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Book Review: Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law

By Craig Wright | 14 Jan 2022 | Law & Regulation

In his unambiguously elucidated book, J. Budziszewski successfully presents and defends the tradition of natural law starting with Aristotle and working through Aquinas, Locke, and Mill, before including Christian values that amalgamate into heart of natural law, expounding it with profound clarity [1]. The author manages to capture the primary aspects of contemporary philosophy of law, theology, and political science in an engaging manner. Using the same process, Budziszewski addresses both pluralism and relativism and how they are generally linked to tyranny’s defence [2].

Budziszewski delivers a focused intellectual discussion of the evolution of natural law, incorporating each of the major theorists. Such vindication starts with the politics of the human good and a comprehensive investigation into moral excellence and the design of government, followed by an investigation into friendship, justice, and the significance of moral law in the system developed by Aristotle [3]. Such work would be enhanced by an exploration and analysis of Aristotle’s instructor and contemporary Plato. Of note, an analysis of Euthyphro, Laws, Apology, and Crito would provide the reader with a further understanding of the background on the Nicomachean Ethics and the differences in Aristotle’s philosophy [4]. Aristotle’s concept of excellence could be further enhanced with an analysis and counterpoint provided through an analysis of the Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, including a biography of Solon, by Plutarch [5].

The insight provided through the analysis of Aquinas, including an investigation into the essence of law, delivers the grand design of natural law. Still, it could be enhanced by a comprehensive analysis of formal legal scholars such as Cicero [6]. In contrasting Aquinas with Plato, who in Laws never arrives at a formal definition of law and remains content to compare man to a puppet, drawn by strings and cords, “which every man ought to grasp and never let go, but to pull with it against all the rest; and this is the sacred and golden court of reason, called by us the common law of the state…”, Budziszewski could have further enhanced his already strong argument [7].

In his excellent enunciation of Locke, Budziszewski briefly addresses the work of Hobbes [8]. Here lies the big opportunity to address Leviathan directly [9]. Given more space, Budziszewski could have detailed the problems with Hobbes’s view of humanity, covering people’s ability to interact without giving up their freedoms. Although he notes fallen men, it would be good to expound how we can all be redeemed [10]. The section could be expanded further by looking into the Shakespearean concept of The Merchant of Venice [11], through which we can see the conflict between the equitable aspects of law and the development of justice [12]. Such an approach would teach both the limits of monetary economics and the requirements to limit and alter law under natural law theory [13].

Similarly, an inspection of the works of Montesquieu and of natural justice and the spirit of the laws would enhance the analysis of Locke [14]. As Waddicor expounds, Montesquieu’s philosophy of natural law formed the foundations of many of the Federalist papers, and founded the understanding of freedom developed by Jefferson and the writers of the Constitution of the United States [15]. Although Budziszewski notes Jefferson and Paine’s interaction in the discussion on Locke, no mention of Blackstone or how Jefferson desired a civil code is made in the text [16]. Mention of the more liberal thought by Alexander Hamilton could be made, too, to demonstrate the balance of freedom and how it would relate to a civil code in the United States [17].

If I could change anything in the book, it would be to incorporate more, not to remove that which is already there. In extending it, I would first incorporate Aeschylus and the works of the Orestes, to demonstrate the Hobbesian view of the world outside the approach of natural law that was introduced in this early Western document and that has become part of the classical canon [18]. The work forms an excellent introduction to the birth of natural law, which can only be improved with further study into additional areas [19].

Footnotes

1. Budziszewski, Jay. Written on the heart: The case for natural law. InterVarsity Press, 1997.

2. Ibid. p. 40.

3. Ibid. p 15-50.

4. Plato, C. Euthyphro. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.; Plato: Laws 10: Translated with an introduction and commentary. OUP Oxford, 2008.; Plato, By. Apology. BookRix, 2019. Plato, Plato, and Benjamin Plato. Crito.; Cambridge University Press, 1927.

5. North, Thomas, George Wyndham, Donato Acciaiuoli, and Simon Goulart. Plutarch’s Lives of the noble Grecians and Romans. Vol. 1. D. Nutt, 1895.

6. Budziszewski, Written on the heart. 1997. p. 52-94.

7. Plato, The dialogues of Plato. Vol. 4. Scribner, Armstrong, 1873. p. 650a.

8. Budziszewski, Written on the heart. 1997. p. 111.

9. As Mitchell, Joshua. “Hobbes and the Equality of All under the One.” Political theory 21, no. 1 (1993): 78-100. Notes, there is a flawed version of human psychology that ignores the position of humanity within a society of humans who choose to deal over a long time and grow in friendly citizenship.

10. Brotea, Julia. “Hobbes, Augustine, and the Christian nature of man in Leviathan.” Leviathan (São Paulo) 7 (2013): 77-91.

11. Shakespeare, William, and M. Lindsay Kaplan. “The merchant of Venice.” In The Merchant of Venice, pp. 25-120. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2002.

12. Tan, Seow Hon. “Validity and Obligation in Natural Law Theory: Does Finnis Come Too Close to Positivism.” Regent UL Rev. 15 (2002): 195.; White, Robert Sommerville. Natural Law in English Renaissance Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

13. Kish-Goodling, Donna M. “Using The Merchant of Venice in teaching monetary economics.” The Journal of Economic Education 29, no. 4 (1998): 330-339.

14. de Secondat Montesquieu, Charles, Charles de Secondat baron de Montesquieu, and Melvyn Richter. The Politcal Theory of Montesquieu. CUP Archive, 1977.

15. Waddicor, Mark H. Montesquieu and the philosophy of natural law. Vol. 37. Taylor & Francis, 1970.

16. Budziszewski,  Written on the heart. 1997. p. 132.

17. Waterman, Julian S. “Thomas Jefferson and Blackstone’s Commentaries.” Ill. L. Rev. 27 (1932): 629.; William, J. H. (1959). Alexander Hamilton: His Spirit Is Alive Today. ABAJ, 45, 155.

18. Lloyd-Jones, Hugh, ed. Oresteia. Univ of California Press, 1993.

19. Gewirtz, Paul. “Aeschylus’ law.” Harvard Law Review 101, no. 5 (1988): 1043-1055.

References

Brotea, Julia. “Hobbes, Augustine, and the Christian nature of man in Leviathan.” Leviathan (São Paulo) 7 (2013): 77-91.

Budziszewski, Jay. Written on the heart: The case for natural law. InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Gewirtz, Paul. “Aeschylus’ law.” Harvard Law Review 101, no. 5 (1988): 1043-1055.

Kish-Goodling, Donna M. “Using The Merchant of Venice in teaching monetary economics.” The Journal of Economic Education 29, no. 4 (1998): 330-339.

Mitchell, Joshua. “Hobbes and the Equality of All under the One.” Political theory 21, no. 1 (1993): 78-100.

de Secondat Montesquieu, Charles, Charles de Secondat baron de Montesquieu, and Melvyn Richter. The Politcal Theory of Montesquieu. CUP Archive, 1977.

North, Thomas, George Wyndham, Donato Acciaiuoli, and Simon Goulart. Plutarch’s Lives of the noble Grecians and Romans. Vol. 1. D. Nutt, 1895.

Plato, C. Euthyphro. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.

Plato: Laws 10: Translated with an introduction and commentary. OUP Oxford, 2008.

Plato. Apology. BookRix, 2019.

Plato, Plato, and Benjamin Plato. Crito. Cambridge University Press, 1927.

Plato, The dialogues of Plato. Vol. 4. Scribner, Armstrong, 1873.

Shakespeare, William, and M. Lindsay Kaplan. “The merchant of Venice.” In The Merchant of Venice, pp. 25-120. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2002.

Tan, Seow Hon. “Validity and Obligation in Natural Law Theory: Does Finnis Come Too Close to Positivism.” Regent UL Rev. 15 (2002): 195.

Waddicor, Mark H. Montesquieu and the philosophy of natural law. Vol. 37. Taylor & Francis, 1970.

Waterman, Julian S. “Thomas Jefferson and Blackstone’s Commentaries.” Ill. L. Rev. 27 (1932): 629.

White, Robert Sommerville. Natural Law in English Renaissance Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

William, J. H. (1959). Alexander Hamilton: His Spirit Is Alive Today. ABAJ45, 155.

[Image: Saint Thomas Aquinas, Carlo Crivelli, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons]