The concept of a 'natural' law that predates and justifies civil authority (expressed famously in Jefferson's invocation of 'the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God') is deeply rooted in Greek and Judaeo-Christian tradition. Since the Enlightenment, however, natural law has been increasingly detached from its original context and from a higher, divine law in order to justify the free rein of individualism and self-interest. Hittinger, a Roman Catholic legal scholar, offers a balanced, well-reasoned account of the decline of natural law and argues for its restoration and relevance in a post-Christian world. The first four essays are theoretical, tracing natural law as a theme from the patristic period onward, and exploring its contemporary legal character and relationship to political authority. In the second half of the book, he sets forth several case studies (assisted suicide, the Supreme Court and religion, technology and liberty) that illustrate what happens when the social and legal order functions independently of its metaphysical and theological underpinnings. Hittinger's elegant argument relies heavily on the thought of Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II, but it will nevertheless interest non-Catholics and even non-Christians who are deeply concerned about citizenship, civil society, church and state issues, and the growing crisis of constitutional authority. 334 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
The last two decades or so have seen a marked resurgence of interest in natural law thought. Russell Hittinger has been a major figure in this movement. The First Grace: Rediscovering the Natural Law in a Post-Christian World reveals the power and subtlety of Hittinger's philosophical work and cultural criticism. Hittinger first defines the natural law, considers its relationship to the positive law, and explains how and when judges are to be guided by natural law considerations. Then, in the book's second section, he contends with a number of controversial legal and cultural issues from a natural law perspective. Among other things, he shows how the modern propensity to make all sorts of "rights claims" undermines the idea of limited government; how the liberal legal culture's idea of privacy elevates the individual to the status of a sovereign; and how the Supreme Court has come to see religion as a potentially dangerous phenomenon from which children must be protected. Throughout, Hittinger convincingly demonstrates that to oppose freedom and law is to misunderstand the nature of both.