Fireside Chat on the Great Charter of the Liberties
23 August 2015
Once upon a time, there was a valiant king who left his castle behind to fight a Holy War. When he was killed by a young boy’s arrow, his brother John came to the throne. But John was no Lionheart, and he had not the love of his people. He was not valiant; neither was he a Holy Warrior; nor was he kind or generous or virtuous in any wise.
You see, in that magical land of England, only peasants and merchants could be imprisoned without knowing the charges against them or have their homes ransacked without a warrant. But King John, that scoundrel, he did to the noblemen what was previously reserved only for the nobodies.
“How dare the King treat us like commoners?!” said the noblemen amongst themselves. “This is an outrage! We must limit the power of his Government!”
So it came to pass that the noblemen of the enchanted land of England came together and had the Archbishop of Canterbury draft a noble charter that would keep the evil King from sending his men to kick down their doors and drag them off in the middle of the night.
And they all lived happily ever after.
This year we celebrate eight centuries of the Magna Carta. This document (and what it stood for) provided the inspiration for our Bill of Rights here in the United States. We have the freedom of speech, the independence of the churches, and the right to due process of law, all because of the Magna Carta.
Or so they say – because in reality, neither the noblemen nor the King actually abided by the charter. It was nothing but a fiction when it was first drafted. We can imagine King John saying, as George W. Bush would of the Constitution, “Stop throwing [that] in my face! It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”
In reality, law means nothing without faith and force. If the Government does not uphold the law, it is worthless; if the Government cannot enforce the law, it is but custom. Law requires that the Government keeps good faith in its execution.
Conversely, should the people show force against a law, that law cannot stand. If the people of this country were to stand up and say, “Enough”; if they were to say, “I am not waiting until the next election cycle to vote for another politician to address this”; if they were to say, “I do not believe in this, and I am done with obeying it” . . .
Well, I’m not going to lie to you. Anyone who did such a thing would be fined, beaten, imprisoned, placed on probation; they would have their jobs and their families threatened; they would lose their homes – whatever means the Government had at its disposal.
Like the rebel barons under King John, if you want rights, you must be prepared to fight for them.
But, like the rebel barons, you do not feel the need to resist the Government yet, because the Government is not attacking you, personally.
There are those of you who do not care about the militarization of our police forces, because the cops are not kicking in your doors and dragging you off in the middle of the night.
There are those of you who do not care about the Government listening to your phone calls and monitoring your computers, because you do not have anything to hide.
There are those of you who do not care that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world; or that we who have 5% of the world’s population hold 25% of the world’s prisoners; because you have not been threatened with imprisonment.
You do not take the excesses of the Government seriously because they do not, as yet, affect your life directly. But, my friends, if you will not consider the present and its misfortunes, I ask you to consider the past. Know ye that history repeats itself, and if history has taught us anything, it is that rights are not given by the Government: they are demanded by free men.
You prate and babble about how frustrated you are with the way things are going. What will it take for you to do something about it?
A tax on tea without representation?
The election of a hostile President?
A drone strike on American soil?