any right that exists by virtue of natural law.
Political theorists since the time of the ancient Greeks have argued in support of the existence of natural rights, meaning those rights that men possessed as a gift from nature (or God) prior to the formation of governments. It is generally held that those rights belong equally to all men at birth and cannot be taken away.
The concept of natural rights received one of its most forceful expositions in the writings of Englishman John Locke (1632-1704), who argued that man was originally born into a state of nature where he was rational, tolerant, and happy. In this original existence man was entitled to enjoy the rights of life, liberty and property.
However, not all men chose to live within the confines of the natural laws and presented threats to the liberties of the others. At this stage man entered into a social contract (compact) in which a state (government) was formed to guarantee the rights of the members of society.
Locke believed that the only reason for the existence of government was to preserve natural rights and, by extension, man’s happiness and security.
The History of Natural Law
The origins of natural law lie in the thought of the philosophers and jurists of the ancient world. They were convinced that there were rules for human behavior based upon objective, eternal norms. They conceived of these norms as having been established by nature and human reason. The Romans were the first to coin the term “natural law”(ius naturale). Medieval and early modern jurists and theologians (Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish) found the idea of natural law attractive. It was congruent with their conception of the universe and with their notions of human psychology. Expanding upon and developing further the definitions of natural law they found in the ancient sources, medieval jurists and theologians placed natural law at the pinnacle of a hierarchy of laws that regulated and guided human behavior. Their paradigm held sway in western jurisprudence until the nineteenth century. Gratian
The Roman orator Cicero (43 B.C.) summed up an important strand of ancient thought when he argued in his De republica 3.22 that “true law was right reason that was congruent with nature.” He concluded that “there was one eternal, immutable, and unchangeable law” and that God had established it as the Emperor and Master of all humankind.