Sunday, September 29, 2013

Magna Carta: the Root of Liberty

The Magna Carta is at the root of every Declaration and Constitution that enshrines the freedom of the individual under de law



Daniel Hannan MEP speaks at The Freedom Association's Magna Carta Memorial on September 13 at Runnymede, UK.

The importance of the Magna Carta (1215) can't be underestimated: it is at the root of the American Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Human Rights and every other Declaration and Constitution that enshrines the freedom of the individual under de law. In essence it places the individual over the State, King and Government and offers guarantees against arbitrary, authoritarian rule. The Charter is the foundation of parliament.

The Magna Carta sets out three basic principles:
  • The Freedom of the Church, i.e. the Separation of the Church and State. It means that secular rulers can't interfere in the business of the Church and it's moral realm. This is now corrupted to a point that it is understood the other way round, leading to the French Jacobin interpretation of laïcité in which the (neutral) public realm is cleansed of all symbols of religion.
  • The Freedoms of towns and corporations: free markets, economic freedom (a.k.a. Capitalism).
  • The Law of the Land rather than the law of man, or God. The Law of the Land is made by Parliamentarians as the representatives of the freeman, the citizen, which is the built in enforcement mechanism of the Magna Carta. It makes the citizen responsible for the government by voting for a representative.
The Charter stresses the civil, rather than the ethnic concept of nationhood. This sets the Anglo-Saxon world apart from the European continent and so many other countries which have still not been able to grasp this concept. The nation is defined by idea, or ideal, not by race or place

It typifies the difference between the individualist constitutional patriotism against collectivist nationalism. At a deeper root it means the difference between free will and (ethnic) determinism

Hannan illustrates the point by reminding us of the situation in 1939: the Eurasian landmass, from Brest and Lisbon to Vladivostok was under authoritarian rule. Freedom is not a natural default condition. This is why the price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

As Hannan points out, if the we want individual rights and liberty under the law to prevail it is our duty to understand these principles and pass them on to the next generation. 

Listening to Hannan one might get the erroneous idea that individual freedom under the law is only for Britons and other English speakers, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Founding Fathers of America understood correctly that these principles are universal to man, which is why they are the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Because by his nature, man can only survive under the condition of liberty, if he is to live his life as man qua man. Under tyranny man becomes a slave, a zombie, a being without moral basis or the attributes that set us apart from animals.

P.S. A few words on the inevitable postmodern, moral critique that the Magna Charta was a means for the barons to limit the power of the kings over them, an that ordinary people had no rights whatsoever. This is supposed to lend weight to the argument that all the freedom and rights the Charter brought are rendered illegitimate because the barons' intentions weren't egalitarian. It is not the nobility of the barons we are celebrating, but the fact that the principle that leads to liberty in the end 'trickled down' to the whole of society. 

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