The Greek Sophists were often known for making a distinction between Convention (nomos) and Nature (physis) in an effort to tease out what was truly beneficial to man.
Antiphon, in Book 1 of On Truth, in a fragment that survived the ages wrote:
For the demands of the laws are adventitious, but the demands of nature are necessary; and the demands of the laws are based on agreement, not nature, while the demands of nature are not dependent on agreements. So if a man transgresses the demands of law, and is not found out by those who are parties to the agreement, he escapes without either shame or penalty; but if he is found out, does not.
If, on the other hand, a man – per impossibile – violates one of the inherent demands of nature, even if all mankind fails to notice it, the harm is no less, and even if everyone is aware of it, the harm is no greater. For the injury which he suffers is not a matter of appearance but of truth. (Dillon, “The Greek Sophists”)
When I was reading Antiphon, it brought to my mind how a modern day philosopher, in Hans-Herman Hoppe, was still making the convention/nature distinction. Hoppe, in Democracy The God That Failed, makes a distinction between Monarchy, Democracy, and the idea of the Natural Order. From Wikipedia:
Hoppe characterizes democracy as “publicly owned government”, which he compares to monarchy—”privately owned government”—to conclude that the latter is preferable; however, Hoppe aims to show that both monarchy and democracy are deficient systems compared to his preferred structure to advance civilization—what he calls the natural order, a system free of both taxation and coercive monopoly in which jurisdictions freely compete for adherents. In his Introduction to the book, he lists other names used elsewhere to refer to the same thing, including “ordered anarchy”, “private property anarchism”, “anarcho-capitalism”, “autogovernment”, “private law society”, and “pure capitalism”
Back when I read the Hoppe book referenced above, it struck me that calling anarcho-capitalism the natural order was weird. If it was natural, then why do we have no examples of it in our world? If it was natural, then why has there been states through-out the ages? If man is a natural inhabitant of the earth, then how could his actions and conventions be anything but natural? I have come to think of the distinction more as a literary device to help think out what would occur without the convention of laws and state. As such a device, it can be used to justify or criticize the state.
As a believer in God, the Creator of our world, it seems to me that all in our world is of a natural order. Men claiming rule over other men is a natural tendency of human nature. It is egotistical, to be sure, but it is something we witness over and over. I don’t see how there can be a true distinction between nomos and physis, since man has a nature inherent to him. I see the tendency of man wanting to rule others as the result of Original Sin, of wanting to “be like Gods who know”. I see the remedy in Christ, who admonished James and John (Matthew 20) when they wanted to sit on Jesus left and right:
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Christ calls us to humbly serve one another, not to take command of our brethren. He calls us to reject the part of our nature that makes us want to act as gods, and to follow his example of service instead, to follow the part of our nature that wants to please our Heavenly Father.