A generation ago, Arthur Allen Leff wrote an article in the Duke Law Journal article entitled “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” the agonized, confused, and conflicted conclusion of which has by now been quoted many dozens of times:
All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked to make us ‘good,’ and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. Only if ethics were something unspeakable by us, could law be unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things now stand, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless: Napalming babies is bad. Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved. Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot -- and General Custer too -- have earned salvation. Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned. There is in the world such a thing as evil. (All together now:) Sez who?
Lo these thirty-five years later, a great many legal professionals still identify with Leff’s statement of the problem. It seems to them, as it seemed to him, that if there is no objective morality we are in deep trouble, yet they don’t see, as he didn’t see, how there could be an objective morality. Having embraced a view of nature as chaotic and meaningless, they find the natural law tradition not so much wrong as incomprehensible. So by their own description, they remain stuck in the Leffian quagmire.
Except for those who are stuck in a different one. One day after I spoke at a law school about natural law, a member of the faculty approached me to state his objection: “If there really were a natural law, then there wouldn’t be any fun anymore, would there?” I wish I had asked him what kind of fun needs to be shielded by denying the foundational precepts of right and wrong. God have mercy on our souls.