Within the natural law scholarly community there was an intentional effort on the parts of some, loosely identified as New Natural Law theorists, to reconstruct the classic natural law tradition that would somehow, in their minds, unencumber it with all the ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night which come with natural teleology. They wanted a cleaner, leaner, meaner natural law theory.
Some of it is inspired by some texts in Aquinas where he talks about the first principles of practical reasoning being underived. Well, I think the quick answer is to say, ‘well yes, that was in the 94th question of the Prima Pars, he’s already a few hundred questions into the conversation.’ So when you’re on page 1000 and the person says ‘underived’ you have to read that in context. There’s a lot in place by the time Thomas talks about natural law, namely a theology of creation, epistemology, and anthropology. All of this in place before he takes up the question of the natural law. So I’m less sympathetic to efforts that want to airlift natural law theory out of that context.
Their strategy was because, in their minds, to bring in theology of creation, to bring in natural teleology, was to bring in a bunch of political baggage that would not succeed. So we want a defense of natural law that appeals to human reason not encumbered by theological or philosophical baggage…. Two things though: First, I don’t think that’s a successful reading of Thomas on natural law. Second, I think politically that strategy has failed. Can we really look at the political landscape now, especially as Christians and Catholics have engaged, can we point to any particular victory with that strategy? If anything, we’ve been decimated.
Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).