Religion & Liberty Online

Samuel Gregg: A New View Of Natural Law

property and practical reasonAt Public Discourse, Samuel Gregg (Acton’s director of research) discusses Adam Macleod’s Property and Practical Reason, which Gregg says attempts to rethink this key element of economic liberty and renews “the manner in which natural law scholars have traditionally addressed this topic.”

Gregg first outlines classical reflections on natural law. Then, he offers what he sees as Macleod’s insights:

In addition to drawing on new natural law theory (of which he provides one of the most accessible explanations that I’ve read), MacLeod is attentive to other exponents of pluralist non-paternalistic perfectionist accounts of law, such as the liberal legal theorist Joseph Raz. MacLeod’s core thesis is summarized concisely in the second sentence of the book’s introduction: “institutions of private ownership are justified, and in many communities are required, by a basic moral principle. That principle is equal respect for human beings as agents of practical reason.”

Macleod’s purpose here is not simply to discuss natural law. He wants to establish natural law as the basis for property rights. Gregg:

MacLeod summarizes the conditions that we need to realize under the title of “mediated dominion.” The “dominion” to be established is that which secures “domains of private ownership against outside coercion” so that people are free to deliberate and realize human flourishing, whether individually or with others. Here, MacLeod emphasizes, private property—far from leading to society’s radical atomization—enables individuals to work together freely and free from unreasonable outside interference as they pursue a rich plurality of good ends. Without such freecoordination, it is difficult to see how private property could contribute to a culture of pluralist non-paternalistic perfectionism.

In this regard, MacLeod elaborates at length on what so many have forgotten: that the freedom established by private property has not only helped “countless inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, and authors to make the world a more livable, beautiful and healthy place.”

Gregg concludes:

At a time when many people believe that decidedly cavalier attitudes toward economic freedom prevail in the West, this is precisely the type of rejuvenated defense of this important liberty and its associated institutions that we need.

Read “The Case for Private Property: A (New) Natural Law Analysis” at Public Discourse.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.