By Leslie Blake – When a civil engineer plans to build a bridge he has to take into account the nature of the materials he will be using for the structure: nothing can be left to guesswork, otherwise the bridge will fall down. Careful, calculated choices are made according to the laws of nature for a specific material. Every product in nature has laws to be observed if the product is to succeed.
These natural laws, then, operate to produce good results for humanity when they are obeyed and bad results if they are not obeyed. We can call these consequences justice. But the question arises, do natural laws apply to human beings themselves, or are they by some divine intervention free of natural laws that would govern behaviour in the human world? Right now we have the example of human behaviour operating to defeat the natural order of the planet, with consequences that are just, if appalling. “Eleven Days to Save the Planet” trumpeted a recent headline in Prospect Magazine.
The opinion of great men is that natural law is basic to human existence and governs our lives. Plato and Aristotle thought so. The brilliant lawyer Sir William Blackstone in the 18th Century wrote: [the creator] reduced the rule of obedience to this one paternal precept “that man should pursue his true and substantial happiness”. This is the foundation of what we call ethics, or natural lawJ •••••• this or that action tends to man’s real happiness and therefore very justly concluding that the performance of it is a part of the law of nature; or on the other hand that this or that action is destructive of man’s real happiness, and therefore that the law of nature forbids it Further he writes: No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this [law of nature]. We would find this difficult to believe regarding our modem system of parliamentary statutes, rigid in law books; save that we can call to mind many statutes that fail to work at all, or work to our disadvantage. The Enclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th centuries are prime examples of the dispossession of men from the land that gave them a living and which produced the exodus to the poverty of factory work in the sprawling cities. Modem examples are to be found in welfare legislation which condemn people to poverty and unhappiness.
Blackstone had this to say, in part, concerning justice with regard to land2- (accurately and strictly speaking) there is no foundation in nature or natural law, why a set of words on parchment should convey the dominion of land; why the son should have the right to exclude his fellow creatures from a determinate spot of ground, because his father had done so before him. The lawful concern had to be that, in justice, everyone should have access to land to provide him with living accommodation and work.
For the wholeness and happiness of the human population these natural laws still apply. Warren Buffet, the world’s richest man, would, I am sure, agree that the mass of humanity deserves the right to a life that enables work and a family to take place on the face of the planet. Justice demands that to be so. It must be a process of education in history, economic history, showing why the sharing of land is so important to the happiness and prosperity of all. One could usefully start with the history and law of allotments.
1 Commentaries on the Laws of England, volume 1, Intro. Section 2
2 Ibid, volume 2
L. L BLAKE IS A BARRISTER, AUTHOR AND LECTURER 271 LONSDALE RD, LONDON SW13 9QL.