Monday, April 20, 2009

Natural Law and Natural Rights

Treatise on the Laws [51 BC]
Author: Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.)

"For he who knows himself must be conscious that he is inspired by a divine principle. He will look upon his rational part as a resemblance to some divinity consecrated within him, and will always be careful that his sentiments, as well as his external behaviour, be worthy of this inestimable gift of God. A serious and thorough examination of all his powers, will inform him what signal advantages he has received from nature, and with what infinite help he is furnished for the attainment of wisdom. For, from his first entrance into the world, he has, as it were, the intelligible principles of things delineated on his mind, by the enlightening assistance of which, and the guidance of wisdom, he may become a good, and, consequently, a happy man." (par. 293)

—If then in the majority of nations, many pernicious and mischievous enactments are made, as far removed from the law of justice we have defined as the mutual engagements of robbers, are we bound to call them laws? For as we cannot call the recipes of ignorant empirics, who give poisons instead of medicines, the prescriptions of a physician, we cannot call that the true law of the people, whatever be its name, if it enjoins what is injurious, let the people receive it as they will. For law is the just distinction between right and wrong, conformable to nature, the original and principal regulator of all things, by which the laws of men should be measured, whether they punish the guilty or protect the innocent. (par. 374)

“There is indeed (says he) a law agreeable to nature, and no other than right reason, made known to all men, constant and perpetual; which calls us to duty by commands, and deters us from sin by threats; and whose commands and threats are neither of them in vain to the good, though they may seem of little force to the wicked. This law we are neither allowed to disannual, nor to diminish; nor is it possible it should be totally reversed; the senate or the people cannot free us from its authority. Nor do we need any other explainer or interpreter of it besides ourselves. Nor will it be different at Rome and at Athens, now and hereafter; but will eternally and unchangeably affect all persons in all places: God himself appearing the universal master, the universal king. It is he who is the inventor, the expounder, the enactor of this law; which whosoever shall refuse to obey, shall fly and loath his own person, and renounce his title to humanity; and shall thus undergo the severest penalties, though he escape everything else which falls under our common name and notion of punishment?” (par. 795)

Author: Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.)

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