Magna Carta: an introduction | The British Library

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King John granted the Charter of Liberties, subsequently known as Magna Carta, at Runnymede on 15 June 1215.

Source: Magna Carta an introduction – The British Library

On this date in 1215, 803 years ago today, King John “Lackland” granted – admittedly under duress! – the “Charter of Liberties,” which was to become known as the “Magna Carta” or “Great Charter,” to the rebel barons and leading churchmen of the Realm of England.

This is of Anglican interest because it protected, among other things, the rights and privileges of the English Church (Ecclesia Anglicana); and is is of general interest for those concerned with the defense of the West because “Magna Carta has… acquired a special status as the cornerstone of English liberties…. [The Great Charter] retains enormous symbolic power as an ancient defence against arbitrary and tyrannical rulers, and as a guarantor of individual liberties.”

The article points out that it is not certain how many copies of the 1215 Magna Carta were originally issued, but four copies still survive: one in Lincoln Cathedral; one in Salisbury Cathedral; and two at the British Library. It is actually the edition of 1225, issued (voluntarily) by King Henry III, which became definitive, and of which three critical clauses are still part of English law:

“Magna Carta established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Although nearly a third of the text was deleted or substantially rewritten within ten years, and almost all the clauses have been repealed in modern times, Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.

“Most of the 63 clauses granted by King John dealt with specific grievances relating to his rule. However, buried within them were a number of fundamental values that both challenged the autocracy of the king and proved highly adaptable in future centuries. Most famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial. Some of Magna Carta’s core principles are echoed in the United States Bill of Rights (1791) and in many other constitutional documents around the world, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).”

Of the three of those clauses which remain part of English law, one defends the liberties and rights of the English Church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, but here is the third and most famous:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

“This clause gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial [although] ‘free men’ comprised only a small proportion of the population in medieval England…

“Magna Carta has consequently acquired a special status as the cornerstone of English liberties. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of its clauses have now been repealed, or in some cases superseded by other legislation such as the Human Rights Act (1998). Magna Carta nonetheless retains enormous symbolic power as an ancient defence against arbitrary and tyrannical rulers, and as a guarantor of individual liberties.”

Perhaps, given the political and social situation there, England is in need of a new “Great Charter”!

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Is the worm turning for Britain? One can hope!

I am beginning to be guardedly optimistic that for Britain, the worm is turning at last. The decision by the British government to arrest, convict, and incarcerate Tommy Robinson – with what might be called, at the risk of understatement, unseemly haste – appears to have galvanized at least a significant segment of British society. The protests and calls for his release are growing larger and more numerous, with the rally in this video, which occurred earlier today, standing as the most recent example: thousands of people gathering in London itself.

To paraphrase the great Professor Tolkien, there is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the most peaceful and complacent Briton, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow. Perhaps the sudden realization, forced by Tommy Robinson’s arrest and immediate incarceration, of how close Britain is tottering toward the brink of totalitarianism and tyranny – that anyone could, for some reason deemed sufficient by the bureaucrats and politicians, be suddenly arrested and thrown into prison for expressing their views – is that “final and desperate danger,” for many Britons. I hope and pray it is, and for a sufficient number to do some good.

As an anglophilic Anglican – “The Anglophilic Anglican,” for the purposes of this blog – I bow to no one in my love of England, and Great Britain as a whole. But as I have previously stated, that doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with some of the stances taken by its present government. With some, I disagree profoundly. And I am grateful to live in the United States, where the First Amendment of our Constitution protects – for now, at least – my freedom to say so. Sadly, some of my British friends are not so fortunate, having been warned that making their true feelings known on social media could lead to their arrest!

This, from the country which is the source of our understanding of rights and liberties. It’s sad, and it’s truly appalling. But I am, as I say, hopeful that at long last, the worm is beginning to turn, and the people of England and Britain are on the road toward beginning to take back their ancient liberties from the Left-leaning politicians, bureaucrats, and budding authoritarians that make up far too many of the present governments of Europe, not just Great Britain. If that happens, the unjust arrest and imprisonment of Tommy Robinson will have at least served some useful purpose!

Cardinal Erdo: Democracy’s foundations are ‘shaking’

Cardinal Peter Erdo_Credit Thaler Tama?s CC 3.0_CNA

A Hungarian cardinal has said that free societies must depend on the wisdom of religion to address the moral and social problems of the modern world.

Source: Cardinal Erdo: Democracy’s foundations are ‘shaking’

Addressing Columbia students and faculty, Erdo warned about the dangers of moral relativism, and discussed the necessity of the Church in a secular state.

The cardinal said that relativism— the inability to declare something as objectively right or objectively wrong—is a “grave crisis” of modern secular states. Without a foundation in natural law, he argued, societies become unstable, and moral evil becomes permissible.

“It is difficult for the state to decide what is good for man,” said Erdo, without some foundation in natural law and a religious worldview. Absent natural law and “by a weakening of belief in the rationality of the world,” societies lose trust in democratic institutions.

”Even the majority can end up with wrong or harmful decisions, especially if the concept of the common good becomes uncertain, because there is no consensus even on the anthropological foundations of law,” explained the cardinal.

Erdo said that until the philosophical Enlightenment, societies were effectively governed with an understanding that moral law was based on transcendent realities.

“Law, morals and religion prove to form an organic whole, which is characteristic of Western society right up to the age of Enlightenment,” Erdo said.

Our Founders were well aware of this problem! I am reminded of the famous quote by John Adams, in an address to the Massachusetts Militia on 11 October 1789, in which he reminded them that

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And no less a personage that George Washington, in his Farewell Address on 19 September 1796, enjoined his countrymen to recall that

“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens.”

And the growing number and intensity of laws, passed in an attempt to reign in the unleashed appetites of humans who have forgotten moral obligation, religious duty, and philosophical self-control alike, is a reminder of the pithy observation of G.K. Chesterton, who, though neither a Founder nor an American, aptly noted,

“If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments, they will be governed by ten thousand commandments.”

Chesterton also observed, along the same lines, “When you break the big laws, you do not get liberty; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.”

We often – and by “we,” I mean not the readership of this blog, but the larger secular society of which we are a part, or at least within which we find ourselves constrained to operate – often think of religion and morality as constraints upon freedom, liberty, and democracy (although we in the United States are not and were not intended by our Founders to be a democracy, but a representative, constitutional Republic, characterized by an ordered liberty grounded in classical moral standards).

But as the words of Cardinal Erdo, and the others quoted above, make clear, religion and morality are not the enemies of liberty, but its foundation.

Primo de Rivera: “Freedom does not exist except within an order”

Freedom does not exist except within an order

I was very pleased to have one of my young driver’s education students, in response to a comment on the importance of following “the rules of the road,” respond, “Without order, there’s chaos.” Maybe there is hope for the rising generation, after all!

Indeed, freedom is only possible within order: in chaos, or raw anarchy, the only persons to have “freedom” are those in the highest positions of power. An orderly society both protects the rights and also enunciates the responsibilities of all members.

The Constitutional, representative Republic bequeathed us by our Founders is one way of accomplishing this end, and, so long as their prescription was faithfully followed, an effective one. But it is not the only approach; King Charles I of England, executed by the “Roundhead” Parliament during the English Civil War, articulated another:

“No man in England is a better friend to liberty than myself, But I must tell you plainly that the liberty of subjects consists not in having a hand in the government, but in having that government, and those laws, whereby their lives and their goods may be most their own.”

James Kiefer goes on to elaborate,

“one may reasonably ask of a government that it establish justice in the land; so that judges do not take bribes, so that innocent men are not convicted of crimes, while the guilty are convicted and punished, so that honest men need fear neither robbers nor the sheriff. One may further ask that taxes be not excessive, and that punishments be not disproportionate to the crime. Charles would have said, ‘Do not ask whether the laws were made by men whom you elected. Ask whether they are reasonable and good laws, upholding justice and the public weal.'”

These principles are equally manifest and necessary whether the source of orderly government and society is viewed as “top-down” (from God, through a Monarch, to the people) or “bottom-up” (ultimately from God – if you read the Declaration of Independence – but flowing through the sovereignty of the people to those elected to perform the functions of government).

Like a human person whose physical being is defined by skin and skeleton, a cell defined by its walls, a poem defined by form and meter, a country defined by its borders, or art or music defined by the conventions thereof, one’s freedom can be expressed most fully within an orderly society. The alternative is indeed chaos, and the “freedom” thus engendered is temporary and illusory.

George Washington’s wisdom

Just created this a little bit ago. It seemed apt, in light of the Las Vegas massacre, among many other things…

George Washington - Believe me now?

The words are from then-President George Washington’s “Farewell Address” (1796). By “religion and morality” is meant Christian religion and morality, or at any rate the Judeo-Christian religious and moral tradition which has formed one of the major underpinnings of Western civilization for the last 1500+ years.

We have, as a culture (if one can use the term, currently…) and society, been abandoning this “great pillar of human happiness” – along with other pillars of our civilization, such as the Greco-Roman political and philosophical tradition, and the courage, passion, and physical prowess of our Celtic and Germanic forebears – at an alarming rate over the last 50 to 75 years, and I think it is not coincidental that we have also seen our civilization in steep and accelerating decline over the same period.

A tree cut off from its roots does not grow, blossom, and bear fruit: it withers. The same is also true of a culture.

The prescient wisdom of Robert E. Lee

General Lee - portrait photograph

“I yet believe that the maintenance of the rights and authority reserved to the states and to the people, is not only essential to the adjustment and balance of the general system, but the safeguard to the continuance of a free government. I consider it as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”

~ Robert E. Lee in correspondence with Lord Acton

As “Marse Robert” accurately perceived, our Founders carefully set up a detailed and intricate system of “checks and balances” to preserve our Constitutional liberties, and our status as not a pure democracy, but a representative Republic.

And that included not only a balance of power between and among the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial), but between the Federal government and the States. Indeed, it it worth noting that the Preamble to the Constitution speaks of the establishment of a Constitution “for these United States.” Note that: “for these” States, as distinct, sovereign entities, not “for the” single entity called “the United States.” That is not accidental, or an infelicitous choice of words!

Unfortunately, since our Founding, the corruption that comes with the desire for power has been leading the Federal government to constantly accrue powers to itself, against the clear directive of the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people” (the Tenth Amendment).

President Lincoln’s determination to preserve the Union even at the cost of the Constitution – against which Lee, at the head of the Army of Northern Virginia, so ably but ultimately unsuccessfully contended – was a body-blow to the Founders’ intentions, and the pace of Federal usurpation has been accelerating ever since. For many of us, “aggressive abroad and despotic at home” is not too strong an expression of the unfortunate result.