Freedom and the Natural Law: A Conversation with John Lawrence Hill


Is the natural law necessary for any enduring consideration of freedom and responsibility? Answering in the affirmative is John Lawrence Hill who joins us in this edition of Liberty Law Talk to discuss his latest book, After the Natural Law.

John Lawrence Hill

John Lawrence Hill is Professor of Law at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The author of five books, his latest work is After the Natural Law.

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  1. says

    Professor Hill, your podcast wonderfully outlines the problem: The American law academy, by not cultivating–even turning its back on natural law–has reduced itself to constitutional “law,” wherein majority opinion can prevail for as long as its ungrounded position can hold. We think grounded civic morality and the attendant better future is possible. Key is viewing natural law as the-indisputable-facts-of-reality humankind discovers through physics.

    Our iterative civic collaboration recognizes that in the human condition there is one essential civic order: Civic connections involve neither real-harm nor coercion nor force and contribute to broadly defined civic safety and security. “Natural law” does not conform to a thinker or school of thought. It exists and it is humankind’s noble work to discover it and make best use of the discovery: either take advantage, as in considering economic viability, or avoid risk, as in hurricane evacuation orders.

    To set aside the centuries-old debates about natural law, we propose to use “physics,” not as a study but as the object of study. We define physics according to both the big bang and Einstein’s general theory of relativity: Physics is energy, mass and space time. For psychological example, a civic people do not lie to each other so that they can communicate. Second, we define “civic” to mean ineluctable human connections, both direct and indirect, because the individuals live during the same years in the same place. Thus, “civic” differs from “social,” which implies preference, election, selection, or imposition. “Social” implies coercion or force, which you assert most people resist. Yet civic connections conform to physics—that objective moral order you refer to.

    The preamble to the constitution for the USA is arguably the most important sentence in the document, because it states the civic purposes of the people who trust and commit to the contract stated therein. Being part of “We the People of the United States” seems the most neglected civic duty in the USA—far more neglected than voting to gain the dominant opinion. Our theory clarifies to division of We the People of the United States into two factions: one would use coercion and force based on individual or collective opinion versus and the other would iteratively collaborate for civic morality. The latter faction we dub A Civic People (ACP).

    More importantly, ACP uses the-indisputable-facts-of-reality to discover the “objective moral order” you referred to. The-indisputable-facts-of-reality are discovered from physics as defined above. Since religion, like history, is an art form and is thus subjective, it is treated in the objective moral order as a private practice. And the God hypothesis, neither proven nor dis-proven by physics, remains a basis for art people may cultivate in civic privacy so long as their construct does not motivate civic harm.

    An illustration might help express the concept. Fidelity is a key to civic morality–fidelity to physics, self, family, the people, and the universe, respectively and collectively. A person is comprised of mind and body, which have two major drivers: the physical and the psychological. A married man with family suddenly perceives that psychologically he is a woman. Examining potential infidelities, he consults with his spouse, and together, they seek council from a civic practitioner (currently known as social worker). The man is willing to maintain the commitments to self and others he made before his female psychology emerged. There’s no religion in these considerations, and no civil coercion beyond the trust and commitment to a civic culture.

  2. says

    Sorry: “The American law academy, by not cultivating–even turning its back on natural law–has” should be “The American law academy, by not cultivating–even turning its back on–natural laW has”

  3. says

    Sorry; editing a sentence.

    Our theory clarifies the division of We the People of the United States into two factions: one would use coercion and force based on individual or collective opinion and the other would iteratively collaborate for civic morality. The latter faction we dub A Civic People (ACP).

    Also, “natural laW” in a first edit should have been “natural law.”

    More importantly, as long as nothing divine has been discovered, it is vital that each civic person’s god be appreciated, much as a civic person’s fine art, favorite sport, or their goodwill is appreciated. However, it is also imperative that most people take advantage of what “god” hath wrought: Prosper on the benefits and constrain or avoid the risks, which may be discovered through the study of physics and its progeny–chemistry, biology, psychology–everything on Earth.

  4. says

    At one point near the end of the podcast, the interviewer asked Professor Hill North American colonial lawyers in the pre-revolutionary controversy who appealed to natural law regarding the question of Parliament’s jurisdiction over the colonies. The interviewer asked if there was something that could be appealed to to show how important it was. Professor Hill declined to engage directly with this question. Apparently he preferred to avoid discussing Coke’s all-important report on the 1609 Calvin’s Case, in which he was one of a conclave of 14 judges who decided it according to natural law (according to tradition), because there was no statute or custom to serve as a precedent. This principle was alluded to by Richard Bland in 1766 and explicitly cited by the Massachusetts General Court in its 1773 debate with Governor Hutchinson. In his report on Calvin’s Case (published in Steve Sheppard’s “Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke”), Coke pointedly gave a list of natural law sources in his footnotes. These sources included Aristotle, Cicero, the Apostle Paul, and the English jurists Bracton, Fortescue and St. Germain. I discuss these English jurists and Calvin’s Case in the revised version of “Safety and Happiness: The American Revolutionary Standard for Governmental Legitemacy” at


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