There are many ways to define natural law. In the Ethics of Liberty (great book, google it) Rothbard defines natural law as a set of rules discovered by use of reason – law ‘founded on reason and rational inquiry’. There is an ethical aspect to reason, so that I couldn’t simply say that since I’m feeling lazy it would be ‘reasonable’ to steal my neighbour’s stuff and save myself the effort of honestly acquiring my own. The use of reason must be moral, meaning ethical and right, as Rothbard seeks 'a natural-rights standard to which the wise and honest may repair'.
This implies that theft is not reasonable. By the use of reason it can be understood that theft would not lead to good outcomes for the individuals involved (neither the thief nor the victim) or for the general welfare of society. We know this because we understand human nature. We know how we feel when people steal our stuff, and therefore how others are likely to feel if we steal their stuff. We know the implications for society if everyone is free to steal other people’s stuff. It would not be good. There are no circumstances in which one might argue that it would be ‘reasonable’ to steal other people’s stuff. Thus law prohibits theft.
Those who deride natural law would say that there are some situations where it is perfectly reasonable to steal other people’s stuff. There is no ‘human nature’, everything is relative, and whether or not it’s right to steal depends on who is stealing, and what, and why, and how. These people are known as relativists. Relativists believe that what is reasonable depends on political ideology.
Capitalists might believe that theft is unreasonable and should be prohibited, but that's just because they're selfish and wish to hang onto their stuff. Socialists might believe that theft is noble because it can be harnessed as a means of advancing progressivism and social justice. That's right! Steal those ill-gotten gains off the capitalists! What else can you do when faced with unprecedented market failures? Everybody knows that markets are not perfect, and when they fail, theft may be the only way to reallocate resources to where they are most needed.
So our opinions on the righteousness of theft will vary, and to the relativist that's fine. Some examples:
Many more examples could be derived once reason is divorced from human nature and natural law. Reason then becomes synonymous with 'opinion' and 'preference' and 'politics'. People are able to argue that stealing is moral (it's for a good cause) and arguing against theft is immoral (it shows greed and selfishness, shamelessly hanging onto your stuff when people are starving).
Analysing the link between reason and human nature is confounded by those who swear blind that they’re honestly happy to have people steal from them. They truly feel sorry for the thief. The thief is vulnerable and if you think about it historically, the thief is the real victim.
Does this show that human nature permits a ‘band of reasonable responses’ to the problem of theft? Rothbard argues that reason is objective. We can discover what is or is not reasonable. We are not cast adrift at the mercy of conflicting opinions about reasonableness. There is 'an objective set of ethical norms by which to gauge human actions at any time or place.' There are not different valid 'opinions' on whether theft is reasonable, just as there are not different valid opinions on whether murder is reasonable. The objectively reasonable outcome may not be obvious in complex cases, but it is discoverable, just as the nature of things is capable of discovery.
Now, it is true that the word ‘discovery’ should not be uttered. It has been banned. This is due to the preponderance of white men who claim to have discovered stuff. You see all their statues lording it over others and shamelessly harming them with scientific discoveries.
But it is not reasonable to live in ignorance, to declare that nothing can ever be known, that everything is just people's subjective opinions. To throw up your hands in defeat, to decide never to investigate the nature of things, to just follow whatever the government tells you to do, leads to frustration and despair. It is better to think, to know things, and to understand their true nature including the nature of man and what is good for us.
What is good is what will make us happy. Not just happy in the moment (after all, the thief is 'happy' with his heist as he flees the scene of his crime) but tending towards the happiness of human beings over time. Not idiosyncratic subjective 'I feel so happy when I wallow in a cool mud bath on a hot day' personal preferences, but objective 'this makes human beings happy' - things like being loved or being engaged in meaningful and enjoyable pursuits. Vices may feel good in the moment (laziness, envy, hatred etc which feel momentarily satisfying) but they wouldn't be called 'vices' if they were capable of leading to long term happiness. Natural law reflects the principles that sustain long term happiness for human beings.
This is why even the ferocious St Greta has decided to abandon anger and ingratitude, and instead try to calm down and be a bit happy. Her father informs us that she is ‘much happier since becoming an activist’. That’s nice. Her growing happiness is testament to the reasonableness of her pursuits.
It is not reasonable to choose to be consumed by anger. It is an objective truth that human nature being what it is, being happy is better than being unhappy. Happiness is associated with life, and it is objectively true that life is a good thing.
Natural law is ascertained through reason. Through reason we derive the right to life, to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness. The law prohibits interference with these rights [Fact check: rights are not absolute] but the law does not dictate the moral exercise of one's rights. The property owner may choose to exclude homeless people and that may be immoral, but it would not be illegal. [Fact check: yes, many crimes are both immoral and illegal]. The definition of rights is distinct from the moral exercise of those rights.
Finally, and most important of all, we must ask, is reason racist? Is it racist to be reasonable, or to expect others to be reasonable? We must ask these questions in order to comply with the dictates of identity politics.
At first glance, the use of reason appears to be racist, sexist, Androcentric, Patriarchal, and worst of all, Eurocentric. This is because Aristotle, who advised everyone to be reasonable, was a white man. I know, shocking. They don't tell you this at school, and it's quite shocking to discover that he was a white male (sexuality unknown). They really ought to decolonise the syllabus so that innocent children who are either racially or politically black are not exposed to Aristotle's ideas. Why should black children read Aristotle, when Aristotle wasn't even black? Innocent young girls, forced to study his ideas, without being informed that he was a cis-man and therefore harmful to the female-gendered psyche. Even worse, he lived in the heart of Europe, right at its very foundations. This shows that he was a white supremacist.
These are all marks against reason. It is well known that Aristotle did not do his mandatory equality and diversity training, and therefore we cannot trust anything he said. His theories, as far as we know, could well be riddled with microaggressions. Surely it is safer to read books by black folk which, though they might be lacking in reason and rationality, are at least safe and fact-checked for the absence of harmful microaggressions.
Dig a bit deeper, however, and it appears that the use of reason is the province of all human beings. Unlike animals which survive by instinct, human beings survive and thrive through the use of reason. Reason is not optional, my friends, if you are a human creature and you wish to live. Forget about Aristotle's provenance and ask yourself whether you wish to choose life. You should want to live because, as highlighted earlier, it is objectively true that life is a good thing. And life depends upon the use of reason. Your own use of reason, accessed by engaging your own brain.
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