clearly stated in the new theories of Natural Law which
emerged in the seventeenth century, largely as a response
to the domestic and international disorder wrought by the
wars of religion. Grotius and Locke are the most important
theorists of reference for our purposes here.
Grotius derives the normative order underlying political
society from the nature of its constitutive members. Human
beings are rational, sociable agents who are meant to collaborate in peace to their mutual benefit.
Starting in the seventeenth century, this idea has come
more and more to dominate our political thinking and the way we imagine our society. It starts off in Grotius's version as a theory of what political society is, that is, what it is in aid of, and how it comes to be. But any theory of this kind also offers inescapably an idea of moral order: it tells us something about how we ought to live together in society.
The picture of society is that of individuals who come together to form a political entity against a certain preexisting
moral background and with certain ends in view. The moral
background is one of natural rights; these people already have certain moral obligations toward each other. The ends sought are certain common benefits, of which security is the most
The underlying idea of moral order stresses the rights and
obligations we have as individuals in regard to each other, even prior to or outside of the political bond. Political obligations are seen as an extension or application of these more fundamental moral ties. Political authority itself is legitimate only
because it was consented to by individuals (the original contract), and this contract creates binding obligations in virtue
of the preexisting principle that promises ought to be kept. In light of what has later been made of this contract theory, even later in the same century by Locke, it is astonishing how 4 tame are the...