800 Years of English Rule of Law


MagnaCarta-coinYesterday was the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede. The “Great Charter” (actually, its full name was Magna Carta Libertatum, or Great Charter of Liberty) was the first codification in English history of the principle that the power of government had limitations.

I attended a mini-conference to commemorate it on Sunday night and yesterday morning. Hosted by the American Freedom Alliance, in Bellaire (near the UCLA campus), it was an intellectual feast, with talks and panels from historical scholars and law professors (including Amy Peikoff, an Objectivist atheist who declared Ted Cruz to be the best Republican candidate from the standpoint of the Constitution and rule of law).

The attendees and participants were not just American, but from all over the Anglosphere (the organizer of the conference, Avi Davis, is an Australian Jew). While mostly Americans, there were representatives from New Zealand and England (though no obvious Canadians). One of the highlights were greetings via the Internet from former Australian PM John Howard, and from Member of the European Parliament from South East England, Daniel Hannon, from the memorial at Runnymede itself.

Based on some of the discussion on Sunday night, I wrote a piece for PJMedia yesterday:

…while imperfect, and only a start, it was the first document known in the history of the world to elevate the law above men, with all that implied. It said that even kings (and presidents) had limits to their power, and couldn’t simply make it up as it went along. That is why it lies in our own National Archives, along with the foundational documents of our own Anglospheric nation.

It is worth noting that in all cases up to now — the baron’s revolt against John, the Glorious Revolution against James, and the American Revolution against George — the revolution was carried about by elites. They were the most well read, and familiar with history, and what happens when despots are granted arbitrary power. As the wealthiest of their society, they also had the most to lose in such revolts. They were committing treason against a king, which historically meant not just the loss of land and title, but was a capital offense, to be carried out in the most cruel ways of the times (traditionally by the removal of entrails while still alive, and then dismembered).

Sadly, today we have not leaders, but a new elite who seem indifferent to this history, and to the well being of the people. Instead, while mouthing monotonic platitudes about their love of the working class, they seem to believe that they have their own divine rights, including even hereditary ones, in which their untalented children can get no-work contracts from wealthy corporations in return for political favors.

Our elites today, rather than becoming concerned, have become the enablers of the powerful, and grow wealthy at the expense of those whom they view as their ignorant, dependent lessers. The revolt against the overreach of power has not come from them, but from below. As with the ancient Saxons, it has come from the yeomanry of the nation — the small business owners, the ranchers, the craftsmen, and the Tea Partiers. Like the Founders, they are now the best educated about the rights of man and the Constitution, and they now have the most to lose should the nation fall back into the old ways.

They saved us from we know not what in the election of 2010, taking back the House. They had a setback in 2012, because the elites struck back, with corruption, lies, and abuse of their power, reinstalling a charismatic mortal who thinks he is a law unto himself. They rose up again last year, taking back the Senate, but the tyrannical God-King remains.

We have perhaps one more chance for our own Runnymede. It may take the form of a simple election, if sweeping enough. Or perhaps we will have to gather among the states and come up with a new compact to build on the old ones whose principles and ideas are increasingly ignored and viewed as irrelevant by those who would rule us. But whatever the future holds, let us remember and be guided by that past.

I encourage people to read the whole thing.

There are 17 comments.

  1. Fred Cole Member

    Jesus. Peikoff is … well, Peikofff.

    • #1
    • June 16, 2015, at 10:01 AM PDT
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  2. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    I like Amy. She’s an atheist who respects religion.

    • #2
    • June 16, 2015, at 10:05 AM PDT
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  3. Melissa O'Sullivan Member

    Thanks, Rand!

    • #3
    • June 16, 2015, at 10:09 AM PDT
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  4. Fred Cole Member

    Rand Simberg:I like Amy. She’s an atheist who respects religion.

    Oh, man. I totally misread that.

    Didn’t realize it was Amy Peikoff.

    • #4
    • June 16, 2015, at 11:39 AM PDT
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  5. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    Leonard’s ex-wife, I think.

    • #5
    • June 16, 2015, at 11:55 AM PDT
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  6. Seawriter Member

    Did this as part of my Kipling series back when I could format poetry properly, before 2.0 “fixed things. Still appropriate.


    The Reeds of Runnymede

    Magna Charta, June 15, 1215

    At Runnymede, At Runnymede,
    What say the reeds at Runnymede?
    The lissom reeds that give and take,
    That bend so far, but never break,
    They keep the sleepy Thames awake
    With tales of John at Runnymede.

    At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
    Oh, hear the reeds at Runnymede:–
    “You mustn’t sell, delay, deny,
    A freeman’s right or liberty.
    It wakes the stubborn Englishry,
    We saw ‘em roused at Runnymede!

    “When through our ranks the Barons came,
    With little thought of praise or blame,
    But resolute to play the game,
    They lumbered up to Runnymede;
    And there they launched in solid time
    The first attack on Right Divine–
    The curt, uncompromising ‘Sign!’
    That settled John at Runnymede.

    “At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
    Your rights were won at Runnymede!
    No freeman shall be fined or bound,
    Or dispossessed or freehold ground,
    Except by lawful judgment found
    And passed upon him by his peers.
    Forget not, after all these years,
    The Charter Signed at Runnymede.”

    And still when Mob or Monarch lays
    Too rude hand on English ways,
    The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
    Across the reeds at Runnymede.
    And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
    And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
    Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
    Their warning down from Runnymede!


    • #6
    • June 16, 2015, at 2:34 PM PDT
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  7. Odysseus Inactive

    actually, its full name was Magna Carta Libertatum, or Great Charter of Liberty

    “Libertatum” is plural, thus it reads “Great Charter of Freedoms”.

    • #7
    • June 16, 2015, at 2:49 PM PDT
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  8. Percival Thatcher

    “Sign it!”

    “Over my dead body!”

    “Don’t tempt us.”

    • #8
    • June 16, 2015, at 3:23 PM PDT
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  9. Douglas Inactive

    Rand Simberg:

    (though no obvious Canadians)

    It’s the secret Canadians you have to look out for.

    • #9
    • June 16, 2015, at 4:06 PM PDT
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  10. Percival Thatcher

    It’s easy to spot Canadians.

    Just walk into the room and yell “Hey! Knock it off!”

    The Canadians are the ones who immediately apologize.

    • #10
    • June 16, 2015, at 6:43 PM PDT
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  11. Fred Cole Member

    Rand Simberg:Leonard’s ex-wife, I think.

    Amy is his daughter.

    • #11
    • June 16, 2015, at 8:30 PM PDT
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  12. Fred Cole Member


    Rand Simberg:

    (though no obvious Canadians)

    It’s the secret Canadians you have to look out for.

    Actually, Leonard Peikoff is Canadian by birth, so…

    • #12
    • June 16, 2015, at 8:33 PM PDT
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  13. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    Amy is his daughter.

    That makes me feel much better, actually. It kind of creeped me out to think of her being married to him.

    • #13
    • June 16, 2015, at 9:45 PM PDT
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  14. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    “Libertatum” is plural, thus it reads “Great Charter of Freedoms”.

    Well, it was. The “Great Charter of the Liberties.” That’s what it was all about — liberty. As handed down in first the English Bill of Rights in the Glorious Revolution, and then the Bill of Rights as the first amendments to the Constitution.

    • #14
    • June 16, 2015, at 9:49 PM PDT
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  15. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    Here’s an example of why I like Amy. She told me she had an interview with Roger Taylor of Duran Duran, and she asked him why he liked Atlas Shrugged. His reply: “Oh, I loved the writing, I just didn’t like the ideas in it.”

    That is the funniest Ayn Rand story I’d ever heard.

    • #15
    • June 16, 2015, at 10:09 PM PDT
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  16. Rand Simberg Inactive
    Rand Simberg Post author

    Amy is his daughter.

    OK, well seriously (and I still like her), at least according to Wikipedia, third ex-wife. I think if it weren’t true, she’d get it corrected. But there’s a(t least one) reason that she’s an ex-wife, I’m sure.

    • #16
    • June 16, 2015, at 10:35 PM PDT
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  17. Robert E. Lee Member

    800 years and we still haven’t got it right. I guess we need more practice.

    • #17
    • June 17, 2015, at 5:29 AM PDT
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