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A Revisionist Account of Natural Law and Natural Right (CLJ)

I will attempt, in this essay, to sketch in short compass an account of the historical development of natural right in relation to the older notion of natural law. My contention will be that the latter notion has, until recently, always been more dominant than the former, and that for a long time natural right was usually thought of in the context of natural law. Even where notions of subjective right started to become more important in the Middle Ages, early modernity and the Enlightenment, they were not, as yet, often subjectively founded in the will or capacity of the individual, but still within conceptions of an objective cosmic right order, however etiolated this had often become—thereby indeed encouraging a subjective foundation of the subjective. But even where they were so subjectively founded, beginning already within the Middle Ages themselves, natural right necessarily presented itself as a revised notion of natural law or of cosmic order, albeit now perversely construed as a pure regime of power and willing. In this way, the link of ius, whether viewed as objective right (or law) or as subjective right, with conceptions of divine government did not immediately disappear…

The first of a six-part series by John Milbank is now available at the University of Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal.

 

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(Sculpture by Sara Cunningham-Bell)

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