Research Handbook on Natural Law Theory
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Research Handbook on Natural Law Theory

Jonathan Crowe and Constance Y. Lee

This thought-provoking Research Handbook provides a snapshot of current research on natural law theory in ethics, politics and law, showcasing the breadth and diversity of contemporary natural law thought. The Research Handbook on Natural Law Theory examines topics such as foundational figures in Western natural law theory, natural law ideas in a variety of religious and cultural traditions, normative foundations of natural law, as well as issues of law and governance. Featuring contributions by leading international scholars, this Research Handbook offers a valuable resource for scholars in law, philosophy, religious studies and related fields.
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Chapter 22: Natural law and federalism

Nicholas Aroney


Nicholas Aroney’s chapter addresses the relationship between natural law and federalism. Natural law theories have sometimes been seen as harbouring a bias towards centralised and unitary conceptions of legal order, but Aroney contends that this view misunderstands the tradition. Natural law theory, he argues, has consistently supported the independent existence of a multiplicity of political communities and jurisdictions, bound by agreements or understandings with one another. Aroney then asks what kind of account of human nature and human sociality would be necessary to ground the legitimacy of this federalist outlook. He argues that human relationships and social ordering are initially local and particular, but harbour inherent aspirations to more distant and universal community bonds. In this sense, social relations both are fundamentally covenantal in origin, reflecting bonds and obligations, and federal in structure and orientation. Actual federal arrangements often reflect messy and perhaps unstable compromises between the social, economic and political interests of different groups and communities. On a deeper level, however, federal arrangements have a normative basis in the fundamental character and orientation of human social relationships.

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