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Law, Naturally

by Edward Feser

Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism, by Robert P. George (ISI, 290 pp., $29.95)

Natural-law theory provides the principal philosophical justification of traditional sexual morality, opposition to abortion, and other paradigmatically conservative views in ethics. Princeton law professor Robert P. George is the most prominent American advocate of natural-law theory. He has made influential contributions both to the working out of the theory’s philosophical foundations and to its application to a critique of contemporary liberalism. The essays contained in Conscience and Its Enemies provide an engaging introduction to his work.

As a critic of liberalism, George is devastating. Generally attributing honest motives to his opponents, he nevertheless ruthlessly exposes the sophistries put forward by defenders of abortion, embryo-destructive research, “same-sex marriage,” and other “progressive” causes. For instance, George notes that “pro-choice” Catholics such as Mario Cuomo never explain why it would be wrong to “impose” on others their “personal” opposition to abortion, but not wrong to impose on others their personal opposition to slavery, the exploitation of workers, or capital punishment. Libertarian Ronald Bailey fallaciously ignores the distinction between something that is merely potentially a human being (a somatic cell from which a clone might be made) and something that is a human being but hasn’t yet actualized all its potentials (an embryo). Andrew Sullivan assures us at one moment that “same-sex marriage” will provide an antidote to male homosexual promiscuity — but at another, he notes approvingly that same-sex unions might lead to a more flexible attitude toward sexual exclusivity among married heterosexuals.

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