Laws of Nature

"The laws of nature and of nature's God" are the beginning point of the political theory of the American founding. They explain the Founders' decision to declare America's independence from England. But what does this phrase mean--"the laws of nature and of nature's God"?

First, it means that nature encompasses laws: certain obligations are prescribed for all human beings by nature--or more specifically, by the fact that all humans share a common nature. Today, some scientists claim that "nature knows no morals." For the Founders, that is what one might expect to hear from a tyrant like Hitler or Stalin, but not anyone who understands that human nature itself, rightly understood, provides objective standards of how human life should be lived.

Second, "laws of nature" are laws that can be grasped by human reason. The Founders did not believe-as one often hears today-that there is a right to liberty because "who's to say what's right or wrong?" The Founders were not moral relativists. To the contrary, they boldly proclaim that they grasp certain fundamental principles or moral and political conduct.

Third and finally, the "laws of nature," accessible in principle to any person anywhere in the world who thinks clearly about the nature of human beings, mean that the American founding is not based on ideas specifically tied to one people, such as "the rights of Englishmen," but on ideas that are true for all people everywhere.

We will begin to see what some of these ideas or principles are in the Declaration's second paragraph.