Today I’m going to talk about the revival of natural law theory in the 20th Century.
Here I will cover
- what is natural law and natural law theory
- The theory of Natural Law in the 20th Century
- the reasons for the revival of natural law theory in the 20th century
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What is Natural Law?
Natural law is the body of moral principles which are naturally developed by human reason alone.
Natural law is not a man-made law based on the structure of reality itself; is the same for all human beings and at all times is an unchanging rule or pattern which is there for human beings to discover;
It is the naturally knowable moral law and is a means by which human beings can rationally guide themselves to their good.
Positive Law is the formal legal enactment of a particular society.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines natural law as a philosophical system of legal and moral principles purportedly deriving from a universalized conception of human nature or divine justice rather than from legislative or judicial action; moral law embodied in principles of right and wrong many ethical teachings are based on natural law Also termed the law of nature; natural justice; lex aeterna; eternal law; lex naturae; lex naturalae; divine law; jus divinum; jus naturale; jus naturae; normative jurisprudence; jure nature.
Natural Law Theory was highly attacked around the 17th Century and finally was rejected.
After the rejection of natural law, Command Theory was relied upon, however, command theory could not be relied upon anywhere subsequent to its disaster aftermath, this led to the revival of Natural Law Theory in the 20th Century.
During the 20th Century, Natural Law received new attention, partly in reaction to the rise of totalitarianism and an increased interest in human rights throughout the world.
The revival of natural law theory was not an overnight process; rather it was a result of various reasons which will be the gist of this post.
The Theory of Natural Law in the 20th Century
Natural law after the Second World War is referred to as Neo-Kantian because the revival of natural law relied heavily on Kant’s theory of knowledge by the majority of philosophers.
The new philosophy accepted and adopted Kant’s rejection of a pre-existing discoverable and universally valid natural law.
They accepted what Kant was saying. Kant says that Natural Law is changing.
It adopted Kant’s basic conception of ethics which is considered the importance of ethics in natural law.
The revival of natural law in the 20th Century invites slogans like liberty, equality rights, human rights, justice, and public policy.
RudolfStamler and Gustav Radbruch are the main exponents of the revived Natural Law.
Reasons for the revival of Natural Law Theory in the 20th Century
The reasons for the revival of natural law theory in the 20th century are; the rise of monopoly capitalism, the impact of positivism, dissatisfaction with the command theory, and the role played by prominent writers like Gustav Radbruch and Rudolf Stamler
Rise of monopoly capitalism
The rise of monopoly capitalism brought a lot of impacts which led to the revival of natural law, on one hand, with the rise of monopoly capitalism, capitalist countries scrambled for colonies to obtain their demands such as cheap labor and free markets.
This led to the first division of the world among capitalist powers.
Dissatisfaction among some colonial powers led to the outbreak of the First World War (WWI) (1914-1918).
Also, it is important to note that, the arms race and military escalation made war inevitable.
After WWI there was a second division of the world whereby Italy and Germans were dissatisfied and they had no alternative but to wage war which is the Second World War (WWII) (1939-1945).
WWII brought intolerable impacts to people and participant countries.
Therefore WWII and its effects lead to the revival of Natural Law theory since there was disorder and social unrest in the state, the capitalists turned back to Natural Law to control the state.
Natural Law invited slogans like liberty, human rights, and equality thus community harmonized and social progress was sustained.
On the other hand, monopoly capitalism makes the basis of capitalism that is freedom of contract becomes redundant.
The growth of capitalism led to the formulation of classes of rich persons and poor persons in a capitalist society.
Whereas the richest class got much interest in politics, and they wanted to control of the state while the lower class got no such opportunities and suffered the consequences of the system.
This state of things was facilitated by the existence of the positive law which favored the ruling class and the rich.
This led to many devastating impacts that necessitated the revival of natural law. Natural law was necessary because it gave room for social values and morality for all.
Impact of Positivism
After the rejection of Natural Law Theory, capitalists went on positivism, with positivism the law was regarded as a command (Command Theory), and the law was followed as it is.
Therefore when the state authority makes the law, it must be obeyed as it is and no one could question its validity to the state subjects no matter how unjust it could be.
With command theory, positivism witnessed the rise of Nazism and Fascism which was termed to be the palpable reason for the outbreak of WWII.
Nazism was in Germany under the dictator, Adolph Hitler. It was on nationalism based on racism, Germanic Christianity and Volkish.
Fascism in Italy took the face of Nazism. It was dictatorial under the dictator Benito Mussolini.
Generally, fascist governments brought many sufferings to the citizens, for example, Hitler with his Nazi regime embarked on committing atrocities on innocent individuals and Jews depriving them of their life, liberty, property, freedom, and dignity.
Crimes against humanity, crimes against peace, and war crimes perpetrated by Nazis in complete violation of the law, justice, and moral rules which finally culminated in the Nuremberg trials in 1946.
Due to these impacts, the bourgeoisie class wanted to change the philosophy to solve the problems of positivism they had to rethink how they should solve these problems and appeal to the people on how they were going to deal with such problems.
They wanted to find a new philosophy to show people that, despite all that had happened, capitalism as a system was still humane (had a human face).
For that reason, natural law was resumed to give capitalism a humane face, and the revived natural law was modified to suit the new conditions.
The role of Prominent Philosophers
These include Rudolf Stamler (1866-1938) and Gustav Radbruch (1878-1949).
These philosophers promoted and wrote about the importance of the revival of natural law in society.
Rudolf Stamler was a German philosopher and Professor, he advocated the revival of Natural Law Theory over the existing positive law by the postulate that “all positive law is an attempt at just law”.
The purpose of the law is not to protect the will of one but to unify the purposes of all.
According to him, the law of nature means just law that harmonizes purposes within the framework of social life, Thus, the law has to be realistic, not absolute concerning changing circumstances of a particular time and place.
He further postulated that the fundamental principles necessary for a just law are two that is the principle of respect, and the principle of community participation.
Gustav Radbruch (1878-1949), was also a German who was alternatively known as born again, because before WWII was the ostentatious positivist but after WWII changed to modern natural law.
He expounded the doctrine of a higher law which demonstrated that all the Nazi acts were contrary to all canons of natural law and severely condemned the Nazi rule.
Radbruch declared that a general acceptance of positivistic philosophy in pre-Nazi Germany made smoother the route to dictatorship. In the post-war period, he enunciated the doctrine of the inner morality of law to demonstrate that Nazi laws were not laws as they were unmindful of natural justice.
He insisted that citizens had the right to disobey such positive laws if they were contrary to justice
All the above-postulated views of the said philosopher contributed to the revival of natural law in the 20th century.
Dissatisfaction with the Command Theory
Dissatisfaction with the command, the theory was brought by the desire to establish closer relationships between law and morality. During the 19th Century, positive law kept law and morality separate.
This caused a reaction against the importance of positive law because it was realized that abstract thinking or a priori assumptions were not completely futile. These non-natural theories failed to solve the problems created by the changed social conditions.
The separation of law and morality created the idea that law was a command from a sovereign that has to be respected accompanied by sanctions for non-compliance.
This idea of law leads to the rise of Fascism and Nazism which eventually facilitated the enactment of brutal laws such as those that intensified the execution of Jews in Germany.
The emergency Fascism and Nazism caused dissatisfaction with the command theory and led to the development of counter-ideologies and thus contributing to the revival of natural law in the 20th century.
It was, later on, realized that Natural Law had some importance. There were some values and standards in natural law which were considered fruitful in solving the socio-economic problems.
The revival of natural law was inevitable in the twentieth century.
Because, the social, economic, political, scientific, and cultural environment was no longer conducive to the existence of positive law
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