Notes on tradition and law

5 04 2010

Writer for the tradititionalist Remnant Newspaper, Brian McCall, makes the following interesting points in a recent article:

Unlike modern liberal conceptions of law dominated by floods of detailed legislative and administrative texts, the Traditional understanding of law is much richer. Gratian, the 12th century father of Canon Law, began his great textbook on Canon Law by defining law with the following general summary: “The human race is ruled by two things, namely, Natural Law and long-standing custom.” Law is comprised of two pillars, the precepts established by God which can be known by the use of right reason (Natural Law) and time honored customary norms. Notice what is missing from this definition: statue, ordinances—the very life blood of modern Liberal legal code-based systems.

The omission is not due to Gratian’s ignorance of such legal forms of rules. Just a few pages later he lists statutes and ordinances within a more detailed list of specific types of laws or leges. Yet, these ordinances are circumscribed and thus limited by the two opening categories of law, Natural Law and custom. The Traditional understanding of the role of statutes was that they merely confirmed in writing what was already known either by the use of right reason or the observance of long standing customs. Legislators did not see themselves as making laws de novo but rather of discovering, clarifying and recording with precision the contents of laws which pre-existed in the Natural Law or long standing custom. The traditional role of a legislator was jus dicere or “to speak the law.” Such a phrase implies the role is one of making known—or speaking—the law rather than creating it.

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