Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Unjust laws

I did a tiny amount of research on unjust laws between studying the leukocytes and reviewing the anterior abdominal wall. I found an incredible page: a compendium to Catholic social teaching, courtesy of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. §399 and §400 deal with unjust laws, obedience, objection, and resistance.

§400 quotes St. Thomas Aquinas: "one is obliged to obey ... insofar as it is required by the order of justice" (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 104, a. 6, ad 3um). St. Thomas defines "the just" in II-II q. 57:
I do "the just" when I render to others what is their right or due, i.e., what is "commensurate with" them in their dealings with or relationship to me.
The order of justice refers to the order in the kinds of law (II-I q. 91): eternal law (God's providence), natural law (principles in us driving us to natural goods), and human law (public law, military law, decrees, statues, international law...).
St. Thomas considers the unjust law in II-I q. 96 a. 4.
...laws framed by man are either just or unjust. If they be just, they have the power of binding in conscience, from the eternal law whence they are derived, according to Prov. 8:15: "By Me kings reign, and lawgivers decree just things."

...On the other hand laws may be unjust in two ways: first, by being contrary to human good, through being opposed to the things mentioned above.... The like are acts of violence rather than laws; because, as Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5), "a law that is not just, seems to be no law at all." Wherefore such laws do not bind in conscience, except perhaps in order to avoid scandal or disturbance, for which cause a man should even yield his right, according to Mt. 5:40,41: "If a man . . . take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him; and whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two."

Secondly, laws may be unjust through being opposed to the Divine good: such are the laws of tyrants inducing to idolatry, or to anything else contrary to the Divine law: and laws of this kind must nowise be observed, because, as stated in Acts 5:29, "we ought to obey God rather than man."
Where do inconvenient laws about ebooks fit? One could argue that control of intellectual property doesn't promote the common good, or is outside the authority of government, or is overly burdensome. These arguments don't seem iron-clad to me. And it's certainly obvious that these laws are not unjust "through being opposed to Divine good" or natural law, or Divine law. Other laws, like the court precedents and healthcare bill promoting abortion, are different. These are against Divine and natural law, and we may object and resist according to Catholic teaching, summarized in §399-§400 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

It's back to blood cells for me; what do you think of this?


  1. My thoughts are these:

    It seems to me, that the only way the law would be unjust, would be because it demands recompense (to the author/publishing company/etc) that is beyond their due.

    This could be a reasonable argument, especially given the turmoil that digital rights laws are in right now.

    Or, one could say, that the ebook format provides so much convenience that the author/publishing company/whoever is due more than what the paper copy alone costs.

    But, for me, I feel like it would be a slippery slope to start disobeying laws because they are *debatably* unjust, as opposed to clearly unjust. It's just too likely that my real reasons would be convenience and thriftiness, as opposed to wanting to promote a just social order. Darn you, concupiscence!!!