Saturday, September 12, 2015

Legal Positivism

People are talking a lot about legal positivism lately.

Legal positivism is the philosophical system where law is king. People have to follow the law, and authority has to enforce the law, no matter what. Your personal feelings don't matter.

Legal positivism is wrong. When a law is unjust, a person is morally obligated to break the law. Examples: Harboring refugee slaves, breaking segregation laws, performing life-saving surgery on a person without insurance, etc. "I was just following orders" is not an excuse for doing evil, as everyone agreed at the Nuremberg Nazi trials.

The two big topics that prompted the discussion of legal positivism are sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants, and the law requiring county clerks to perform gay marriages. Most people I've seen are split on these two topics; that is, for one, they say, "Yes! Break that law! It's a horrible law!" and for the other, they say, "Why are people breaking this law?! That's horrible! They should be put in jail!".

The Catholic Church loves to have lots of laws and rules, but it's always been against legal positivism. Why? The long answer is that civil law is founded upon God's natural law and cannot supersede it. The short answer is that Catholicism has been outlawed way too many times for Catholics to adopt a "we must follow all laws" policy.

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