Vital Signs

Defining Natural Law Down

President George W. Bush has long been known as a neoconservative, but only recently has he picked up the appellation neo-Thomist.  It is, admittedly, not the first term one would choose to describe a man whose speeches are filled with visions of Wilsonian grandeur.  Writing in the January 31 Weekly Standard, however, Joseph Bottum argues that the President’s Second Inaugural Address was a tour de force of Thomistic natural-law reasoning.  “I’d guess not a lot of gloating is allowed around the throne of the Maker of heaven and earth,” he explains, “but somewhere in the vicinity, St. Thomas Aquinas must be smiling.”  After a wait of more than seven centuries, Saint Thomas’s thought has finally gone mainstream, in the militant democratism of the younger Bush.

What Bottum finds so attractive in Bush’s Second Inaugural is the President’s attempt to ground American foreign policy—“with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world”—in the longing of human nature and the eternal will of God.  According to Bottum, the President’s reasoning “is always the logical progression of the natural-law argument.”  Bush appeals to the “call of freedom” that “comes to every mind and every soul” and, thus, establishes a fixed human nature from which to draw his political conclusions. ...

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