Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Vincent W. Lloyd's "Black Natural Law"

Vincent W. Lloyd is Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University and the author of The Problem with Grace.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Black Natural Law, and reported the following:
The piece of writing by Martin Luther King, Jr., that most people are familiar with is his letter from Birmingham City Jail. In that text, King invokes natural law, placing himself in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas. He also invokes many other religious and secular ideas to justify his civil disobedience, including the ideas of Protestant theologian Paul Tillich and Jewish thinker Martin Buber. Because King refers to so many and so diverse authorities, it might seem as if he is just using natural law rhetorically, to add extra oomph to his argument.

In Black Natural Law I demonstrate that King was part of a longstanding tradition of natural law reflection among Black Americans, and I show that he developed his own natural law theory. On page 99, I begin to take the reader from King’s rhetoric to King’s ideas, show how King puts forward two distinctive accounts of natural law, one “philosophical” and one “practical.” The latter came about after King was unpersuasive in a live television debate, and a political science student at the University of Minnesota wrote him a letter suggesting a more convincing way of speaking about natural law. King responded enthusiastically and began incorporating the student’s phrasing into his speeches.

The other point that I make on page 99, which also runs throughout the book, is that King thinks Blacks have privileged access to natural law. His point could be called the epistemic privilege of the oppressed: marginalized individuals are particularly aware of the ways the powers that be distort moral truths. Instead of just adding one more perspective on natural law, I argue that the Black natural law tradition offers greater insights into natural law than abstract theorizing in the European tradition because of this lived experience of oppression.
Learn more about Black Natural Law at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue