Last time I discussed how the medieval debate between intellectualism and voluntarism remains around today in the distinction between natural and positive law. But there’s another way it remains around, which I think is more fundamental.
The key question between intellectualism and voluntarism is: what is more fundamental to ethics and politics, the intellect or the will? In the Middle Ages, of course, the intellect and will in question were God’s. Between natural law and positive law, the intellect and will are those of the lawmaker: is law whatever the lawmaker wills it to be, or is there a true law that the lawmaker should be able to discern intellectually from reality and base her decisions on?
Few would want to vest authority in just any lawmaker. In modern politics, especially but not only in the West, we typically place a very high value on the idea of democracy, rule by the people. If we are not sympathetic to the slogan vox populi, vox dei – the voice of the people is the voice of God – it is often because we do not believe in God, and see the voice of the people as higher than God’s.
But if the people should rule, what aspect of the people should rule? Their intellect, or their will? Continue reading