A LESSON FROM THE NUREMBERG TRIALS AND TODAY’S MORALITY PROBLEM


We’re beginning to hear from Hollywood insiders that Hollywood “has no moral authority.” It’s not just Hollywood. By what standard is morality determined today? How many times have we heard, “You can’t impose your morality on me”? In what way is it morally right for women to impose their view of sexual morality on Harvey Weinstein? The usual answer is, “I didn’t consent to it.” By what standard can a moral imperative be found for any act in a world where God is dismissed and we human “animals” are nothing but highly evolved biological meat machines?

The question has a long history.

After the defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich, war crime tribunals were set up in Nuremberg. The purpose, of course, was to judge those who had participated in the grossest of atrocities, the planned extermination of the Jewish race. John Warwick Montgomery explains the problem the tribunal faced:

When the Charter of the Tribunal, which had been drawn up by the victors, was used by the prosecution, the defendants very logically complained that they were being tried by ex post facto laws; and some authorities in the field of international law have severely criticized the allied judges on the same ground. The most telling defense offered by the accused was that they had simply followed orders or made decisions within the framework of their own legal system, in complete consistency with it, and that they therefore could not rightly be condemned because they deviated from the alien value system of their conquerors. Faced with this argument, Robert H. Jackson, Chief Counsel for the United States at the Trials, was compelled to appeal to permanent values, to moral standards transcending the life-styles of particular societies—in a word, to a “law beyond the law” of individual nations, whether victor or vanquished.1

How did the Tribunal account for this “law beyond the law”? What justification was given for it being imposed ex post facto? The Tribunal could not appeal to the Bible. Revealed religion had been discounted decades before. Higher Criticism, which had its start in Germany, had effectively destroyed the Bible for so many as a reliable standard for history and law. What about natural law? Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), whose Commentaries on the Laws of England served as the primary foundation of law from the time of the War for Independence to the time of the war between the states, developed a natural law theory based on the doctrine of creation:

Willaim Blackstone (1723-1780), author of the ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England.’

Thus when the Supreme Being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, he impressed certain principles upon that matter, from which it can never depart, and without which it would cease to be.

* * * * *

This law of nature, being co-eval [at the same time] with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are in validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.

* * * * *

Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered [permitted] to contradict these. ((William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 4 vols. (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, [1765–1769] 1979), 1:38, 41, 42.))

But with the publication and adoption of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859 by the scientific and legal professions, Blackstone’s legal worldview was considered to be quaint, outdated, and hopelessly tied to religion. Darwinism made natural law a logical impossibility. How could an immaterial law be derived from a purely material cosmos that had come into existence by chance?

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