The Genealogy of Liberty Prolegomena to any Declaration of Independence

John sealing the Magna Carta by Frank Wood, 1925

Liberty has a pedigree. Our freedom is not “natural,” it is an acquired inheritance, a generational bequest. This and this alone is the basis for saying that we as citizens of nation X are entitled to the freedoms this nation X embodies, while citizens of nation Y are not. Freedom is a construct forged within the context of the rule of law, in a particular polity, over time.

When we speak of natural rights, as does the US Declaration of Independence, we show no understanding of this. We prove to be oblivious to the fact that liberty has a history. We show our complete ignorance of the provenance of rights.

We Westerners have freedoms embodied in the constitutions of our nations. Where did they come from? What is the origin of these Western nations and their constitutions?

To find out, we need to go back to the Dark Ages. It may come as a shock, but the original civilizational foundation and framework for Western civilization was laid then, in those “dark” times (dark not least because of the paucity of written records, due to the low level of literacy among laypeople; all written records were the product of monks). There was a Dark Age constitution; from this baseline, there was a further development of that constitution during later medieval times; and that development culminated during the early-modern period, say the 16th century – curiously enough, also the century of the Reformation. But the fruit of this development was hijacked by imposters claiming that they themselves came up with the idea of liberty. In fact, they stood on the shoulders of giants, whom with their little feet they continue to kick.

Let’s take a closer look. The social order of the Dark Ages was the product of the melding of two forms of social order, the Roman classical, and the Germanic tribal. The Roman classical form was built on slavery. The Germanic tribal form was built on kinship. The Dark Ages social order provided the framework for superseding the two. In so doing, it established a framework for eliminating slavery altogether from its midst – the first civilizational framework in history to do so – and for establishing a pluralistic order of free association.

The basis for this new civilizational framework was covenant. The Dark Ages social order did not eliminate inequality – far from it. Rather than eliminate it, it incorporated it into a new systematic, a covenantal one based on basic understandings of human nature, ultimately rooted in the theology of the West, Augustinianism.

The key concepts to this theology derive from the threefold “ground motive” of Christianity: creation/fall/redemption. Man was created free in a state of innocence before God, but fell from that state into a state of sin, which included, in principle and in practice, the loss of freedom. Augustine formulated it this way: “But by nature, as God first created us, no one is the slave either of man or of sin. This servitude is, however, penal, and is appointed by that law which enjoins the preservation of the natural order and forbids its disturbance; for if nothing had been done in violation of that law, there would have been nothing to restrain by penal servitude” (The City of God, Dods translation, p. 694). And baptism provided, in principle, the way out of this bondage. “The old [i.e. original] state of freedom… is gained in the form of redemption through baptism, the second birth which makes a man a Christian. It is significantly called Christian freedom, and is distinguished from the bondage of those who are not baptized” (Tellenbach, Church, State, and Christian Society, p. 40).

With the conversion of Clovis and the Franks to Roman Christianity – the Christianity of Augustine – came the advent of a baptized Western Europe. And baptism received its outworking in the establishment of a covenantal framework of social bonds regulating liberty and subjection. Within this new framework, there was no rigid distinction between bond and free: all were in bondage to sin, but all were also freed by salvation in Christ; and social bonds reflected the resultant degrees of freedom. There was no longer slave or free, but only a sliding scale of relative freedom and relative bondage. The various forms of feudal bond fleshed out this understanding.

The manor was the physical location with which these bonds were associated, and the economic hub of the social order. Lord and vassal established rulership over the manor, the vassal receiving rule over the manor, and enjoying its economic provision. He gained this in exchange for services to the lord. The rule of thumb was that a manor should support the fitting out of a knight and his accompanying warhorses and entourage.

The personnel of the manor were likewise engaged in terms of a feudal bond, this time between lord and serf. Even the lowest man on the feudal totem pole enjoyed some level of freedom, and over time this freedom expanded in give-and-take fashion.

That give-and-take was determined largely by economics. The manor was transformed by the return of economic growth during the medieval renaissance of the 12th century onward. Part of the reason that there had even been a Dark Ages was the collapse of the Roman economy in the West, with an accompanying  dearth of the fuel of the pre-modern economy, silver. In the 12th century, silver production and thus monetary circulation took flight, precipitating a boom which would last a couple of centuries, and which would likewise fuel the constitutional developments of the age.

This involved the transformation of the manor. The manor was transformed from relatively self-sufficient autarchy to the center of the production of an agricultural surplus. This in turn supplied the material basis for the rise of towns and cities.

Accompanying these economic changes came changes in status, in freedom. The lord/serf relationship was transformed, in the commutation of physical services to money services, into the lord/tenant relationship. The surplus population moved into the towns and cities, where individuals gained the status of citizen. “Stadluft macht frei” (city air makes free) became the order of the day.

Henry Sumner Maine described this transformation as the shift from status to contract. By this he meant the shift from varying statuses embodying levels of freedom and privilege, to a single common status, that of citizen, with the center of gravity in human relations shifting toward contractual relations between citizens.

John Rogers Commons talked of the shift from subjection to liberty as being from unreleasable to releasable debts. An unreleasable debt cannot be repaid, and so results in the permanent subjection of the debtor to the creditor: this is the situation of the slave or the serf. A releasable debt, on the other hand, can be repaid by fulfilling the terms of the contract: therefore, the debtor does not fall into the status of permanent subjection, but retains equal status with the creditor.

So then, in the age of subjection, status is the dependent variable, contract the independent variable; in the age of liberty, the relation is reversed: status becomes the independent variable, contract the dependent variable.

These are the theoretical underpinnings of the genealogy of liberty. The praxis was hashed out in an ever-increasing number of proclamations, charters of rights and liberties, and simple prescription, arduously attained over the centuries by subjects from masters, vassals from lords, estates from monarchs, asymptotically approaching the limit of the status/contract curve. Books such as Sources of Our Liberties chronicle the advance of chartered liberty through the centuries within the Anglo-American sphere, culminating in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The striking thing about Sources of Our Liberties is the shift in emphasis it shows starting in 1774, away from chartered liberties – liberty as inheritance, within the Augustinian framework – and toward the law of nature and inalienable natural rights – liberty as man’s natural condition, as if no fall had ever occurred (may we call this Pelagian? If not, why not?).

England’s “unwritten” constitution was actually an accumulation of prescriptive (unchartered but presumed granted at some point in “time immemorial”) and chartered rights and liberties. The documentary evidence of it, from Magna Carta (the “Great Charter”) to Confirmatio Cartarum to the Bill of Rights of 1689, is there for all to see. This tradition of chartered liberty, of constitutionalism, was the result of centuries of labor in England, similar to the centuries of labor other Western nations put into the process, with varying results.

But what happens in 1774? John Adams drily and succinctly sums it up. During the first Continental Congress, sitting on the committee to draw up a statement of liberties, he reports:  “Whether we should recur to the law of nature, as well as to the British constitution, and our American charters and grants. Mr. Galloway and Mr. Duane were for excluding the law of nature. I was very strenuous for retaining and insisting on it, as a resource to which we might be driven by Parliament much sooner than we were aware” (The Works of John Adams, vol. 2, p. 374).

But in that case, Mr. Adams, it is no longer a question of inheritance, of laborious acquisition, against the Augustinian backdrop of original subjection, the product of amelioration in terms of a progress in virtue. No, it is now a question of default-mode natural rights, and wherever they do not obtain, an injustice has been done. And what they even are is the open-ended $64 question, the driving force of modern politics.

Nevertheless, in terms not of speculative philosophy but of fact and history, our true Declaration of Independence is nothing other than the fruit of the Gospel as it was carried to our forefathers by the monks and priests of the Roman church during that most eventful, yet misunderstood, period of our history, the Dark Ages. The purveyors of natural liberty have conveniently jettisoned that history. They have slandered it as the age of “Barbarism and Religion,” and, purloined inheritance in hand, have gone their merry way “proclaiming liberty throughout all the land.”

What was once an inheritance has now become a natural entitlement. Which, paradoxically enough, makes the attainment of true liberty, liberty under law, a will-o’-the-wisp that fades like the Cheshire Cat, leaving only a sardonic, wistful smile.

Deconstructing the Declaration Breaking down the mechanism of inalienable rights

(updated July 4th, 2019)

A meme making the rounds on Facebook (shared by the ever-provocative Dominic Foo) poses an interesting question: either “our rights come from God not government” or “Immigrants don’t have the same rights as Americans.”


It would seem that one or the other applies: if our rights come from God, then why do the citizens of one country see less or fewer of them than the citizens of another country? Are we supposed to believe that God endows one people with more rights than another, and that all government does is respect those rights? That would allow us to make choice #2. Or, if our rights come from God not government without respect of persons, hence choice #1, then that entails that we allow people to flee from one jurisdiction, where those rights are not respected or even recognized, to another jurisdiction which acknowledges these rights from God.

In other words, on this 242nd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we are once again faced with the conundrum the Declaration poses. For if it says anything clearly, it says that “all men are created equal.” So then, if we are to believe that its portentious phrases apply to all human beings equally, then indeed, immigration restrictions, among other things, stand in the way of their fulfillment. Just as in 1776, if those phrases had really been believed and taken literally, the slaves would have to have been freed immediately. But they weren’t.

The same thing is true regarding the restrictions on sexuality in favor of traditional marriage and the family. Say what you will about Anthony Kennedy, in his jurisprudence regarding homosexuality and marriage culminating in Obergefell v. Hodges, he was simply being faithful to these same portentious phrases.

For some time now, the jurisprudence has been catching up with the text of the Declaration. This explains the lack of push-back on the part of the political opposition. There is indeed opposition among the so-called “deplorables,” the grass roots, but this opposition is not receiving the representation one would expect it to. Not only electorally, but also in the institutions of public life, ranging from government to the schools, academia, the news and entertainment media, etc.

The reason is precisely the jurisprudence catching up with the text. Which is why such issues are characterized as inevitable. So to be in favor of gay marriage is to be “on the right side of history.” To be opposed is to be as retrograde as it is to be opposed to human rights generally. It is no good to refer to thousands of years of contradictory human history, to self-evident laws of nature, to the teaching of all religions everywhere, to the teaching of the Christian church, to which the majority of persons in the United States still professes to adhere, to the teaching of the Bible. None of that matters, because “history” is on the side of gay marriage.

On the face of it, stated as baldly as that, it seems astounding that this kind of argument could gain the ascendancy. Nevertheless, this decision is now “the law of the land.” And at this point, it would appear that it will be groups opposing this newly minted institution who will be fighting to survive. Because the entire machinery of federal, state, and local civil-rights legislation and policy, when the party in power favors it, will be brought to bear upon those recalcitrants. Caveat ecclesia.

What explains this inevitability? Quite simply, the natural rights paradigm that is enshrined in the Declaration, and which was placed at the heart of Western legal and political institutions beginning in the 17th century. That’s right: the document signed 241 years ago ratified the state of affairs that would eventually produce, e.g., same-sex marriage.

Of course, the Founders would be rolling in their graves if they had known that this would be the end-result of their work. Which would seem to be prima facie evidence against my thesis. “Balderdash!” they would exclaim. But a short explanation of the mechanics will elucidate my meaning and confirm the thesis.

Time and again, the justification for all of these jurisprudential “advances” is found in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. On the face of it, it seems odd that the rights-ore that the Court has mined from the Constitution, it has mined from this text. The language is standard Lockean phraseology: rights to life, liberty, and property, along with a right to due process of law in adjudicating those rights; and that these rights accrue to every American citizen, either naturalized or born on US soil. How is it that rights of such divergent import (e.g., privacy justifying a right to abortion, same-sex marriage, non-citizen welfare benefits), having nothing to do with the ones here enumerated, have nevertheless been teased out of this?

It is because an enumeration of rights presupposes a mechanism of rights from which the enumerated rights have been derived; it is the mechanism which matters, standing as it does, over and above any listed enumeration and any law which might presume to contradict it. And this is what generation after generation of Supreme Court justices has divined.

What is this mechanism? The mechanism of subjective right, not in its proper place as a subordinate component of the legal order, but elevated to the status of sovereignty: the individual will is supreme, sovereign; it shapes and determines its environment according to its wishes, for its ends; and it is entitled to these fruits of its will. Entitlement, rather than virtue, becomes the point of the exercise. This becomes the ultimate source of law. The proper relationship of law and rights, expressed in the primacy of objective over subjective right, so laboriously elaborated in the centuries of Christian-Roman jurisprudence, was reversed in the 17th century, in order to supersede the requirement of appeal to the law of God. Instead, the appeal is made to a common humanity. This enabled our stalwart forefathers to supersede religious conflict, but it also gave birth to the jurisprudence which in straight-line trajectory has brought us to the point we are at today, and is poised to take us far beyond. At least, until the supporting framework – a functioning social order – collapses. After all, only so much of this subjectivism can be borne.

We all, wittingly or unwittingly, think in terms of this mechanism. The only difference between conservatives and progressives is the use to which they wish to put it. Historically, classical liberals put it at the service of property rights; nowadays, progressive liberals put it at the service of the pursuit of happiness. But at the end of the day, we are all liberals – we all believe in this project, the primacy of the sovereign individual. Which is why classical  liberals continuously get their clocks cleaned by progressive liberals: the inner logic of the mechanism favors progressivism.

Jefferson’s formulation already lifts the veil on this aspect of the mechanism: instead of the Lockean triad of life, liberty, and property, he put forward life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – this latter being an utterly unjurisprudential goal because amenable to a range of interpretations. Nevertheless, quite understandable and even necessitated in terms of the mechanism – how could it remain restricted to mere property? The final paragraph of the majority’s opinion justifying its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges reads as a further elaboration of this pursuit of happiness, a paean to the Jeffersonian platitude, notwithstanding the dissenting opinion by Judge Scalia that it sounded more like “the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.”

Fortune cookies tell the future, and this jurisprudence is rife with predictive capacity. We are headed towards a world not only in which the family as traditionally construed is doomed, but also in which the church is doomed. For the teaching of the church with regard to homosexuality is now ipso facto discrimination, soon to be classified as hate speech. Canada has already started implementing this reality, as has the State of California.

But there is much more in store for our country and our world. Nationhood itself is being obliterated before our very eyes, and by the same mechanism. What else could possibly be the rationale behind the importation of entire populations of underclass citizens of foreign countries (e.g., 25% of the Mexican population)? It is more than just “cheap labor” (that panacea of our latest iteration of corporate capitalist exploiters), for with the wonders of modern trade deals, that labor can be accessed just as easily and at just as permanently low wages in their countries of origin. No, it wasn’t enough that a demographic ticking time bomb is set to go off as the baby-boom generation retires and transitions into a giant mass of non-working dependents; no, we need to import millions more of low-wage, unskilled workers better fitted to serve as a voting bloc for entitlements, forming yet another mass of insufficiently productive dependents. Just how many entitlements can our system bear? We will soon find out.

We have our rights mechanism to thank for this, because the rationale for these kinds of otherwise irrational policy choices lies precisely in the putative entitlement perceived to accrue to each individual person regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or whatever other criterion strikes the fancy. This entitlement is what government can guarantee, what gives it its raison d’être, until of course it runs out of the wherewithal to furnish the entitled with what they are entitled to according to the latest bulletin of abruptly, blindingly, obvious self-evident, ungainsayable, inalienable rights.

This is what has happened with one group who have been promised so much in terms of entitlement – the African American population. They have been promised everything, and how much do they have to show for it? But no worry, any blame can be attached squarely to, well, Republicans, or the rich, or white people generally, or the police. Let it never be made known that their champions in the public square, the Democratic party, are the same ones who are allowing the importation of mass quantities of cheap labor competing precisely for the same jobs in the same labor market as many African Americans do, making it even more difficult for said African Americans to break out of the spiral of poverty and dependency. If they knew it was the Democratic party and its policy of open borders that ensured an unemployment rate for black youths far in excess of other ethnicities, would they care? Who knows? And if they knew that all the fomenting of racial discord and antagonism that has taken place in recent years was done precisely to cover up for this other policy, to divert attention from it, so as to keep the voting coalition afloat – would they care? Who knows? After all, the mechanism has us all in its thrall.

What we do know is that America as we know it is on life support. Nationhood itself is on life support. The end game for the people behind these developments is the drastic curtailment of national sovereignty in favor of world government and universal jurisdiction, the better to implement universal entitlement. America – the world’s last superpower – stands in the way of this.

It also entails the right to be free from preaching about sin. Here, it directly confronts the church. Stalin once asked derisively, “The Pope! How many divisions has he got?” Our contemporary politicians and academics and members of the power elite ask themselves a similar question. “Christians! How many votes have they got? How many teachers in the public schools? How many professors? How many judges? How many CEOs? How many journalists? How many media moguls?”

The trajectory should by now be clear, and it applies just as well to the question of immigration. The forces for open borders, which thus oppose restrictions on immigration, especially on the most disadvantaged, may seem now to be in the minority, but in terms of the inner logic of the mechanism enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and further developed in the 14th amendment and subsequent court decisions, they have “history” on their side. Unless and until the mechanism itself is combated and defeated in the halls of jurisprudence and the pillared shrines of justice, we can already project where this too will end. After all, by now we’ve seen this movie.

The Executive Order and the Natural Law

Cutting through the morass of legal arguments for and against the Trump administration’s executive order (EO) instating a so-called travel ban, is no easy task.

The circuit court’s temporary restraining order (TRO), and the appeals court’s argument upholding the restraining order, make much of the harm being caused to various parties – aliens, residents, communities – by the executive order. According to the TRO, this is one of the criteria for granting a stay.

But at the end of the day, it is a question of law, and the merits of the case must be determined by reference to the law.

Many voices are calling out that the suspension of the EO is a “victory for the rule of law.” Obviously, then, this ruling by the courts must be in accordance with the law.

But what is the law?

On the one hand, there is the administration’s argument that, according to the law, the president has the power, for reasons of national security, to determine which foreign nationals are to be allowed into the country. The authorization for this is found in the U.S. Code, Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter II, Part II, § 1182, subsection f. It reads like this:

(f) Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate….

This provision, in turn, is based on Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution, which gives Congress the power to regulate affairs relating to immigration.

This would seem to be a fairly straightforward case. The statute appears to give the President full authorization to do whatever he thinks fit with regard to the restriction or prohibition of aliens into the US whenever he deems such to be detrimental to US interests. There is no condition here for other powers of government, whether legislative or judicial, to second-guess his judgement on this matter.

But this is what the courts have done. They have required the government to demonstrate the need to take the course of action it has taken, viz., to prohibit the entry of aliens from certain countries. The government has indicated that this action is being taken to ensure the safety of its citizenry, while the courts have, e.g., stated (erroneously, as the government later pointed out) that no citizens of the countries under question have perpetrated acts that infringed that safety.

So it would seem that the courts have arrogated to themselves the authority to second-guess policy regarding national security, not on the basis of law, but on the basis of a judgement regarding the wisdom or lack thereof of policy. But the statute in question, as we have noted, does not give the other branches the authority to conduct such policy reviews.

This is fearful ground upon which the courts are treading. Still, beyond the charge that can be lodged against them that they are opposing the EO because they oppose the policy, is the fact that they are using the law to obstruct that policy. So how does that work, if the statute is so clear?

Essentially, in the name of a higher law. For the courts, there is a law that is transnational, an expression of, in this case, universal human rights. One of these rights is freedom of religion – that people may not be discriminated against on the basis of religion. It is for this, at bottom, that they oppose the EO.

Without referring to a higher law, the Constitution itself could be referenced to bolster this claim. Firstly, there is the religious test clause in Article VI, Section 3: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” But as one can see directly, this test only applies for public office. It does not apply to other areas.

Secondly, there is the establishment clause in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Professor Alan Dershowitz has stated (as reported here) that this would ground an objection to the EO: “A good lawyer … can argue that this is a prohibition on not only Congress, but on the president, and here we have a law that establishes religion by preferring Christianity over Islam.”

Actually, an EO is not a law per se. But the law upon which the EO is based is the one referenced above, which states that the president can exclude any class of alien he likes if he deems them to be detrimental to US interests. So apparently what Prof. Dershowitz is saying is that § 1182 of the US Code, not the EO, is unconstitutional because it violates the establishment clause. But that particular law has been on the books for 65 years and adjudicated many times, and it has never been suggested that it is unconstitutional. So it would seem that would be a difficult undertaking, regardless of how good the lawyer might be.

It appears to me that the courts are skirting precisely such questions as this, in order to found and develop within a trajectory of decisions and precedents of US jurisprudence a corpus derived neither from statutory nor constitutional law, but from a form of transnational law that has no real source, nor any sovereign authority, nor any standing within positive law as currently embodied in US law.

Of course, other countries, mainly those within the tradition of the French Revolution and the ensuing Code Civil, enshrine the principle of freedom of religion such as is envisioned by the courts opposing the EO – but that legal tradition is foreign to the common-law tradition and has no standing within the US.

But provisions of international law and foreign civil law nonetheless have been finding their way into jurisprudence through the courts, and this appears to be another attempt at accomplishing this surreptitious legislation from the bench, setting aside the standing law of the polity.

What this means is that the jurisprudence being practiced by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is natural-law jurisprudence. Natural law is higher law – it embodies higher principles, the principles which positive law is to reflect, in this case, human rights such as a universal freedom of religion. Positive law is the specific expression in time and place of the natural law.

What we argue here, however, is that natural law cannot take the place of positive law. The latter, being the specific expression of the former, is the law which actually applies in the courtroom. Positive law is the law upon which the sovereign has set its seal, stating that this is the law of the land.

The 19th century statesman and constitutional scholar Friedrich Julius Stahl made these relations very clear. In his treatment of the principles of law, Stahl makes some important distinctions.

He starts by contrasting human (positive) and divine (natural) law, arguing that only the former is law strictly speaking. “Law is human order, albeit for the sake of maintaining God’s world order. It therefore exists as men in a particular time, in a particular country, have established it, and it exists because they have so established it, whether good or bad, and not because they in that manner had so to establish it, in accordance with a necessity in God’s command. This means that law is positive, but that in the concepts and commandments of the world order of God it has a higher law to which it ought to answer, according to which men ought to establish it.”

So there are both natural law and positive law; natural law is higher but therefore also stands at one remove. In fact, it cannot function as law properly speaking. Instead, it functions as the basis and standard of positive law. “Positive law has over against it a God-commanded, just, rational law. Even so, this rational law, the concepts and commandments of God’s world order, are not themselves a law – a so-called natural law or law of reason – since the essence of law is precisely to be an independent human life order, therefore positive law. Even so, they are the determining power in positive law, its original ground and archetype, the standard by which it is measured and judged” (p. 33).

What is it about natural law that renders it unsuitable as law for human order? First, the elements of natural law are “are lacking in a determinate shape, the provision of which is the vocation and the freedom of the people. The people themselves, in accordance with the particularity of their spirit and their conditions and with their own creative power, are to give definitive shape to them, to particularize them and thus also to individualize them; and only then do they become applicable norms, or law” (p. 34).

It is like an artist or a sculptor who takes general ideas of the human form and makes specific application of them in a determinate painting or sculpture.

The foundational concepts and relations of the law are in similar manner grounded in God’s world order, are divinely necessary, but the specific way in which they are implemented is humanly free …. Human freedom is not left simply to sharpen those eternal ideas to a point, so that e.g. positive law need only supply the time interval of prescription or the forms of testament, but it is entrusted with the plan of its realization in general. Thus e.g. … whether the entire institution of property is to be regulated in accordance with the Roman law or with Germanic law, etc., is a free human conception, which although moved and determined by divine commandments nevertheless has its coherence and coordination only in itself. All legal construction therefore has a dual aspect, a divine necessary (natural-law-oriented) and a human free (positive), both permeating each other without dividing line, existing in indissoluble unity (pp. 34-35).

This being the case, positive law is that which the state is to establish and further. It does so more or less in accordance with natural law; but at the end of the day, the product of the legal process by which law is made, and not those transcendent principles, is the law that is to be enforced by the magistrate. Positive law, not natural law, is the law that binds the citizen, the magistrate, the police force, the courtroom.

Underlying the idea of a “natural law” are in fact those concepts and commandments of God’s world order, the law-ideas; the latter, however, have neither the required specificity, nor the binding power of the law. They are grounds for determination of the further development of the common condition, not norms already in force for the common condition. There are therefore rational demands on the law, but there is no law of reason. Subjects may not oppose positive law, either as individuals or in the mass, by leaning on natural law; this is the iniquity of the Revolution (p. 36).

Therefore, “The ruling authorities are to uphold the positive law, not the natural law. In particular, the judge is not to pass judgement in accordance with natural law, be it against the positive law, be it only in addition to positive law (subsidiary).” Natural law lacks the required objectivity and precision, leaving the judge to his own ideas: “The judge would be referred … only to his judgement as to what he regards to be natural law, at best he would speak therefore only as an individual (as a mere arbitrator) rather than as a real judge, i.e., as an organ and a representative of national legal judgement, and even with respect to his own judgement he would only find a general legal maxim and not a specific manner of restoring the wrong, which insofar would be arbitrary or based in vague equity” (pp. 36-37).

But this would violate the rights of those either seeking redress at law or being arraigned. Hence, the application of natural law in the courtroom is legally impermissible as well. “Every man has the right not to be subjected to any other norm than those which are established as the objective order of the common life, which are sanctioned by the ruling authorities, as the norms of positive law.” It is an illusion that we would be better served by a jurisprudence of this sort. “The rule of natural law instead of or in opposition to positive law has the appearance of establishing the order of God over the order of men: but it is precisely the human order, the law, which is consecrated by God; it is the only common public order that He has ordained over men on earth” (pp. 37-38).

The upshot of all of this: “The rule of natural law is … only the establishment of the arbitrariness of every opinion regarding the common public order, it is the establishment of the war of all against all” (p. 38).

In the current situation, the courts need to take a step back and realize what it is they are doing. They are engaging in a practice which can only lead to the chaos of competing laws and competent authorities. By overthrowing positive law through an appeal to “higher principles” – mind you, not the Constitution, but principles standing outside the legal order itself – they are sowing the seeds for the destruction of that legal order.

Regardless of one’s opinion regarding the worthiness or lack thereof of the EO, this is not the way to deal with it. It is a question of policy and thus politics, not of law. The law itself is quite clear on the matter. At least, the positive law, the law as it stands on the books. But the law in the heads of judges who have taken it upon themselves to legislate from the bench is another thing altogether – regardless of the rightness or wrongness of those judges’ ideas.