~ Is it time for a new Magna Carta? ~
Colin R. Turner
On June 15th 1215, King John of England met a rebellious group of English barons in a meadow by the Thames to discuss peace terms in an effort to avert civil war. Deeply unpopular and his kingdom in turmoil, the king wasted little time in agreeing to the barons’ terms and affixing his royal seal to their Magna Carta Libertatum (Great Charter of the Liberties) – or Magna Carta as it later became known.
The Magna Carta was written by Stephen Langton, the then Archbishop of Canterbury to create a better deal for the church and royal subjects. It enshrined things like church rights, basic civil liberties, respect for property rights, a fairer taxation system, and – perhaps most significantly – an end to royal impunity from the rule of law. This was especially welcome in a time when the royals were essentially omnipotent despots who murdered, pillaged and taxed their subjects at will.
Although the document did not ultimately prevent civil war and was re-drafted many times before being entered into the statute, its fundamentals have historically stood as the founding cornerstone of democracy and human rights that we know today.
Even though much has changed in the world since medieval times, it’s quite surprising also how little has changed. We still have a virtually untouchable ruling elite, who can buy influence or legal defence to avoid being accountable to the law. We still have unfair ‘taxation’ in the form of high costs of basic food and shelter. We still have poor human rights – not just in tyrannical regimes – but in all so-called ‘free market’ countries where the labour system begets poverty and the coercion of people into lives they would not otherwise choose, just to afford a modest level of survival.
Obviously things have improved dramatically in the last eight hundred years, but shouldn’t we have evolved by now beyond this absurd oligarchy-supervised fight for survival – given the extraordinary technological advances of the last two hundred years?
And, considering the critical damage inflicted on our environment in the race for profit, our insane rate of resource consumption, and an inequality gap that continues to grow and grow, isn’t it time we started doing things radically differently?
Is it perhaps time for a new Magna Carta, fit for the 21st century?
I certainly think so. So I wrote one.