The Rittenhouse verdict and the twisting of natural law

If a protest for equal rights is a threatening provocation, then answering that threat with violence is merely self-defense.

On November 19, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges for killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during the unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake last year. Within hours of the verdict, the Heritage Foundation held a question-and-answer session on YouTube, which it promoted with the line, “What is YOUR natural right to self-defense?”

This is not the only attempt to frame what happened in Kenosha through the lens of natural law. As someone who thinks of himself as a natural-law lawyer, I find this troubling. These responses are just another example of how natural law and its expression in the Anglo-American legal tradition—common law—has been deformed by its adaptation to support White supremacy.

At its core, the right to self-defense in common law was based on one’s right to use the proportionate amount of force necessary to keep oneself from harm. The amount of force used could be neither disproportionate to the threat faced nor greater than that needed to maintain one’s safety. Properly understood, self-defense is not a license to kill; it’s a justification for using protective force that may have the unfortunate result of a homicide.