According to a fifth century presbyter named Lucidus, the natural law was the first grace of God written in every human heart (Romans 2:15). The ultimate ground of legal authority resides in the very fabric of man, not in the priority of the human mind or the positive laws constructed by society. Natural law offers a set of “prior premises” of human law, as Yves Simon tells us.

What is human law? The great Thomas Aquinas tells us that law is the divine directive of reason promulgated by a competent authority for the common good. But as natural law is prior and foundational, human law cannot ignore natural law without terrible consequences.

In similar fashion, the state cannot usurp the realm of personal liberty without negative effects. Again, Aquinas tells us that natural law itself prescribes limits to human authority (See Summa Theologiae II-II, 104-5). There is a space of human autonomy that must remain sacred space.

However, in this realm of individual autonomy Thomas did not include any liberty to work an injustice contrary to the moral order because there is no such individual liberty (See Russell Hittinger, The First Grace, pp. xxx-xxxi). The fact that there is a right not to be forced to act, a negative liberty from human authority, does not offer the individual boundless autonomy as if he is cast into a pre-moral order where his mind is the source of law. An argument for liberty is not the same as an argument against authority.

As the state is powerless to alter the moral order and does it only at its own peril so does the individual, he is powerless to alter the same order and can only do so to the detriment of himself and of society. This is why the pro-abortion Casey case was so terribly constructed. In the opinion, they cast the individual into the phantom of boundless power over the self and even over the moral law:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.” (Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, 847)

The measures of justice in this statement are not the divine law or the natural law. They are not the order of nature itself or the common law. They are definitely not the revealed law or the laws of the states. There is no lower or higher law said to become a measure of justice here but man is said to become a law unto himself; his whim is law.

In radical democracy what seems to constitute natural justice is the summary of public opinion while in the radical individualism of Casey it is unfettered individual opinion. It is not necessarily conscience, as conscience is an external law written in the heart and discovered by reason, but the pure radical autonomy of man to become his own law; anarchy of the heart.

Again, autonomy is never to violate the natural order and an argument for liberty is not the same as an argument against authority. In truth, human law can become a positive aid to autonomy when it becomes what Thomas Jefferson called it: “written reason.” (The Writings, 9:480; 18:1)