This first English translation of Pierre Manent’s profound and strikingly original book La loi naturelle et les droits de l’homme is a reflection on the central question of the Western political tradition. In six chapters, developed from the prestigious Étienne Gilson lectures at the Institut Catholique de Paris, and in a related appendix, Manent contemplates the steady displacement of the natural law by the modern conception of human rights. He aims to restore the grammar of moral and political action, and thus the possibility of an authentically political order that is fully compatible with liberty. Manent boldly confronts the prejudices and dogmas of those who have repudiated the classical and Christian notion of “liberty under law” and in the process shows how groundless many contemporary appeals to human rights turn out to be. Manent denies that we can generate obligations from a condition of what Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau call the “state of nature,” where human beings are absolutely free, with no obligations to others. In his view, our ever-more-imperial affirmation of human rights needs to be reintegrated into what he calls an “archic” understanding of human and political existence, where law and obligation are inherent in liberty and meaningful human action. Otherwise we are bound to act thoughtlessly and in an increasingly arbitrary or willful manner. Natural Law and Human Rights will engage students and scholars of politics, philosophy, and religion, and will captivate sophisticated readers who are interested in the question of how we might reconfigure our knowledge of, and talk with one another about, politics.
1. Why Natural Law Matters
2. Counsels of Fear
3. The Order of the State without Right or Law
4. The Law, Slave to Rights
5. The Individual and the Agent
6. Natural Law and Human Motives
Appendix: Recovering Law’s Intelligence
Pierre Manent is professor emeritus of political philosophy at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. He is the author of numerous books, including Montaigne: Life without Law (University of Notre Dame Press, 2020).
Ralph C. Hancock is professor of political science at Brigham Young University.
Daniel J. Mahoney is the Augustinian Boulanger Chair and professor of political science at Assumption College.
“In Natural Law and Human Rights, the French philosopher Pierre Manent provides a searching critique of the doctrines, policies, and practices of ‘human rights’ prevailing today. To interpret or replace them, he proposes the original natural law that is always available to anyone who ponders the basic human experiences. That law, knowable and accessible in our time, is our guide to live for the best.” —Harvey C. Mansfield, Kenan Professor of Government, Harvard University; Senior Fellow, the Hoover Institution, Stanford University
“Pierre Manent’s book is a compact feast. Once properly digested, his thesis is original and electrifying.” —Patrick Deneen, author of Why Liberalism Failed
“Pierre Manent takes on the now-daring task of rehabilitating classical natural law and does so with what might be described as Gallic verve.” —Will Morrisey, author of The Dilemma of Progressivism
“Why is the 'critique of modernity' such a ubiquitous genre? . . . Natural Law and Human Rights, the new book by formidable French political theorist Pierre Manent, provides another framework for understanding the proliferation of these critiques of modernity.” —The Hedgehog Review
"This is a bold book, and Patrick Deneen’s back-cover blurb of this book as a 'compact feast' may undersell it. This book is a treasure chest, for in a little more than 100 pages Manent lavishly offers gems of insight. His greatest jewel of wisdom is that modern man cannot win his fight against the natural law, for it is still part of him, deny it though he may." —The Federalist
“Manent’s prescient critique of human rights may be the best tool at our disposal to interpret the weaknesses that COVID-19 has revealed. The modern politics of human rights is too individualistic, too theoretical, and too technical, Manent warns, all faults that poison our ability to deliberate the natural ends of man and make a real choices, take real actions.” —The American Mind
“It takes a bold man to offer public criticism of the idea of ‘human rights.’ . . . The western world is blessed to have such a man—bold, profound, and prudent—in Pierre Manent. All of these virtues are displayed in his excellent new book, Natural Law and Human Rights. . . . The book is rich in insight, the fruit of Manent’s decades of deep meditation on the history of political philosophy and on the intellectual, moral, and political predicament of the modern world.” —Public Discourse
“[Manent] details the need for our discourse on human rights to be reintegrated into what he calls an ‘archic’ understanding of human and political existence. Only by seeing rights as rooted in duties and by seeing them in light of the the natural moral law can we be both intellectually sound in our practical reasoning and well-grounded in our claims about human rights.” —International Philosophical Quarterly
“In a remarkable book titled Natural Law and Human Rights: Toward a Recovery of Practical Reason, Manent responds to Montaigne’s challenge. Here Manent persuasively defends the enduring relevance of the old cardinal virtues—courage, justice, prudence, and moderation—and of a conception of non-arbitrary conscience that can provide practical reason with rich moral content.” —The New Criterion
"Manent helps us to see the deep chasm that lies between the modern human rights worldview and that of natural law." —The New Bioethics