Anniversaries mean that just about everybody climbs on a rock and pontificates. Those of nasty minds would suggest that many of these crawl from under a rock for the purpose. At the moment it is de riguer to preach about the eight-hundredth anniversary of the Magna Carta Libertatum. Discovering what it is and what it is not could be arduous task, and when even such anti-human rights activista as Gillian Trigg is referring to it favourably you know that some deeper thought is needed.
When, long time ago, while studying law I tried to read the document as recommended, I found it rather incomprehensible. It ceased to be so puzzling after I read some serious English history. Still, eight hundred years ago people were thinking differently, which is not to say wrongly.
The entire document is worth reading and you could then come to your own conclusions untainted by other people’s opinions. Relax, there is no danger that the journalists and the academia could (rationally) challenge your conclusions as they are increasingly incapable of an independent thought. They are the herd, and what some misguided semi-conservative writers call “cultural marxism” is nothing but “anti-cultural Marxism”, taking over the public (non-internet) discourse.
If you have the inclination but do not have the time, I would recommend John O’Sullivan’s For Liberty, an Anxious 800th Birthday in Quadrant-on-line. An excerpt:
“First, Magna Carta is the founding moment of constitutional monarchy, which is itself arguably the most successful form of government today. This is clear in the most explicit way. It asserts that the king is not above the law. He is obliged to keep his executive actions in line with that law and to respect the rights of the people — including, for instance, widows. Here is some evidence of constitutional monarchy’s spread, stability, and success.
It is the form of government in the UK, Australia, and fourteen other Commonwealth realms. It exists also in Belgium, Bhutan, Denmark, Jordan, Lesotho, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Tonga, Japan, Liechtenstein (which is a constitutional principality), Luxembourg (a constitutional grand duchy), Malaysia (an elective monarchy) and Monaco (a constitutional principality). There are others, and not all of these regimes are models of governance, but they are usually more progressive than their non-monarchical neighbours.
According to the World Bank, constitutional monarchies have an average GDP per capita of $29,106.71 and an average life expectancy of 75.6 years. Republics have an average GDP per capita of $12,518.76 and an average life expectancy of 68.3. Of the top ten countries in the 2011 Human Development Index, seven are constitutional monarchies. I could go on, but that probably suffices.
Second — and this follows automatically from the first point — Magna Carta is the constitutional moment when the rule of law enters the modern world. If the king is subject to the law, so is everyone else in the society. Society is therefore ruled by law, and not by men. And people at all levels can begin to make plans for their lives and work on which they can reasonably depend.
Third, Magna Carta is the start of a society based on liberties. Much of the language in the document restores specific liberties— fishing rights, for example — that the king had taken in earlier periods. That is even more true of the companion Forest Charter, which restricts and shares the king’s monopoly of game, hunting and forest economic activities in general. Both documents are saturated in the language of “liberties”, the nearest thing to rights in the modern sense, in general.
Fourth, largely because of these liberties, Magna Carta is the start of a relatively liberal society of dispersed initiative, authority and personal liberty. Recent medieval historians have seen this period as more enterprising and technically innovative than in the past. Magna Carta may reflect those trends; it probably also fostered them. It helped to liberate energies as well as people.
Fifth, Magna Carta is the start of the English democracy which has since spread around the globe, in some cases to peoples and regions with only an exiguous link to Westminster. That is a more controversial claim, and I would not stress it as strongly as the earlier four points. Insofar as democracy grows out of consultative forms of government, however, Magna Carta began the process that Simon de Montfort, the English Revolution, the Glorious Revolution, the 1689 Bill of Rights, the American Declaration of Independence, Edward Grey’s Reform Act, and other statesmen and developments elsewhere carried to full fruition.”
So far so good, but we live in 21st century, where any charter of rights is trampled to oblivion either directly by the powerful elites or indirectly by the Left human rights activistas. One of the far too many examples, this one from contemporary Amerika:
“Mark Steyn, the Canadian writer whose flinty libertarian conservatism is very far from Anthony Barnett’s dissident peasant leftism while both are close to each other in a joint hostility to unaccountable power, recently quoted a 2013 report that an armed US Forest Ranger, without apparent legal authority, had instructed some tourists not to photograph a herd of bison since there was a government shutdown of the national parks. Steyn then cited the provisions of Henry III’s Forest Charter which in 1217 opened the royal forests to the freemen of England, granted extensive grazing and hunting rights, and eliminated the death penalty for taking the king’s venison. These provisions remained in being until the 1970s. Steyn wrote:
The [National Parks Service] has not yet fried anyone for taking King Barack’s deer, but they are putting you under house arrest for taking a photograph of it. It is somewhat sobering to reflect that an English peasant enjoyed more freedom on the sovereign’s lands in the thirteenth century than a freeborn American does on “the people’s land” in the 21st century.”
Sometimes one almost pines for those old un-free times, for that Carta is not so Magna now.