Our inalienable political and civil rights ensure our ability to participate in the social and political life of the state; without them, a republic cannot work. These rights are supposed to be reflected in, and guaranteed by law. These are unbreakable, no matter what any law says. The brilliant scholar Dr. J. Budziszewski refers to this natural law as “what we can’t not know.” Everyone knows that murder is wrong; everyone knows that stealing is wrong. As Lincoln said, “No law can give me the right to do what is wrong.” 

Our inalienable political and civil rights ensure our ability to participate in the social and political life of the state; without them, a republic cannot work. These rights are supposed to be reflected in, and guaranteed by law. These are unbreakable, no matter what any law says. The brilliant scholar Dr. J. Budziszewski refers to this natural law as “what we can’t not know.” Everyone knows that murder is wrong; everyone knows that stealing is wrong. As Lincoln said, “No law can give me the right to do what is wrong.” 

There is also positive law, or man-made law, which has an inevitable degree of arbitrariness, though ordered toward the same good society of the natural law. In addition to natural law and positive law, are norms, namely what society is willing to allow. The great libertarian hero John Stuart Mill wrote that norms and customs are more powerful than merely positive law.

For example, a highway with a speed limit of 55 mph is an example of positive law. However, on most highways, most cars exceed that limit most of the time; this is a norm that contradicts a positive law, which testifies to the inherent degree of arbitrariness in positive law. Why 55 mph? Why not 56? Or 57? There aren’t really any good reasons. We don’t see this same laxity in enforcement in urban or thickly-settled areas. In a society, as much of our behavior is governed by customary rules (e.g., leaving a tip for the waiter, saying please and thank you, and opening the door or giving up a seat for a lady) as by positive law.

For example, a highway with a speed limit of 55 mph is an example of positive law. However, on most highways, most cars exceed that limit most of the time; this is a norm that contradicts a positive law, which testifies to the inherent degree of arbitrariness in positive law. Why 55 mph? Why not 56? Or 57? There aren’t really any good reasons. We don’t see this same laxity in enforcement in urban or thickly-settled areas. In a society, as much of our behavior is governed by customary rules (e.g., leaving a tip for the waiter, saying please and thank you, and opening the door or giving up a seat for a lady) as by positive law.

But notice that no custom, any more than any positive law, can contradict a natural law. You might be able to drive 60 on the highway, but driving 90 would be universally understood as reckless endangerment of precious, inviolable human life.

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