Law and Politics
PAUL E. SIGMUND
Aquina's political and legal theory is important for three reasons. First, it reasserts the value of politics by drawing on Aristotle to argue that politics and political life are morally positive activities that are in accordance with the intention of God for man. Second, it combines traditional hierarchical and feudal views of the structure of society and politics with emerging community-oriented and incipiently egalitarian views of the proper ordering of society. Third, it develops an integrated and logically coherent theory of natural law that continues to be an important source of legal, political, and moral norms. These accomplishments have become part of the intellectual patrimony of the West, and have inspired political and legal philosophers and religious and social movements down to the present day.
The challenge to which Aquinas responded was posed to medieval Christianity by the rediscovery of the full corpus of Aristotle's works, which except for some logical treatises had been unavailable to the West before the thirteenth century. Aristotle's Politics included descriptions and evaluations of a wide range of political experiences in fourth-century Greece that were different from the experience of the medieval feudal order. His Metaphysics, Physics, and Nicomachean Ethics contained analyses of human conduct and of the external world that contrasted with the approach to legal and scriptural texts that had predominated in the medieval “schools” (which were in the process of becoming the forebears of modern universities). Operating on the basic assumption that reason and revelation are not contradictory, that “grace does not contradict nature, but perfects it, ” Aquinas combined tradition,