To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any man.
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal amongst another without subordination or subjection; unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him by an evident and clear appointment an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.” – John Locke, Second Treatise on Government
Thus John Locke commenced the body of his second treatise on government, by setting forth the condition in which man was naturally created. To infringe in any way upon this most natural of conditions is to infringe upon that which God has created – whether the infringement be by an individual or a group of individuals.
What then is needed to protect man in this state of perfect freedom? Our Creator God provided for that as well. Natural Law – or Higher Law – is the idea that some laws transcend man, that there are laws higher than any piece of man’s legislation, laws that all are bound by equally and without exception.
In his excellent book “Whatever Happened to Justice?” Richard Maybury explores this idea of Natural Law. Beginning with English common law, Maybury explains how, since man was created free, Natural Law could not infringe upon that freedom, but must allow man maximum liberty, while at the same time prohibiting him from infringing on the freedoms of others.
Maybury’s definition of Natural Law is as follows:
- Do all you have agreed to do, and
- Don’t encroach on other persons or their property.1
If we examine these two laws, we find they fulfill both our prerequisites: they allow man to do as he pleases so long as he does not harm anyone else. Law #1 requires people to follow through and do what they’ve said they will do (the basis of modern contract law), and law #2 prohibits people from harming another’s person or property (the basis of modern criminal and tort law).
These laws are clearly seen and accepted in the world around us, regardless of whether or not people recognize and acknowledge God as their author. Walk up to any person and slap them or steal their wallet, and they instinctively understand that such behavior is wrong. Likewise, refuse to fulfill your end of a bargain (whether it be a “legal contract” or not) and you will at the very least have an upset person on your hands, because you didn’t follow through with what you said you would do. If it was a “legally binding” contract, then the other party might even come after you for breach of contract.
In addition to being innately understood, these laws apply to all men equally, no matter their office, position, or station in life. A king cannot justifiably steal land, money, or labor from his subjects any more than an ordinary citizen can justifiably break into your house and steal your TV.
Any other law – or rather, piece of legislation, for there is a distinct difference between a law placed in nature by God, and man’s legislation that all too frequently passes for “law” – that can be proposed will, in some way or other, violate one of these two laws. Always. I have wracked my brain and been around the mulberry bush more times than I can count, and have failed to come up with a single law that equals these two without breaking at least one of them. Drop a line in the comments if you can think of one. 🙂
Where does this leave us? Can any other law or piece of legislation ever be legitimate, if it infringes upon one of these laws? And who should enforce these laws?
Below is a video titled, “The Philosophy of Liberty,” which is one of the clearest, most simple explanations of these two laws and their implications that I have ever seen. While not necessary, if you have not already seen it (and even if you have, a refresher is never a bad idea 🙂 ), I would encourage you to watch it, if you have the time.
In my next post I will explore the answers to the questions posed above.
- Maybury’s Two Laws, Whatever Happened to Justice? pg. 223. [↩]