Natural Law in English Renaissance Literature by R. S. White

By R. S. White

Typical legislations, no matter if grounded in human cause or divine edict, encourages humankind to stick to advantage and shun vice. the concept that ruled Renaissance idea, the place its literary similar, poetic justice, underpinned a lot of the period's inventive writing. Robert White examines quite a lot of Renaissance texts to teach how writers as extensively assorted as Milton and Hobbes formulated models of common legislation that served to keep up socially validated hierarchies. this is often the 1st e-book to use an enormous zone of highbrow historical past to imaginitive literature throughout a number of genres through the Renaissance interval.

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Conservatives' such as Plato, drew from it the inference that the law of the state could be brought into exact equivalence with Natural Law, and thus could be all-binding and immutable; whereas 'revolutionaries', the first of whom were the Sophists, strangers to Greece and therefore with no vested interest in the Athenian state, concentrated on the temporality of all human laws, their very impossibility of being universal and therefore inviolable: 'Socrates, despite his distinction between what is naturally right and legally right, pronounced the laws of Athens to be right' without qualification, but 'To the Sophists the laws were not venerable because of tradition or by reason of having stood the actual test of life in the city-state: they were artificial constructs and served the interests of the powerful (Thrasymachus)'.

Even Hobbes did not deny the existence of Natural Law as the product of reason, but instead located its field of operation beyond the individual's reason and conscience, as if these are not inborn gifts but exist as collective agreements or imposed rules. Machiavelli, again, does not deny Natural Law, but chooses instead largely to ignore it, dwelling on the conflicts of temporal realpolitik without looking for ultimate moral answers. Thomas More in Utopia dramatises the clash between an Aquinas and a Machiavelli, Natural Law theorist and sceptical pragmatist.

We are dealing with a concept which is elusive, to some vague and unacceptable, and always disputable in particular applications, but self-evidently powerful and central to human, social existence and to all legal systems. It has equivalents in cultures as diverse as Japanese {kejime) and Australian Aboriginal (law of the land'), as well as in those taking guidance from some 'divine book' such as the Christian Bible or the Moslem Koran. There is a larger story to be told, beyond the scope of this book, tracing the fortunes of Natural Law thinking as it has informed historical, political events.

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