bit way too far inside-Catholic-baseball for me – the nuance of agreement vs. disagreement with Aquinas was not drawn out in a manner that I could well comprehend.

So how does this lead to the crisis of liberalism today? The shift in the law and common good, beginning in Occam and completed in Suarez, left us a theory of law fundamentally different than Aquinas’s in two ways: first, a loss of the recognition that law is an ordination of reason to the common good, instead becoming an imposition of an obligation by the will of a superior; second, a loss of the sense that rights are a feature of the over-arching teleological order to the good in which the rational creature is placed, instead dependent on the moral power of the creature without reference to that order.

In other words: law has become a function of will – and this, with the death of God, became the will of the strong man; second, the larger context in which I live can in no way be allowed to infringe on my individual rights. For example, looting is just me expressing my rights. (Four months ago, I would have written that walking into any restroom I like is just me expressing my rights. Oh, what happened to those good old days….)

The Enlightenment magnified this, but this change wasn’t born in the Enlightenment. Instead of an objective good, we now have the good as defined by the strongest earthly superior. We now claim rights without a firm foundation of what is good, allowing for a never-ending proliferation of rights-claims.

Even God is not free to make such arbitrary choices. He created the ordered world, subject to reason – His reason, therefore why would He ever contradict this? This is an ordering to the good – an objective, not arbitrary good; it is a good subject to reason, not to the possibility of an ever-changing will.

So much for the past. Now what? What should be done? There is no going back to an idealized past. Yet, we must understand what we need to recover. In my own words: we don’t go back to the past; we must return to the center. There is a center, relative to which we are sometimes closer and sometimes farther. It isn’t going back to the past, but returning to the center.

What is due to another, the ius, depends on the over-arching teleological order; this order regards persons, living in communities. There is no autonomous individual: we come into the world as a child of a mother and father, in a community, with relationships with many others along many spectrums. This is the natural condition of the individual.

Hence, rights are not arbitrarily chosen. Rights affirm what is required if persons are to be properly ordered to each other. Which brings us back to the issue of the common good. Does the common good infringe on the rights of the individual? Not in a Thomistic understanding.

The common good is the good which can be shared by many without diminishment to any individual. A simple example offered by Fr. Legge is the joy that many can take at the victory of a sports team. A broader example I offer is that of a well-functioning market. It is difficult to deny that such markets are a common good, and certain rights are required to protect and defend this common good – for example, rights in person and property. Well-functioning markets clearly do not infringe on the rights of any individual; in fact, such markets are a good for the individual. The idea of ius, what is right, will defend this common good.

Fr. Legge offers other common goods: justice, truth, and peace. Here again, the achievement of these does not diminish any individual’s liberty. These enhance individual liberty. Paraphrasing Aristotle: the city exists not merely that men might live, but that they might live well.

All of these rights, born from a teleological understanding of the good, are ignored or even crushed today. The common good rights of person, property, justice, truth and peace are all attacked daily, both by government and by many that the government enables.

Further, law that defends the just right of the citizen is quite different than pork-barrel spending. There is no common good in this, as such actions cannot be shared without diminishment toward some at the favor of others. One can think of many of the so-called rights claimed by those majoring in grievance studies in university in the same way: these claims are not for the common good, as they cannot be shared without diminishment to some individuals.


At its foundation, the disagreement is about what is good. It is this disagreement that results in varying rights claims, and much of this discussion centers on rights claims not for the common good but at the cost of the common good.

I know that the idea of natural law causes grief for many, ranging from those who find the idea of an objective good abhorrent, to those who claim to find no basis for it in the Bible. To the former, I suggest that there is no other path to liberty; to the latter, I offer this.

To have properly ordered rights, there must be a shared understanding of what is good. It still remains, as Murray Rothbard offered, that the foundation of natural law offers the only means by which such questions can be answered, therefore it is only through a foundation of natural law that we can defend individual liberty.

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bionic mosquito: What of Natural Rights?

Posted by M. C. on June 25, 2020

At the same time, society today is taking a bastardized version of natural law and turning this into natural rights through human law. By law, others have a right to claim from me food if hungry, a home if without shelter, and clothes if cold.

Critics such as these are attacking a strawman, while the state is enacting exactly that which they fear – a theocracy, but based on a deformed concept of what it means to be a human being.

What of Natural Rights?

I have written extensively on the necessity of natural law as the foundation for a society grounded in liberty. What of natural rights? How are the two related?

Murray Rothbard addresses this question in chapter four of his book, The Ethics of Liberty, pointing to John Locke:

From the Lockean emphasis on the individual as the unit of action, as the entity who thinks, feels, chooses, and acts, stemmed his conception of natural law in politics as establishing the natural rights of each individual.

It is in a grounding of natural rights that the American experiment began, and it is the examination of natural rights that is the purpose of the remainder of Rothbard’s book:

It is this tradition of natural-rights libertarianism upon which the present volume attempts to build.

This distinction of natural law and natural rights has caused confusion for many – certainly me. For example, how can Rothbard open the first three chapters of this book describing the necessity of natural law to liberty and then spend the bulk of the book focusing only on the libertarian analysis of property rights? What of the “moral” stuff inherent in natural law? That’s what I want to get at here.

To begin, while it is true (as Rothbard suggests) that many of the earlier scholars of natural law placed emphasis on the king or state as opposed to the individual, Locke was not the first to demonstrate a distinction between natural law and natural rights. One could find this distinction in Aquinas (emphasis added):

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.

So, while natural law described how humans ought to act toward others (and, in my opinion, describes the type of behavior necessary if one is to expect any form of sustainable liberty on this earth), natural rights describe how others (society) ought to act toward the individual rights-holder.

It is this area of natural rights where Rothbard spends the bulk of his time in this book, all-the-while not discounting his strong statements in the opening chapters regarding the necessity of natural law toward liberty. The individual has a natural right to life and property. While natural law demands certain moral behaviors beyond this, I as an individual have no natural right to force others to behave toward me in such respects.

For a simple example, natural law is grounded in other-regarding action – call it the Golden Rule for simplicity. Yet I have no natural right to demand that others treat me in a loving manner – to feed me if hungry, to shelter me if homeless, or to clothe me if cold.

Natural law describes proper moral behavior – and, in my opinion, the behavior necessary if society is to sustain the natural rights in human law of life and property.


I do have a natural right to demand that others respect my property and my physical body: don’t hit first; don’t take my stuff. And it is here where human law plays a role – as touched on by Aquinas, further developed in Locke, and expanded upon significantly by Rothbard.

But none of these had the gumption to turn all of natural law into natural rights (and, therefore, human law). I have a right to my property and my physical body. Beyond this – whatever natural law demands – I have no right to claim, in human law, other actions. I have no right to demand that others treat me in a loving manner.


I find it quite interesting that one of the strong pushbacks against natural law is the idea that proponents of natural law wish to arrive at a theocracy. Yet it is clear, as early as Aquinas, that this was never the purpose.

At the same time, society today is taking a bastardized version of natural law and turning this into natural rights through human law. By law, others have a right to claim from me food if hungry, a home if without shelter, and clothes if cold.

Critics such as these are attacking a strawman, while the state is enacting exactly that which they fear – a theocracy, but based on a deformed concept of what it means to be a human being.

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bionic mosquito: Natural Law and Anarcho-Capitalism

Posted by M. C. on June 6, 2020

The purpose of this paper is to give an analysis and explication of the notion of a natural order of human affairs, which is logically independent of any metaphysical or theological system.

In this paper, Frank van Dun (FvD) offers an examination of Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism and its presupposition of a natural order – based on natural law and natural rights.

In short, anarcho-capitalism, in its Rothbardian form, stands or falls with its supposition that there is a natural order – a natural law – of the human world and that each human person has a place in that order that is delimited by his or her natural rights.

It is important that van Dun clarifies that he is dealing with a Rothbardian order, as others base their anarcho-capitalism or libertarianism on foundations other than natural law. Rothbard’s version is not driven by views on efficiency, but on views of human beings as human beings.

It is important, therefore to examine just what is meant by natural law – at least as van Dun sees it. As he notes, “‘Natural law’ is a controversial concept.” One reason it is controversial is that it is often connected to the metaphysical, or otherwise connected to a particular theology. While one cannot escape Aquinas when discussing natural law, this certainly does not make it a Catholic convention – or invention.

However, the fact that some theories of natural law are metaphysical or theological does not mean that natural law is something metaphysical or theological. A theory of mice and men can be metaphysical but the metaphysics is in the theory, not in the mice and not in the men.

FvD then dives into a very important point – one that I have often made, yet still find misunderstood. Natural law legal theory and natural law ethical theory need not be identical. Such thinking results in an unnecessary either / or situation:

…either all natural laws are mere moral admonitions or all of them are legally enforceable requirements. That ambiguity has plagued the interpretation of natural law theories ever since Thomas Aquinas identified natural law and reason.

Natural law: either suggestions for ethical behavior or a system by which to implement a theocracy. But neither extreme is necessary, and in any case not at all intended by Aquinas. Forgive the very long cite, but this is a tremendously important point:

…Thomas clearly distinguished between mere sins (that merit disapproval and repentance) and injustices (that merit ‘action in justice’ and redress). He also distinguished between vices of the sort no virtuous man would engage in and vices that threaten the existence of ‘society’ (not this or that particular society but ‘human society’ as a general form of conviviality or symbiosis): murder, arson, theft, fraud, robbery, assault and other crimes against persons and property. (Summa Theologica, IaIIae, question 96, art.2 (concl). Only with respect to injustice and especially crime can the coercive power of ‘human law’ intervene. In short, while all virtues are necessarily lawful (sanctioned by the rational appreciation of their agreement with divine providence), and all vices are consequently unlawful, only a few vices of a particular sort should be made illegal. ‘Legislating morality’ was not on Thomas’ agenda.

FvD uses the terms “unlawful” and “illegal” to make the distinction. Unlawful being a violation of natural law; illegal being a violation that gets you thrown in prison (or justifies violence in response).

This is consistent with my point that the non-aggression principle fits quite well as a theory of punishment, but not as a theory of ethics. Violations of the natural law that are also aggressions against person or property are subject to the “coercive power of human law.” Non-aggressive violations of the natural law are not, in my opinion, subject to this same coercive power.

I will leave aside, as it is rough around the edges and will be dictated by local custom as much as any other factor, the specific application of the word “aggression.” I don’t think the edges of this term are identifiable by evermore purifying attempts at applying libertarian theory. Human beings don’t work that way. Different societies will figure this out in a way that works for them.

FvD next looks at a comparison of natural law and artificial law. Whether in physics, biology, or chemistry, science attempts to identify the natural order of things. It is no different when working to identify the natural order of persons. This order exists, waiting to be discovered, based on the characteristics of human beings as human beings.


This as opposed to artificial law: “An artificial law is an order of artificial things. Here we shall consider it only as an order of artificial persons.” FvD offers as an example, the artificial person known as a “citizen.” States and corporations also qualify. These are defined by the relevant artificial law.

To find out about natural persons, go live among them; to find out about citizens, consult a lawyer!

A breakdown in artificial law happens when people refuse to play by the rules. This could be because they refuse to do so (including for reasons that the rules violate natural law) or when the rules are overly complex and ever-changing. A breakdown of natural law happens when people do not heed the distinction of one person from another. (Egalitarianism in all its forms, run amok.)

What of any obligation for a person to respect the natural law? This, van Dun suggests, is an open question requiring serious thought:

What a natural person can do does not translate into what he may do. What such a person ought to do does not translate into what he must do.

How I see this: A natural person can punch someone in the nose for no good reason; it does not follow that he may do this. A natural person ought not live in a drunken stupor; yet this says nothing about what he must do regarding the consumption of alcohol.

Such an is-ought question is not an issue at all for artificial persons and artificial law. Here, the law is whatever the law is, and the person is whatever the law makes him to be. This is positivism, and it is clear why positivism is anathema to anarcho-capitalists – and many libertarians. Positivism ignores, and even denies, the idea of natural law.


In this paper, van Dun is not attempting to justify natural law, only to examine it and its relationship to anarcho-capitalism. He concludes:

Anarcho-capitalism rests on the notion of natural law as an order of natural persons rather than a binding set of rules or commands. As a normative theory, it holds not only that we have good reasons to respect the natural order but also that we have no right not to respect it.

Building liberty on any other foundation is flawed; it is not sustainable. Only this foundation of natural law takes human beings as they are, not as someone wishes them to be.

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Embracing Reality – by Robert Ringer

Posted by M. C. on September 21, 2018

I further believe that one of the most important steps in a person’s personal growth is to become adept at transcending his world of delusions.  This is not an easy task, due in no small part to the fact that we are surrounded by delusions each and every day.

by Robert Ringer

As the lying, corruption, and craziness continue unabated in Washington, it’s a reminder of just how important it is to one’s sanity to embrace reality.  Reality is synonymous with truth, but, as Baltasar Gracian, the insightful and pragmatic 17thcentury Jesuit priest, cautioned, “Truth is abhorred by the masses.”

Instead of loving truth, most people try to make true that which they love, which is a self-delusive practice that virtually guarantees frustration and failure.  Thus, most people live in an unreal world, a world they create in their own minds based on the way they would like it to be rather than the way it actually is.  They seem to have adopted the philosophy of Ashleigh Brilliant, who once remarked, “I have abandoned my search for truth and am now looking for a good fantasy.”

It is absolutely essential that a person intellectually and emotionally recognizes that reality isn’t the way he wishes things to be or the way they appear to be, but the way they actually are.  The individual who is not able to make this distinction finds it virtually impossible to make decisions that lead to positive results.     

Which brings me to principles.  A principle is synonymous with a law of nature, as opposed to a law of man.  Most manmade laws are nothing more than legalized aggression against the sovereignty of peaceful individuals and rarely bear any relationship to Natural Law, reality, or morality… Read the rest of this entry »

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Columns > America’s Burgeoning Civil War

Posted by M. C. on August 10, 2018

Maybe, maybe not. The key is to be prepared for the eventuality.

Don’t count on government or police to be your friend if the worst comes to fruition.

No matter who would have won the election in 2016, the result would have been the same. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were groomed to take America into a civil war. Make no mistake about it: The gamemakers who control both Trump and Clinton couldn’t care less about the left-right feud taking place on Main Street today. It is the Constitution, Bill of Rights and God’s Natural Law that are targeted for destruction. And neither Donald Trump nor Maxine Waters seem to have any regard, respect or reverence for any of those sacred principles.

Make no mistake about it: America is already engaged in its second civil war. The decades-old left-right, conservative-liberal, Democrat-Republican paradigm that had (before Donald Trump’s election) almost evaporated is back—with a vengeance. In fact, it has turned into a full-fledged war. And it doesn’t matter to a tinker’s dam which side wins this war: Constitutional government and the Natural rights of man are the losers.

Take your pick. Maxine Waters or Donald Trump, Sean Hannity or Chris Matthews: Both sides are destroying the principles of federalism, constitutionalism and Natural Law. For all intents and purposes these principles are already dead. The American experiment in republicanism is over. From now on it’s the survival of the strongest. Might makes right. Logic, reason and sensible debate are buried in the dustbin of history. America has entered the next Dark Ages. And, sadly, there are hardly any Reformation preachers left in America to lead the nation into the light of liberty. Read the rest of this entry »

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