Professor Marnell explores a formidable amount of historical terrain, (about four centuries, to be exact), tracing the fluctuations in man's belief in natural law in England and America. The philosophic subject matter, weighty in itself, is hardly enlivened by a genial but all too colorless academic style, though here and there a telling biographical sketch or some narrative sweep does perk up the reader's interest. The essential argument discusses the impact of four movements--deism, utilitarianism, social Darwinism, and pragmatism--on American thought, and the origin and force of these movements in the name of Progress. It is the author's thesis that the gospel of Progress grounded in a universe of man-made morals has repeatedly shown itself to be ""a delusion and a snare."" Fortunately, such a simplistic position is not baldly stressed within the body of the text; on the contrary, Professor Marnell develops his study with a good deal of intellectual reasonableness, wisely concentrating on the underlying conflict between liberal and conservative temperaments as reflected in Hobbes, Locke, Pope, Hume, Burke, the Founding Fathers, Mill, Spencer, James, Dewey, Holmes, and others. And it is in these individuals, and how they affected the socio-political and spiritual life of their time, that this rather charmless book proves to be rewardingly informative.