Friday, June 19, 2015

The Deafening Silence: Magna Carta At 800

...June 15, 2015, mark[ed] an astonishing, almost inconceivable anniversary: 800 years since the signing of Magna Carta, at Runnymede, and with it the foundational idea that there are limits upon the power of the sovereign. That our rulers must not be above the law. Apart from Biblical matters, commemorating events so far in the past is unknown to us. Within the lifetimes of a good part of the US population, we’ve seen a bicentennial (1976, Declaration of Independence), quadricentennial (2007, founding of Virginia), and quincentennial (1992, Columbus’s landing). Magna Carta is three centuries older than the oldest of those! Its age beggars the imagination.

...Why [the] near-total silence over Magna Carta? In the US, the groundwork has been laid for a state of exception by reason of a “war” vaguely defined, against no specific enemy, and of quasi-perpetual duration. A Republican president launched, and his Democratic successor has deepened, the practice of perpetual imprisonment without charge, and even of summary execution, as legitimate presidential powers. Could it be that Magna Carta has become an embarrassment? Or that its name troubles the conscience of at least some of our leaders?
Magna Carta’s anniversary should be remembered, and its significance debated. It should be a moment for genuine questioning of the exercise of power in a constitutional republic, for an honest stock-taking of what is left of the ancestral liberties that the people must not allow to slip away out of some combination of apathy, distractedness, ignorance, and fear.
Let Magna Carta be honored, let Magna Carta be defended. Let it be criticized, let it be scorned as obsolete by those who see it that way. Remembered, studied, debated, … anything but ignored.

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