"Brian Tierney has established himself over the course of forty-five years of writing and teaching as one of the world's leading authorities on the history of medieval canon law and political thought. In a series of foundational works, he has offered important new interpretations of the origins of Western constitutionalism, tracing many concepts believed to be modem or early modem innovations to the work oftwelfth-century canon lawyers.' He has spent the past fifteen years exploring the origins of the Western notion of natural rights.2 In his new work, The Idea of Natural Rights,3 Tierney draws on a decade-and-ahalf of research as well as a deep knowledge of Western constitutional history to present a radical reconceptualization of the history of natural rights thought in Western civilization.
Natural rights historians and scholars have expressed numerous opinions concerning the origins of the Western rights tradition. In the Anglo-American world, scholars have commonly viewed the seventeenthcentury as a radical departure from an older tradition that hademphasized the existence of an objectively just order in which individual rights were impossible. 4 On the Continent, by contrast, scholarshave tended to view the fourteenth century as decisive for the formation of individual rights: it was then that William of Ockham, the brilliant English logician, succeeded in dissolving the thirteenth-century synthesis of Thomas Aquinas in an acid bath of nominalistic analysis, reducing Thomas's conception of ordered justice to the competing interests and claims of individuals.5 Both schools of thought tend to view the creation of natural-rights theories as an aberrant development, either harmful to society, or, at best, of dubious benefit.6
Tierney challenges this scholarly consensus in several fundamental ways. His central contention is that theories of natural rights did not emerge as an aberrational feature of Western political and legal thought at some late date, but rather comprised an integral part of Western intellectual life from the birth of universities and the revival of legal studies in the twelfth century.7 He is concerned as well with tracing the lines of transmission and development by which twelfth century legal texts came to shape the philosophical reasoning of the seventeenth century.8
The book is divided into three large parts: "Origins," "Ockham and the Franciscans," and "From Gerson to Grotius."9 In the first part of his book, Tierney begins by examining the important role canon law played in the shaping of rights discourse, and by demonstrating that thirteenth-century scholastic philosophers-near contemporaries of Thomas Aquinas-were quite capable of posing rights-based questions that would stimulate and challenge their successors for generations. 10 In the second part of his book, Tierney then considers the impact the Franciscan poverty controversy had on the development of rights thought." This controversy, Tierney demonstrates, was one of the most important early sources of rights-based discourse. 12 The third part addresses the problems of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries: the Great Schism and the conciliar theories to which it gave rise, the great debates that erupted in the sixteenth century over the rights of the native peoples of the Americas, and the rights-based synthesis forged by Hugo Grotius in the early seventeenth century.13
This Review will consider some of Tierney's main arguments about the development of rights, assessing the deep originality of his contributions to each of these periods. It must be stressed that Tierney's book is a vast treasure house of information about rights, and one cannot hope to do justice to the complexity of his thesis in the course of this Review.14 It will, however, be evident that Tierney's book will become the starting point for all future efforts to address the origins of the Western natural rights tradition."
I read the first 70 or so pages of Tierney's book and I learned a lot of new and interesting things. I was going to start with Gary Amos or David Kopel but since both cite him extensively I thought we would get it straight from the horses mouth. Or at least a good review of the book to lay out the arguments in a simple way to prepare us to dig into Tierney himself. Then hopefully we can hash through some of the primary sources he uses that can be found on the internet. All of which I hope gives us a better understanding of some of the lesser known/unknown Christian intellectual roots of our founding.