Christopher Thompson, author of what looks to be a fascinating book on natural law and ecological care, on the failure of New Natural Law (this is an excerpt from the Friday Feature of Mars Hill Audio, which you need to have the Mars Hill Audio app to listen to, note that Friday Features are available for free every Friday):
Within the natural law scholarly community there was an intentional effort on the parts of some, loosely identified as New Natural Law theorists, to reconstruct the classic natural law tradition that would somehow, in their minds, unencumber it with all the ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night which come with natural teleology. They wanted a cleaner, leaner, meaner natural law theory.
Some of it is inspired by some texts in Aquinas where he talks about the first principles of practical reasoning being underived. Well, I think the quick answer is to say, ‘well yes, that was in the 94th question of the Prima Pars, he’s already a few hundred questions into the conversation.’ So when you’re on page 1000 and the person says ‘underived’ you have to read that in context. There’s a lot in place by the time Thomas talks about natural law, namely a theology of creation, epistemology, and anthropology. All of this in place before he takes up the question of the natural law. So I’m less sympathetic to efforts that want to airlift natural law theory out of that context.
Their strategy was because, in their minds, to bring in theology of creation, to bring in natural teleology, was to bring in a bunch of political baggage that would not succeed. So we want a defense of natural law that appeals to human reason not encumbered by theological or philosophical baggage…. Two things though: First, I don’t think that’s a successful reading of Thomas on natural law. Second, I think politically that strategy has failed. Can we really look at the political landscape now, especially as Christians and Catholics have engaged, can we point to any particular victory with that strategy? If anything, we’ve been decimated.