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The Magna Carta Manifesto

The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All

Peter Linebaugh
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    The Magna Carta Manifesto
    Book Description:

    This remarkable book shines a fierce light on the current state of liberty and shows how longstanding restraints against tyranny—and the rights of habeas corpus, trial by jury, and due process of law, and the prohibition of torture—are being abridged. In providing a sweeping history of Magna Carta, the source of these protections since 1215, this powerful book demonstrates how these ancient rights are repeatedly laid aside when the greed of privatization, the lust for power, and the ambition of empire seize a state. Peter Linebaugh draws on primary sources to construct a wholly original history of the Great Charter and its scarcely-known companion, the Charter of the Forest, which was created at the same time to protect the subsistence rights of the poor.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93270-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    In a communiqué from the Lancandan jungle of Central America Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesman of the revolt of indigenous people that burst upon the world in 1994, referred to Magna Carta. The brilliant postmodern revolt of Mexico cited a tedious premodern source of England in 1215. That reference prompted this book. To be sure its overall genesis lay within the emergency posed by the autocratic aggressions of the Bush regime but what actually prodded me to put pen to paper on this subject was a mistake in translation, or rather an absence of translation altogether, because in Mexico it so...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Two Charters
    (pp. 21-45)

    For eight centuries Magna Carta has been venerated. “It was born with a grey Beard,” Samuel Johnson said. The Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641), the Virginia Bill of Rights (1776), the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution quote its language.¹ The story of the political and legal rights is known. Indeed it is too well known, inasmuch as it is remembered largely as myth and as icon, as part of the foundation of Western civilization. In 1956 Winston Churchill published the first volume of hisHistory of the English-Speaking Peoplesin which he glorified Anglo-American “brotherhood,” “destiny,” and...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Commodity and the Commons
    (pp. 46-68)

    The sixteenth century was an age of exploration; it was the century of the Tudor dynasty; it began with the Protestant Reformation and ended with the age of Shakespeare; it was the first age of print; it was an epoch of vagabondage when letters were written in blood and fire; it was the climax of medieval feudalism and the beginning of modern capitalism; it was an era in the separation of town and country, and of journeymen unprotected by guilds; it was an age of terrors and the burning of the witches. It gave birth to the prison and to...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Charters Lost and Found
    (pp. 69-93)

    Bertolt Brecht wrote against enslavement and genocide. They were the horrors against which the antifascist generation fought, postponing friendliness, revolution, and talk of trees. Brecht implored forbearance from “those born later.” Adrienne Rich came later, she answered him. To her the trees concealed the memory of a deeper revolution of meeting houses and signified a woman-friendly ecology where mushrooms could be gathered, for example. The relation of enslavement and the war-making state to the expropriation of the commons and the assault upon women originated in the seventeenth century. Then the ax triumphed in two senses, namely, by decapitation and defoliation,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Charters in Blackface and Whiteface
    (pp. 94-118)

    The enclosure movement and the slave trade ushered industrial capitalism into the modern world. By 1832 England was largely closed, its countryside privatized (some even mechanized), in contrast to a century earlier when its fields were largely open—“champion” country, to use the happy technical term—and yeomen, children, women could subsist by commoning. By 1834 slavery had been abolished in the British empire whereas a century earlier, on 11 September 1713, theasientolicensed British slavers to trade African slaves throughout the Americas. Together the expelled commoners and the captured Africans provided the labor power available for exploitation in...

  10. CHAPTER SIX 1776 and Runnamede
    (pp. 119-143)

    Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence from June 1776 is preserved as a “Charter of Freedom” in the Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington DC along with the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Harry S. Truman dedicated the rotunda in December 1952, warning against the documents becoming idols. In September 2003 George W. Bush rededicated the rotunda, praising the signers of the Declaration of Independence for becoming “the enemy of an empire.” Skirting on idolatry himself, he went on to imply heaven-sent significance. “The true revolution was not to defy one earthly power, but...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Law of the Jungle
    (pp. 144-169)

    “A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe. We are haunted by a ghost, the ghost of Communism”—is the opening of theCommunist Manifestoin its first English translation.

    The translator was Helen MacFarlane, a Lancashire Chartist, whose choice of words derived from the forest commons—“Hob” was the name of a country laborer, “goblin” a mischievous sprite. Thus communism manifested itself in theManifestoin the discourse of the agrarian commons, the substrate of language revealing the imprint of the clouted shoon in the sixteenth century who fought to have all things common. The trajectory from the commons to communism...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Magna Carta and the U.S. Supreme Court
    (pp. 170-191)

    If we were to summarize what we have found so far about Magna Carta and make a hasty march through the past, century by century, leading up to the Constitution of the United States, it might be as follows:

    Created in the thirteenth century in the context of crusading as an armistice in civil war, the Charters of Liberties, both big and small, gradually became foundational to statute, law, and common right in the growth of English monarchy and the other constituents of the realm, such as church, town, family, and commons. At the dawn of modern capitalism in the...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Icon and Idol
    (pp. 192-217)

    For a time during the twentieth century, the cultural development of Magna Carta led to its reification: it ceased to be an active constitutional force and became a symbol characterized by ambiguity, mystery, and nonsense. It began to disappear as precise law. Without the steady discipline of legal interpretation and amplification, its meanings were loosened, and by 1957 they were actually inverted. It became an idol of the ruling class. It did not start out that way.

    At the end of the nineteenth century the progressive mayor of Cleveland, Tom L. Johnson, made a pilgrimage to British cities; his principal...

  14. CHAPTER TEN This Land Was Made by You and Me
    (pp. 218-241)

    Justice Souter smiles at the fish weirs of the river Thames as if to say, How ridiculous in our own day and age to display a document eight centuries old concerning a river some thousands of miles away with its medieval practices that scarcely anyone, apart from a handful of scholars and one or two locals, pretends to understand! The abstract reasoners of the Court might be equally likely to smile at a dispute in New Jersey’s Raritan Bay over its oyster beds. Yet, as we’ve seen, though the case ofMartin v. Lessee of Waddell(1842) seems to be...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Constitution of the Commons
    (pp. 242-268)

    Magnae Chartae Libertatum Angliae, or “The Great Charters of the Liberties of England,” as Coke or Blackstone named them, have occupied the first page of the law books of England ever since law books were printed. They stipulated restraints upon the royal realm: they provided subsistence in the common realm. We are taught that these are archaic relics of feudalism, or we are taught that they are peculiarities of the English. I have argued that the reliquary leads to the idol and the idol destroys what it purports to preserve. As for the peculiarities of the English the practice of...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE Conclusion
    (pp. 269-280)

    A missing charter preceded Magna Carta. In 1235 the chronicler Roger Wendover wrote that Archbishop Stephen Langton discovered a charter in 1213 of “antient liberties” from the time of Henry I. Langton informed the barons that this charter could be the means “by which (if they pleased) they might re-establish their ancient liberties.” And this led them to swear an oath to “contend for those liberties even to death itself.” The charter of liberty sealed at Runnymede was the result. The commoning vectors in our recent past have referred to Magna Carta as ancient liberty.

    The connection between lost liberties...

  17. APPENDIX The Great Charters of the Liberties of England; or, Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest
    (pp. 281-300)
    (pp. 301-312)
    (pp. 313-320)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 321-352)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 353-353)