chapter  13
18 Pages

Liberalism and Natural Law Theory

WithJohn Finnis

"Liberalism," like "conservatism" and "socialism," is too local, contingent and shifting a term to deserve a place in a general theory of society, politics, government and law. Deeper and more demanding than any constitutional or other legal limits on governments are the moral principles and norms which natural law theory considers to be principles and norms of reason, and which are limits, side-constraints, recognized in the conscientious deliberations of every decent person. The fundamentally instrumental character of the political common good is indicated by both parts of the teaching about religious liberty by the Second Vatican Council, the great assembly of Catholic bishops from 1962 to 1965. The Council considered its teaching to be a matter of natural law. The first part of the teaching is that everyone has the right not to be coerced in matters of religious belief and practice.