A catalyst for civilization and good governance.10:05 AM, Jan 20, 2015 • By KEVIN R. KOSAR
Today, America bids farewell to the Magna Carta. The 800-year old document returns home to Lincolnshire, England, after six months in America. It landed at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in July, and spent the past few months at the Library of Congress.
This copy of the Magna Carta visited here once before when England asked the United States to safeguard it from Nazi bombs. But we should not expect to see the Lincoln Magna Carta on these shores again. It is one of only four surviving copies of the 1215 charter, and it shows its 800 years of age. The parchment will be preserved in a newly constructed, high-tech, protective case in Lincoln Castle.
Much has been written about Magna Carta’s current visit to America, particularly in relation to the inchoate liberties it birthed. Rightly so. The Magna Carta’s importance cannot be understated. It is font of the liberties we enjoy today.
After tolerating one outrage after another by King John, barons in league with English church officials rebelled. They renounced their allegiance to the king, who foolishly seized their property. The King was quickly overwhelmed, with the barons taking London.
At Runymede in June 1215, King John signed, in effect, a treaty with his own people. The Magna Carta curbed the authority of the king, offering protections to the church and the rights of free men. In return for renewing their oaths to the King, he was forced to cede some power. His power over the pockets and persons of freemen was reduced. The Barons could check the king’s authority to enact certain types of tax. King John also recognized the “ancient liberties” of some inhabitants. Jailing them willy-nilly in perpetuity was expressly disallowed.
“No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised [dispossessed] of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land.”
Additionally, the Magna Carta was a key moment in the advancement of civilization. The Great Charter helped move the accepted basis for human governance further away from rule by might to rule by law. Words on paper, not arms, would structure a polity. Humanity could flourish under the stability and liberty afforded by shared agreements about the basic rules of social life.
Politics, the ancient Greeks noted, was a means of moving fights from the streets into a forum. Lay down arms, and use words to settle conflicts. Written agreements on power-sharing naturally followed from this notion. But these ancient treaties rarely had lasting power. Inevitably, one party to the agreement would see advantage in reneging, and war would return.
The term “charter” is derived from the ancient Latin “charta” or, perhaps, the ancient Greek “chartês,” both of which mean “paper.” In the 1200s, charters were a common legal instrument in England. They had been in use since 600 AD, and they tended to deal with mundane property matters. For example, a 679 AD charter from Hlothhere King of the Men of Kent to Beorhtweald, the Abbot of Reculver, declares:
“In the name of our Lord, Our Savior Jesus Christ, I, Hlothhere, King of the men dwelling in Kent, for the cure of my soul give land in ‘Thanet’ which is called ‘West of the stream,’ to you, Beortwheald, and to your monastery, fields, pastures, marshes, little woods, springs, fish ponds, [M]ay you hold, possess, and your successors defend in perpetuity .... [T]his little charter of donation remaining nonetheless in its own effect .... Let it be contradicted by no man, which God forbid, neither by me nor my relations nor by others.”
King John himself broke his word soon after putting his seal on the Magna Carta. It was a huge mistake, but a fortunate one for posterity. The outrage was immediate, and subsequent kings understood that maintaining peace required reaffirming the charter. Thus, what began as a written agreement between warring equals was progressively elevated to a higher authority held sacred. Magna Carta—the Great Charter.
This conception of a piece of paper as expressing higher law that binds both rulers and the people is a philosophical assumption undergirding American and modern Western constitutions generally.
Julianne Dudley keeps quiet and carries on.Oct 6, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 04 • By JULIANNE DUDLEY
"If you see something, say something.” To anyone who uses public transportation, it’s a familiar refrain. Yet while the constant warnings to beware of one’s fellow travelers are but a sign of the times, the message is ambiguous. How do you know what qualifies as “something”? As a subway commuter, I regularly see (and hear and smell) some pretty strange things.
11:36 AM, Aug 21, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The killing of James Foley was done, it seems, by someone who spoke with a British accent. This is disturbing, of course, but not surprising. The first of these ritual executions, that of Daniel Pearl, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, was organized by a man named Omar Sheikh who was born in London and educated at the London School of Economics.
8:02 AM, Jul 3, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken her book tour abroad. But in an interview with the BBC, when answering a question about how specialness of the special relationship between the U.S. and UK, the nation's former top diplomat gets the names of the political parties in the UK wrong.
The BBC host asked, "So how special is the special relationship?"
What I learned at London Fashion Week. Nov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08 • By SAMANTHA SAULT
It’s tough to determine the origin of the It Shoe for next spring. After all, the turquoise-and-golden-yellow Manolo Blahnik pump with black ankle ties is made of fabric from Africa, was stitched together in Italy, and debuted at London Fashion Week last month. Presented a few blocks from Oxford Street in the Covent Garden Hotel, Manolo Blahnik’s spring collection featured prominently in a short film starring Rupert Everett—whose character recalls his ex-wife dancing the tango with another man in turn-of-the-20th-century Spain.
Toby Young’s astonishing second career as an education reformerJun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By SAM SCHULMAN
The Chelsea Flower Show celebrates its centennial. Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By SARA LODGE
In his short story “The Occasional Garden,” Saki pinpoints a subject dear to the British heart, but also key to its social anxieties. Elinor Rapsley is about to receive a lunch visit from a woman whom she detests, Gwenda Pottingdon. Gwenda’s garden is the envy of the neighborhood; Elinor’s is a barren wasteland. Gwenda is coming on purpose to crow over Elinor’s pathetic pansies while describing her own rare and sumptuous roses.
1:29 PM, May 23, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Barack Obama condmned the London terror attack, but he didn't single out a motivation for beheading. Here's Obama's statement:
6:45 AM, May 23, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Bill Kristol, with Mara Liasson and Charles Krauthammer, last night on Fox News:
'Approximately 136 hotel rooms for 893 room nights.'9:46 AM, Mar 22, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
Vice President Biden and his entourage spent a little time in London in early February during his first foreign trip of the second term of the Obama administration.
10:34 AM, Feb 5, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
In his first foreign trip in the second term of President Barack Obama's presidency, Vice President Joe Biden is gaffing his way across Europe. Biden's three country trip has taken him from Germany to France and, finally, to the UK, where he's just finishing meetings.
Depravity at the heart of contemporary England. Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By KYLE SMITH
Despite the inapt “literary bad boy” label that continues to trail along behind Martin Amis like a disappointed autograph seeker, he has never been a shock novelist. Rather, he’s a comic-hyperbole man, forever pushing up into the thin air atop Mt. Absurdity.
10:52 AM, Sep 14, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
Photos and video from the Twitter feed of Phil Han, a reporter and producer in CNN, who is outside the U.S. embassy in London where a mob has gathered and burned the American flag: