In Defense of Religious Liberty

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ISI Books, Jan 1, 2009 - Law - 250 pages
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In Defense of Religious Liberty contains David Novak’s vigorous—and paradoxical—argument that the primacy of divine law is the best foundation for a secular, multicultural democracy. Novak presents his claim, which will astound both liberal and conservative advocates of democracy, in political, philosophical, and theological terms. He shows how the universal norms of divine law are knowable as natural law, that they are the best formulations of the human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that their assertion includes an explicit recognition of God as cosmic lawgiver. Furthermore, Novak maintains that the seemingly disparate ideas of divine command, natural law, and human rights can be integrated into one overall political theory.

Novak reveals this integration at work in the classical texts of his own Jewish tradition, as well as in the canonical philosophical tradition of the West, from Plato to the Stoics to Grotius to Kant. He also convincingly makes the case that those who reject any legitimate role for religion in discussions of public morality inevitably substitute arbitrary human power for divine command, arbitrary positive law for natural law, and arbitrary governmental entitlements for human rights that exist prior to the establishment of the state. Novak concludes that religious traditions like Judaism, precisely because they incorporate the doctrines of God the cosmic lawgiver, natural law, and human rights, provide the most coherent ontological foundation for democracy in today’s world.

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