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The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Natural Law


In Natural Law and Natural Rights, John Finnis delves into the past, attempting to revitalise the Thomist natural law tradition cut short by opposing philosophers such as David Hume. In this article, Finnis’s efforts at revival are assessed by way of comparison with—and, indeed, contrast to—the life and art of musician David Bowie. In spite of their extravagant differences, there exist significant points of connection that allow Bowie to be used in interpreting Finnis’s natural law. Bowie’s work—for all its appeals to a Nietzschean ground zero for normative values—shares Finnis’s concern with ordering affairs in a way that will realise humanity’s great potential. In presenting enchanted worlds and evolved characters as an antidote to all that is drab and pointless, Bowie has something to tell his audience about how human beings can thrive. Likewise, natural law holds that a legal system should include certain content that guides people towards a life of “flourishing”. Bowie and Finnis look to the past, plundering it for inspiration and using it as fuel to boost humankind forward. The analogy of Natural Law and Natural Rights and Bowie’s magpie-like relationship to various popular music traditions ultimately reveals that natural law theory is not merely an objective and unchanging edict to be followed without question, but a legacy that is to be recreated by those who carry it into the future. Law’s instruments of critique must not forget these transformative qualities.

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  1. 1.

    Nathaneal Blake writes of ‘the new natural law theory, of which John Finnis is the foremost champion [8: 101].

  2. 2.

    Finnis calls this erroneous impression ‘the most popular image of natural law’ [42: 33].

  3. 3.

    Beverly Hinton writes that ‘Finnis insists that all that is needed in order for a human being to understand the natural law is an experience of the natural law’s operation from the inside [our emphasis]’ [53: 69].

  4. 4.

    See also the character described in ‘Rebel Rebel’: ‘Got your mother in a whirl. She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl’ [25].

  5. 5.

    ‘They are objective; their validation is not a matter of convention, nor is it relative to anybody’s individual purposes [our emphasis]’ [42: 69].

  6. 6.

    ‘Theorists of natural law understand human fulfilment-the human good-as variegated’ [48: 172].

  7. 7.

    [59: 104–105, 42: 268] on some of the contributions of a legal system: ‘…law brings definition, specificity, clarity, and thus predictability into human interactions.’ See also [1, 7].

  8. 8.

    [87: 637]. Also Jeremy Shearmur notes that ‘insofar as his [Finnis’] points are intended to be inter-subjectively acceptable, his method often falls short of what is required. In particular, he does not seem to consider whether our moral experience may be subject to different and competing interpretations’ [78: 126].

  9. 9.

    Finnis reasserts this interpretation of Aquinas in [44: 129–130].

  10. 10.

    [38: 92]. Furthermore, Finnis’s claim that same-sex relationships cannot fulfil the good of ‘marriage’ (adduced after NLNR: see [43]) is deeply problematic: [36, 70: 13].

  11. 11.

    In this Bowie’s connection between rock stardom and fascism is also made by another English 1970 s stadium rockers in Pink Floyd The Wall [72]. See [66].

  12. 12.

    [95: 283]. For example Finnis writes that ‘…the principles of natural law explain the obligatory force (in the fullest sense of ‘obligation’) of positive laws, even when those laws cannot be deduced from those principles’ [42: 24].


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Sykes, R., Tranter, K. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Natural Law. Int J Semiot Law 31, 325–347 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11196-018-9542-4

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  • Law and music
  • Natural law
  • John Finnis
  • David Bowie