John Finnis on the Pope on Natural Law
John Finnis has answered a series of questions from the Italian magazine Illusidario.net on the Pope’s recent speech before the Reichstag.
Finnis, as many of you know, wrote a classic book , Natural Law and Natural Rights, which is often cited as the foundational text of the so-called “new natural law” movement. Dissertations can and have been written on the nature and degree of its difference from the “old” natural law, and from Aquinas himself. His five volumes of collected essays have just appeared from OUP.
A very smart man, Finnis knows enough to spend the FALL in Notre Dame–and the winter and spring in Oxford, where he has taught his entire career.
I was struck by his reflection on the fundamental problem in political life:
The Pope quoted St. Augustine, who wrote: “Without justice – what else is the State but a great band of robbers?”. How does this risk still involve the politicians of our days?
The Pope locates this in several contexts. Immediately after the quotation, he goes on to speak of the Nazi seizure of power and use of power to crush law and right inside and outside Germany, and in the end to threaten the whole world. But just before the quotation he was speaking about a wider, more permanent, less spectacular but real and harmful risk: the seduction of success – political success – at the expense of right, success through falsification of what is right and destruction (on whatever scale) of justice. This temptation is one that concerns all politicians of all times. And then, if we put Augustine’s comment back into its context in book 4 of De Civitate Dei, we find the saint putting his finger on the precise source of the pervasive corruption of politics: cupiditas, covetousness. This can be a matter (to take Augustine’s immediate illustrations) of money, territory, sadism, sex, or simply power for its own sake. If we seek evidence of this in our own days, we need only look around us.
Do you agree with Finnis that the vice of “covetousness” is the main source of corruption in politics today?