June 15, 2015
In the history of post-Norman monarchs in the UK there have been nine Henrys. Eight Edwards. Four Williams. Four Georges. And three Richards.
Yet there was only one John.
In fact, in nearly 1,000 years since William the Conqueror took England in 1066, John was the only King to never have his name repeated.
And with reason. He wasn’t exactly a popular guy, widely despised by his people and nobles alike.
John constantly taxed and plundered his subjects to finance pointless wars abroad. He extorted them with ever-increasing fines and imprisoned people for absurd, victimless crimes.
He used his local police (sheriffs) to confiscate private property under threat of violence, building them into the most feared and powerful force in the kingdom.
According to Harry Buffardi’s book “The History of the Office of the Sheriff”, King John deliberately selected “men of harsh demeanor for the post”.
(Does any of this sound familiar?)
The historical evidence suggests that John was so hated that he was assassinated by poison; Shakespeare dramatizes this episode in his little known play King John, which contains the most wonderful death line “[N]ow my soul hath elbow-room. . .”
Before he departed this earth, however, King John was forced to make certain concessions to the nobles who had waged all-out rebellion against him.
After taking London, the rebel barons met John to formalize these concessions at a picturesque riverside meadow called Runnymede, not far from Heathrow airport.
The contract they hammered out on June 15, 1215 (which is actually June 22nd in our modern calendar) contained a list of rights and privileges that eventually became known as Magna Carta.
And to this day it continues to be held up as some sort of holy document that spawned everything from the English Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution.
Over the weekend I went to a special Magna Carta exhibit at the British Library in London, which praised the document for building the foundation of personal liberty (ironically while all of us were under CCTV surveillance).
That’s certainly the official story.
The National Archives in the US calls Magna Carta “one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy,” and that “during the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense.”
Yet this is a total myth, as much as “Columbus discovered America.”
The truth is that Magna Carta was a document for the nobles, by the nobles. No one gave a damn about the common people.
The document outlined numerous privileges and protections for nobles, including lower taxes, freedom from wanton imprisonment, and due process.
(Curiously Magna Carta also mandated widespread deforestation across England.)
Yet virtually all of these wonderful rights specifically excluded the serfs. Magna Carta only entitled the Nobles to freedom.
Very little has changed.
Eight centuries later, we still have nobles who come from political-banking dynasties… House Clinton, House Bush, House Goldman… all living above the commoners.
Meanwhile governments and police are still extorting people, confiscating their property through civil asset forfeiture, imprisoning them for victimless crimes, and waging pointless wars abroad.
Sure we can sing songs about our freedom. But that doesn’t make it true.
Neither does writing down freedoms on a piece of paper.
Governments’ behavior shows that they couldn’t possibly care less about any rights that were written down in some centuries-old charter.
Just because it’s in a document doesn’t mean they’ll adhere to it.
And that was perhaps the most humorous irony at the exhibit. At the very end they had an original Magna Carta from 800 years ago. But it’s been so worn away with time that it was completely illegible.
I chuckled and thought to myself, “That’s about right.”
But here’s the thing: we don’t need a piece of paper to tell us that we’re free.
Human beings are born free. Freedom isn’t handed to us by kings or politicians. It’s not awarded by contract.
Freedom is natural. And we don’t have to wait around for House Clinton or King Barry First of His Name to grant it to us.
It’s fine to write it down. But if people don’t truly care about being free, the document will amount to nothing but an illegible artifact at a museum exhibit.
Each of us has the ability to do something to take back our freedom. All the tools and resources already exist.
It’s the Digital Age. We’re no longer bound by geography. Banks. Governments. Even borders themselves. They’re all becoming increasingly irrelevant.
This is powerful stuff, and critically important to take advantage of while things are still ‘normal’.
Right now it’s pretty clear that the temperature is rising. People are starting to wake up to the fact that, when it really counts, they’re no more free than a medieval serf.
They pay taxes at gunpoint. They have no access to real justice.
And many of the most important aspects of their lives, from the value of their savings to their medical care to the way they’re allowed to educate their own children, are tightly controlled.
If the surge in riots and anti-government violence is any indicator, it looks like history may be repeating itself. And we may soon be reaching our own Runnymede moment.