“The Noblest of All Sublunary Beings”

Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England are available in full here.  And here is a lovely passage from the very beginning of the Commentaries:

This, then, is the general signification of law, a rule of action dictated by some superior being; and, in those creatures that have neither the power to think, nor to will, such laws must be invariably obeyed, so long as the creature itself subsists, for its existence depends on that obedience. But laws, in their more confined sense, and in which it is our present business to consider them, denote the rules, not of action in general, but of human action or conduct; that is, the precepts by which man, the noblest of all sublunary beings, a creature endowed with both reason and free-will, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behaviour.

Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being. A being, independent of any other, has no rule to pursue, but such as he prescribes to himself; but a state of dependence will inevitably oblige the inferior to take the will of him on whom he depends as the rule of his conduct; not, indeed, in every particular, but in all those points wherein his dependence consists. This principle, therefore, has more or less extent and effect, in proportion as the superiority of the one and the dependence of the other is greater or less, absolute or limited. And consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his Maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should, in all points, conform to his Maker’s will.

Prest, “William Blackstone”

Wilfrid Prest’s biography, William Blackstone: Law and Letters in the Eighteenth Century, was published back in 2008, but it has just been released in paperback.  The book is an absolutely wonderful treatment of this deeply important figure in English and American law, and I note it here because it discusses some of Blackstone’s religious commitments and views.  The publisher’s description follows.

Lawyer, judge, politician, poet, teacher, and architect, William Blackstone was a major figure in eighteenth century public life. Over his varied and brilliant career he made profound contributions to English politics, law, education, and culture through involvements in legal practice, Parliament, and the University of Oxford. Throughout he also remained engaged in his society’s literary and spiritual life. Despite the breadth and influence of his work, Blackstone the man remains little known and poorly understood, the lack of engagement with his public and private life standing in stark contrast to the scale of his influence, particularly on the development and teaching of the law.

Blackstone’s ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England’ remains the most celebrated and influential text in the Anglo-American common-law tradition. This great book has inevitably overshadowed its author, while the dispersal of his personal and professional papers further complicates the task of understanding the man behind the work. The lack of a thorough account of Blackstone’s life has fuelled controversy surrounding his intellectual background and political views. Was he the deeply reactionary conservative painted by Bentham, or rather a committed reformer and early champion of human rights?

The present biography makes full use of a considerable body of new evidence that has emerged in recent years to shed light on the life, work, and times of this neglected figure in English and American history. Exploring Blackstone’s family upbringing and private life, his political activities and ideology, his religious outlook, and championing of the enlightenment, this book weaves together the threads of an extraordinary mind and career.  

French PM to Jews and Muslims: Modernize!

Very interesting story here (h/t Faithworld):

France’s prime minister urged Muslims and Jews to consider scrapping their halal and kosher slaughter laws on Monday as President Nicolas Sarkozy and his allies stepped up their efforts to woo far-right voters….

“Religions should think about keeping traditions that don’t have much in common with today’s state of science, technology and health problems,” Fillon told Europe 1 radio….

The “ancestral traditions” of ritual slaughter were justified for hygienic reasons in the past but were now outdated, he said. “We live in a modern society.”

I appreciate the persistent irritation that the Prime Minister must feel.  These are frustrating times for the agents of progress on both right and left — and, it seems, nationally and abroad.  It’s difficult to get folks to realize that modern society and contemporary science, technology, and medicine have simply eclipsed and obviated their ancient moralities and traditions.  But if we can’t persuade them, I suppose coercive law stands ready to help.