Inalienable Rights of Man – Charting Freedom and Liberty

Edmund Burke

Events happen in history because of contributing factors. Without understanding the complex context and circumstances it is almost impossible for the rest of us to make well-balanced informed decisions that benefit the majority of citizens.

…from the people and for the people all springs and all must exist*

The accompanying media storm and relief surrounding the death of the most hunted and hated terrorist in the world Osama Bin Laden in 2011 was surely similar to when the death of Hitler was announced during my parent’s lifetime.

It was at the time unashamedly good news for a great many people. While surrounded by people with guns it was revealed that he did not have one.

So the question will always be asked. Was he executed after all of those around him had died, or did he die in the middle of the firefight as confusion reigned?

Smoke from the Twin Towers & Lady Liberty

Smoke from the Twin Towers & Lady Liberty

This event perhaps only added fuel to a fire, which has been raging for over ten years since that dreadful September day in New York in 2001 when the twin towers of the Trade Centre came down in New York and over 3000 people were murdered.

If he had lived the dilemma for world leaders would have been sorting out where to put him on trial by jury. And, who would make up an unbiased jury? This would have been as agonizing as deciding where to bury his body was for President Obama and his National Security Team.

We know a great deal of discussion happened prior to the attack, based on gathered intelligence. Like all such incursions the operation was also subject to circumstances, such as one of the helicopters crashing. This could not have been foreseen and surely would have impacted on the flow and procedure of the operation.

I present you a small treatise in defense of those principles of freedom, which your exemplary virtue hath so eminently contributed to establish. That the Rights of Man may become as universal as your benevolence can wish, and that you may enjoy the happiness of seeing the New World regenerate the Old, is the prayer of
Your much obliged, and
Obedient humble Servant,

Over the centuries many men and women have perished under many flags, in many battles and horrific wars on their own, and on foreign soil.

To prevent that happening again in America President Obama and his national security team on behalf of the many took a stand. Inevitably the death of Osama Bin Laden will include a discussion about the inalienable rights of man, which so many in the west have fought long and hard to establish and to protect.

We progress and mature by fault and human frailty.

Perhaps it is helpful to keep reminding ourselves about the evolution of charting freedom and liberty for all – by examining one main source, England’s Magna Carta, a document of unrivaled importance in the history of freedom and liberty in the west, celebrating its 800th anniversary June 15, 2015.

Magna Carta, a document of unrivaled importance in the history of the West

The Magna Carta is an ultimate talisman of liberty and freedom. Its famous clause 39 has remained constant in history. It proclaimed:‘…no free man shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go or send against him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers of by the law of the land’.

It became “The Bible of the English Constitution” as nineteenth century Prime Minister of England William Pitt called it, for those traveling to North America and became part of the Common Law the colonists took with them.

In December 2010 the only copy of England’s Magna Carta still in private hands was sold for $21.32 million dollar to an American corporate leader.

It was one of the 17 originals written in Latin on a sheet of animal skin vellum and first acceded to by King John at Runnymede, Surrey in 1215.

It had a royal seal attached hanging from a ribbon at the bottom of the parchment.

Prof Richard Sharpe, Fellow of Wadham College and Professor of Diplomatic gave a gallery talk in the Divinity School on Magna Carta 19.12.2007 and explained that the seventeen surviving manuscripts on the Magna Carta are engrossments, not copies: official documents from Royal Chancery bearing the ruler’s seal. Agreed by King John at Runnymede in 1215, the document was revised and re-issued over the next 80 years by successive monarchs.

The three 1217 engrossments that are in the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford were issued by the boy King Henry III (1207-1272) and bear the seals of his guardians William Marchal and the papal legate Cardinal Guala. Three of the four Magna Carta were bequeathed to the Library at the close of the 17th century by antiquarian Anthony Wood.

For the English of the thirteenth century the agreement of the terms and conditions of this document was a huge step in protecting people against unlawful imprisonment by ensuring such rights as trial by jury and freedom from unlawful arrest.

Edmund BurkeAnglo-Irish statesmen, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797) wrote that it was ‘engraven on the hearts of Englishmen’. It was introduced to limit the powers of a monarch. According to British historian Christ McGovern “It didn’t achieve anything at the time…it’s impact lasted about three months under King John”.

What this ancient document achieved was to set a precedent for taking absolute power from the monarch, and giving it to the people so today it is seen as an ‘inspiration for modern democracy’. Only four copies dating from the reign of King John remain in the world, although there are copies dating from other reigns.

The man who purchased the copy was Mr Rubenstein a founder of the Carlyle private equity group and a former deputy domestic policy adviser to President Carter. He promptly donated it back to the National Archives in Washington where it had previously been on loan. The Times quoted him as saying on the day he purchased it,

“I thought it was very important the Magna Carta stay in the United States, and I was concerned the only copy in the United States might escape the United States as a result of this auction,” he said.

His sentiment is more than admirable. He contributed his own funds to remind the people of the United States, and through them the rest of the western world, ‘… the road those feet in ancient times walking upon England’s mountains green’, was littered with blood and tears along the route western civilization has taken since the signing of Magna Carta.

This document symbolizes for many mankind’s eternal quest to be free and to respect those freedoms, sorely won.

It’s probably little known in America, Canada and Australia, all originally colonies of Britain, that on the very spot at Runnymede where the original charter was sealed in 1215 by King John under pressure from a gang of Barons leaning over him, there is a green and lovely part of the English countryside that forever belongs to America.

Queen Elizabeth II and her government following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, handed the gift of an acre of land at Runnymede to the American people.

A memorial to the late-president inscribed with words from his inaugural speech on liberty was installed. ‘Let every Nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty

The memorial built by the American Bar Association has become a point of pilgrimage for its members.

In 1215: The Year of Magna Carta published in 2005, the books authors Danny Danziger and John Gillingham wrote: ‘In 1971, the American Bar Association came here and pledged their adherence to the principles of the Great Charter – and again, in July 1985, returning once more in July 2000 ‘to celebrate Magna Carta, foundation of the rule of law for ages past and for the new millennium’.

This fresco, painted by Raphael for the Vatican apartments of Pope Julius II, depicts Aristotle as a symbol of the active life and Plato as a symbol of the contemplative life, both of which go hand in glove when forming theories of democratic freedom and liberty

The world trade twin towers were a symbol to the success of capitalism and western democracy, which is why terrorists targeted them.

People may believe they deserve a day of public thanksgiving, festivity, and joy at the execution of a terrorist perceiving Justice has been done.

Whether or not that is the case is not up for discussion here. This is about the world’s deliverance from tyranny inspired by documents such as Magna Carta.

Mr Rubenstein said  “I am a person who has served in government myself. I worked in the White House as a young man. At that time I recognised the importance of these kind of documents and the importance of freedom.”

He also admitted he could not actually read it himself because he had avoided learning Latin at school — a decision he regretted when older.

The death and life of Osama Bin Laden has and will continue to have ramifications, but only if ‘we’, the west let it.

Ongoing frank dialogue with world leaders on behalf of us all about this action and the future is of utmost importance. Those involved must aspire to remain steadfast, true, independent, balanced and helpful for those in confusion over the decision to rid the world of one of the most evil men in history.

We must ensure that history studied through its seminal events becomes commonplace in writing popular history and in the writing of undergraduate and high school texts. We must not let our children grow up without a concept of the origin and evolution of their society or like history, they will be condemned to repeat its many mistakes.

The Battle at Marathon in ancient Greece 2500 years ago changed the course and concept of democracy as a viable governing system and it is from that point on we have proceeded following its principles.

So do we believe the Magna Carta was a failed experiment, an idea whose time had not come? Not really. It was copied and revised several times until the version completed in 1225 and became effectively enshrined in British law by 1297.

Throughout the centuries since radicals and reactionaries used the example of the charter to bolster whatever issues on liberty dominated events at the time. Subsequently it was amended and rewritten many times to suit the needs of successive generations.

Today in England they are still progressing its ideas further endeavouring to “create a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a big society that will take power away from the politicians and give it back to the people”.

By introducing laws to limit the powers of government so that in the future wars will be a decision of the members of parliament elected by the people, not government, is a debatable move and should be of enormous interest to everyone.

In reality will we have time to wait for a Parliament to sit and debate an issue? Or will it be left to a smaller group of committed intelligent people that it elects, such as those in President Obama’s war room, to decide on all our behalf?

What we know now, and have acknowledged is that human beings are not perfect. If we accept that and believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, in liberty and freedom then we must stop speculating about ‘what might have happened’ because we cannot ever be sure what would have resulted from alternative outcomes.

To continue the debate seems fruitless: ‘what has been will be again. What has been done will be done again’ Ecclesiastes 1:9.

light from the open doorInstead we must prove our faith in those we have given the charge of securing our freedoms, by placing an emphasis on the positive aspects of the western democratic model, stressing the importance of those people taking responsibility on our behalf and acknowledging their achievements.

Only then can we but hope, like those Barons at Runnymede did when Prince John agreed to their charter, that their brave stand and actions that matched their words will ultimately lead to building a better society for all.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2011 – 2013

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