* The Myth of "Natural Law" by Iain MacSaorsa
Natural Law, and the related Natural Rights, play
an important part in Libertarian Capitalist
idealogy. They are not alone in claiming that
their particular idealogy meets the law of nature,
Hitler (for one) also did so. So do numerous other
demagogues, religious fanatics and political
philosophers. However, they like to claim that only
*their* "natural law" is the "real" one, all the
others are subjective impositions. But, then again,
so do all the others. We will ignore these
assertions (they are not arguments) and concentrate
on explaining why natural law (in all its many
forms) is a myth. In addition, we will indicate
its authoritarian implications.
Firstly, Murray Rothbard claims that "Natural Law
theory rests on the insight... that each entity
has distinct and specific properties, a distinct
"nature", which can be investigated by man's reason"
[For a New Liberty, p25]. To put it bluntly, this
form of "analysis" was originated by Aristotle and
has not been used by science for over 300 years.
Science investigates by experiment, creating
theories to explain the facts experienced. Rothbard
*invents* definitions ("distinct 'natures'") and
then draws conclusions from them. Such a method was
last used by the medieval Church and is
innocent of any scientific method.
After defining certain "natures", Rothbard starts
to draw "Natural Rights and Laws" from them.
However, these are strange "Natural Laws" as they
can be violated in nature! Natural laws (like
the law of gravity) *cannot* be violated and therefore
do not need enforcing. The "Natural Laws"
the "Libertarian" desires to enforce upon you have no
such powers. They need to be enforced by
humans and the institutions they create. Hence
Libertarian "Natural Laws" are more akin to moral
or legal laws. So why do Libertarians use the
terminology of Natural Law?
Simply, it gives them the means by which to elevate
their opinions, dogma and prejudices to some
metaphysical level where nobody will dare to criticize
it, or even think about it. It smacks of religion,
where "Natural Law" has replaced God's Law.
In the latter case, it gives the priest power
over the believers. In the later, the ideologist over
the people he or she wants to rule.
How can you be against a "Natural Law"? Its impossible.
How can you argue against Gravity? If private property,
for example, is elevated to such a level,
who dare argue against it? Ayn Rand listed having
landlords and employers with "the laws of nature".
They are *not* similar: the first two are social
relationships which have to be enforced by the
state; the "laws of nature" (like gravity, needing food, etc)
are *facts* which do not need to be enforced. The use of
"Natural Law" is an attempt to *stop* thinking, to restrict
analysis, to force certain aspects of society off of
the political agenda by giving them a divine, ever
Of course, in order to support "Natural Law" the
cultists *must* ignore reality. Ayn Rand claims
that "the source of man's rights is... the law
of identity. A is A - and Man is Man". But Rand (like
Rothbard) *defines* "Man" as an "entity of a
specific kind - a rational being". Therefore she
*cannot* account for *irrational* human behaviour
(such as those which violate "Natural Laws")
which are also products of our "nature". To assert
that they are not human, means to assert A can
be not-A, thus attempting to deny the law of
identity. Her idealogy cannot even meet its own test.
* But "Natural Law" provides protection for individual
rights from violation by the State. Those
against Natural Law desire total rule by the state.
The second part is a common Libertarian attack.
Instead addressing the issues, they accuse you of
being a "totalitarian" (or the less sinister "statist").
In this way, they hope to avoid discussing the
issues raised. We can ignore the second part.
"Natural Law" has *never* stopped the rights of
individuals from being violated by the state. They
are as much use as a chocolate fire-guard. If
"Natural Rights" can protect you from the power of
the state, the Nazi's would not have been able
to murder six million jews. The only thing that stops
the state from attacking individuals rights is
individual (and social) power - the ability and desire
to protect yourself and what you consider to be
right and fair. As the anarchist Rudolf Rocker
noted, "Political [or individual] rights do not
exist because they have been legally set down on a
piece of paper, but only when they have become
the ingrown habit of a people, and when any
attempt to impair them will be meet with the violent
resistance of the populace... One compels
respect from others when he knows how to defend
his dignity as a human being... The people owe
all the political rights and privileges which we
enjoy today, in greater or lesser measure, not to the
good will of their governments, but to their own
strength" [Anarcho-Syndicalism, page 64]
Of course, if is there are no "Natural Rights",
then the state has no "right" to take away your rights
or murder you. You can object to state power
without believing in "Natural Law".
* Why is "Natural Law" authoritarian?
Rights, far from being fixed, are the product
of social evolution and human action, thought and
emotions. What is acceptable now may become
unacceptable in the future. Slavery, for example,
was long considered "natural". In fact, John Locke,
the "father" of "Natural Rights" was heavily
involved in the slave trade. He made
a fortune in violating a "natural law". Many
claimed slavery was a "Natural Law". Few would say so now.
The "Natural Law" cult desires to stop this evolutionary
process and fix social life into what *they* think is good
and right and use a form of argument which tries
to raise their idealogy above critique or thought.
This denies the fundamental nature of liberty,
the ability to think for yourself. Michael Bakunin
writes "the liberty of man consists solely in this:
that he obeys natural laws because he has
*himself* recognised them as such, and not because
they have been externally imposed upon him
by any extrinsic will whatever, divine or human,
collective or individual" [Bakunin on Anarchism,
The case for liberty and a free society is that
every individual is unique, that all can contribute
something which no other individual has noticed
or thought about. It is this interaction of
individuals which allows individuals, society, social
customs and rights to evolve, change and develop.
"Natural Law", like the state, tries to arrest
this evolution. It replaces individuality with cold
dogma, placing the individual under yet another
god, destroying critical thought with a new rule
In addition, as these "Natural Laws" are the
product of human as humans, they *must* be
applicable to *all* humanity. Hence the "Natural
Law" cult desires to see *one* moral code
dominate society, all other codes *must be* (by
definition) "against nature". That the Dogma of
Natural Law was only invented a few hundred years
ago, in one part of the planet, does not seem
to bother them. Nor the fact that for the vast
majority of human existence people have lived in
societies which violated almost *all* aspects of
their "Natural Law".
If "Natural Law" did exist, then all people would have
discovered this "true" law years ago. As it is, the
debate is still going on, with (for example) fascists
and "Libertarians" each claiming "the laws of nature"
(and sociobiology) as their own.
* But Natural Law was discovered, not invented!
This truly shows the religious nature of the
Natural Law cult. Let us take the Law of Gravity, for
example. Newton did not "discover" the law
of gravity, he invented a theory which explained the
physical events experienced. Later Einstein updated
his theories into new theories, which again try to
explain physical reality.
Unlike "Natural Law", scientific laws are seen
to be the products of human thought and can be
updated and changed as our knowledge changes and
grows. The "Natural Law" cult prides itself
in that it is unchanging, being "discovered"
centuries ago. No wonder that many "Natural Law"
cultists support sociobiology, placing their
"laws" into the genetic structure of humanity. As
Murray Bookchin notes, sociobiology is "suffocatingly
rigid; it not only impedes action with the
autocracy of a genic tyrant but it closes the door
to any action that is not biochemically defined by
its own configuration. When freedom is nothing
more than the recognition of necessity... we
discover the gene's tyranny over the greater
totality of life... when knowledge becomes dogma (and
few movements are more dogmatic than sociobiology)
freedom is ultimately denied".
Natural Law, far from the being the supporter
of individual freedom, is one of its greatest enemies.
By placing individual rights within "Man's"
"Nature", it creates an unchanging set of dogmas. Do
we really know enough about humanity to dictate
"Natural" and universal Laws, applicable forever?
Is this not a denial of critical thinking
and so individual freedom?