Libertarian History/Philosophy

What Magna Carta Can Teach Us About Libertarian Strategy

It's important not to conflate philosophy and strategy.

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The middle of next month will mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. My knowledge of the "great charter" is modest, to be sure, but lately I have been reading about it and its legacy.

[See the "Liberty Matters" discussion, in which I have a small editorial role, going on this month at Liberty Fund's Online Library of Liberty. Also listen to Nicholas Vincent's conversation with Russ Roberts on EconTalk. Vincent is the author of Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction.] 

Magna Carta was an agreement a group of rebellious barons forced on King John on June 15, 1215, at Runnymede, a meadow on the Thames in England, about midway between London and Windsor Castle. I won't attempt to summarize the gripping story, but I'll oversimplify by saying that the barons were fed up with the king's demands for revenue to finance war in France and John felt compelled to agree to their demands to rein in his power; in his estimation, refusal would have brought less-desirable consequences. The English branch of the Catholic church (this was pre-Reformation, of course) also had an interest in protecting itself from the king, and its concerns were addressed in the document, all 63 clauses of which were written in Latin on a single sheet of sheep-skin parchment.  

The charter is one of those things that virtually everyone across the political spectrum (however defined) has invoked in support of his or her cause. As the scholars point out in the "Liberty Matters" discussion, dissidents have held it up as a shield against tyrants, while kings have used it to defend the legitimacy of their rule. It's been enlisted in a variety of missions. Advocates of slavery took refuge in Magna Carta, but so did the proto-libertarian Levellers.

It's tempting to think of Magna Carta as a declaration of the limits of state power and therefore as an early charter of liberty. But the arguments against this perspective are persuasive. It contains little if any political philosophy. As Nicholas Vincent says, the barons would be appalled by modern conceptions of liberty. It's also important to note that the barons, who appealed to English tradition, were not interested in everyone's liberty but only the liberty of a small minority of free men. The language imposing limits on the king's power was vague at best. Bringing the king under the rule of law sounds promising, but it leaves open the question of what the law should be. That was the king's province. The much-lauded clause 39 in the 1215 Magna Carta (there were several versions) states:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. [Emphasis added.]

The italicized words are hardly crystal clear. Trial by jury in criminal matters did not exist at that time. These words are followed by:

To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

Again, this sounds promising, but what is right or justice when the king owns his realm?

The principle "no taxation without baronial consent" also appears, though not in those exact words, of course. Nevertheless, the barons were not proto-libertarians. Defending the liberties of "free men" left a lot of people out of the class of beneficiaries. What the barons sought to minimize were John's arbitrary diktats over themselves. They didn't want it so "good to be the king."

Regardless, neither side abided by the agreement, and war between king and barons ensued. King John appealed for help from Pope Innocent III, who excommunicated the barons and declared Magna Carta null and void because the king signed under duress. However, it was reissued by subsequent kings, albeit with important changes from the original, such as elimination of clause 61, which called for the creation of a council of barons that could sanction the king for wrongdoing.

Why would any king reissue a charter that appeared to limit his power? Because having power doesn't mean never having to bargain with those who would oppose you—bargaining may be the least costly way to maintain some power. [This point is made clear in the excellent British television series Monarchy.]

As Magna Carta scholars point out, the interpretation (mythology) and impact of the charter over the last eight centuries are as important as—maybe more important than—the document and the authors' intentions themselves. Even if it wasn't actually a charter of liberty, it is regarded as such—by people, as I've already noted, who have widely differing views on liberty.

This has implications for libertarian strategy today.

That genuine liberty—in the sense of what Roderick Long calls "equality of authority"—can grow out of efforts intended to achieve something less is worth keeping in mind. I claim no profound insights in the matter of strategy, but I do know that social processes, like the people who actuate them, are complex, and therefore unintended consequences—good and bad—are ubiquitous and to be expected. This makes devising a strategy for social change complicated and more likely impossible. There's no algorithm for changing a society from unlibertarian to libertarian. We have no script. That's an argument for the "let a thousand flowers bloom" strategy. [An earlier "Liberty Matters" examined the "spread of liberal ideas" through history.]

If troublesome barons in the 13th century helped to promote future general liberty without its being part of their intention, the case for libertarian optimism may be buoyed. Things may look bleak on a variety of fronts, but we can never know what might turn the tide. Magna Carta is not the only example of such unintended consequences. In Lust for Liberty: The Politics of Social Revolt in Medieval Europe, 1200-1425, Samuel K. Cohn Jr. describes many peaceful and violent acts of resistance against local tyranny, some of which won significant concessions from rulers. It is unlikely the rebels carried a treatise on political philosophy under their arms or a theory of rights in their heads. They didn't gather in the village square to hear a political philosopher read from his latest treatise. The rebels simply reacted against particular burdens that had become intolerable; they did not set out to make a libertarian society. Yet they created facts on the ground, not always permanent, and set precedents for their descendents.

It's more than likely that theorists developed their ideas after studying local revolts. In those days, theory and history weren't compartmentalized. So it's a mistake to think that libertarian theory must precede libertarian social action or that inchoate resistance unguided by "pure" libertarianism can't make real progress toward liberty. Couldn't a thinker spin out a theory of individual rights without prompting from history? It's possible, but it seems more likely that historical episodes jump-started the intellectual process and that theory and action (history) will mutually determine each other.

If you want more a modern example to go with Cohn's, I recommend Thaddeus Russell's A Renegade History of the United States, which chronicles how liberty was won in the streets through the misbehavior of riffraff who probably never read Locke or Paine or even Jefferson.

There is no one right strategy. If anything proves successful, it will be a loose web of complementary strategies (perhaps too loose to call a "web"), with a good measure of improvisation. Theories will prompt action; and action will prompt theories. Some approaches will consist in what will be labeled "compromise." [Oh horror!] That is, individuals and organizations will advance liberty through partial measures to reduce state power. Savvy libertarians will capitalize on such measures to push for more progress toward liberty ("if you liked Measure X, you'll love Measure Y"). They won't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In truth, no compromise is involved if an incremental step is regarded as such and not as an end in itself.

I need not point out —or need I?—that merely because one incremental measure meets the libertarian standard as a genuine short-run step toward liberty, not all measures represented as such must do so. Each proposal is to be judged on its own merits, and good-faith disagreements are to be expected. That's the nature of the endeavor. I see no reason for libertarians, in the name of purity, to withhold support for steps that make real progress toward liberty and pave the way for more.

The libertarian movement needs individuals and organization that devote their efforts to sound incrementalism, just as it needs those who do nothing more than teach pure libertarian philosophy. These approaches need not be at odds. In fact, they are complementary. One without the other is unlikely to succeed because society is unlikely to turn libertarian or dismantle the state all at once. Incrementalism without a guiding philosophy probably won't get us all the way to where we want to go, while merely issuing declarations about libertarianism is unlikely to bring about change. How do we get from here to there if it won't happen in a single bound?

It's important not to conflate philosophy and strategy. An uncompromising market anarchist can coherently embrace incrementalism, understanding that because of most people's conservatism, the state will not be abolished overnight. Murray Rothbard used to say that libertarians should take any rollback of state power they can get. In today's environment, we won't be setting the priorities.

What strikes me as futile is a "strategy" that consists in little more than boldly announcing that—if one could—one would push a button to (make most of the) government go away. That approach tells the uninitiated something about the speaker, but it says little about why a free society is worth achieving and why the state is our enemy. That requires something more than moralizing shock therapy.

This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog.

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  1. If you want more a modern example to go with Cohn’s, I recommend Thaddeus Russell’s A Renegade History of the United States, which chronicles how liberty was won in the streets through the misbehavior of riffraff who probably never read Locke or Paine or even Jefferson.

    Actually, in Foner’s book on Paine, he relates that in the taverns of Colonial Era America, open readings of Paine’s Common Sense were commonplace for the benefit of the semi- and totally illiterate.

    1. Common Sense was not published until January 1776. By that time, all royal magistrates had been ejected from New England (save Boston); the Continental Army had been formed; and the Second Continental Congress was in session. In March 1776, the British were ejected from Boston.

      The Common Sense brand of republicanism was wildly popular because it was a literate and forceful restatement and justification of what the people already knew, believed and had acted upon.

      The Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641strongly influenced the Leveller Agreements of the People, the Putney Debates, the Grandee’s Hards of Proposals and Cromwell’s Instrument of Government; all of which arose from the people.

      Similarly, Locke’s treatises on government were nothing more than whiggish restatements and refinements of the Leveller and Digger tracts of the 1640-50s and the Instrument of Government. Before Locke, James Harrington published Oceana and Algernon Sidney was executed based on a privately circulated manuscript of his Discourse on Government. Both Harrington and Sidney were officers in the New Model Army who learned their republicanism first hand from the men they led.

      1. The Common Sense brand of republicanism was wildly popular because it was a literate and forceful restatement and justification of what the people already knew, believed and had acted upon.

        You mean people thought it was just, wait for it, “common sense”? 🙂

        I agree with you, but there is something to be said for successfully articulating what other people feel, is there not?

  2. And before this thread turns into a clusterfuck, what’s everybody cooking today? We’re grilling cornish game hens (the veal of chicken!); how about you?

    1. Venison backstrap medallions, hash browns and grilled asparagus.

      1. Nice….have you tried hash browns cooked in duck fat? If not,I warn you that it will spoil you after you have it for the first time.

        1. No, but there are a few fat mallard drakes waddling around my neighborhood.

          How hard do I have to wring those self-important little bastards to get the fat out?

          The hash browns are so that all the juice from the venison can be soaked up and eaten. The backstrap is barely broiled so it is almost raw.

          The kids and I love it, but my wife is already planning an alternate menu for herself and muttering in Korean about how she married a barbarian who is ruining her kids.

          1. Is the complaint that the venison is too cooked or hasn’t been stuck in a clay pot with cabbage for six months until it’s stomach turning?

            1. CL maybe you are right. She might come around if I could come up with a good way to kimchify it.

              No, she believes that meat should be cooked completely through.

              1. Interesting. That must be something the Koreans have in common with the Thais. My wife is always bitching about how I cook my meat too raw. It’s medium well for crying out loud!

            2. A good friend of mine is Korean; she’s also married to another friend of many years who does the cooking in the household. He asked about that and I was privy to the answer, which was that without refrigeration, in a hot, humid environment, fermentation or thorough cooking were culturally ingrained to prevent illness.

              No way in hell she’d eat beef that was pink in the middle.

              1. Late to the party, but yes, one of the biggest fights my wife and I went through was about refrigerating food.

                She grew up most of her life without a refrigerator (born ’64) and she thinks that if you are going boil or recook everything, there is really no reason to get so anal about regrigerating things.

                I grew up in the US and was taught that unthawing your turkey at room temp was a sure fire way to kill you and all your Thanksgiving guests.

                When we first started living together we really got into it over this. Intellectually I realize that if you are reboiling some soup the next day you don’t have to refrigerate it. However, I almost always get some horrible dose of food poisoning whenever I visit Korea.

                I’d like to tell you I won the argument, but given that I am the husband, you’d all see through that lie. We have sort of settled on a middle ground. When we have steak I normally will burn the shit out of a piece or two of it for her. She pretends to put most stuff in the fridge to humor me.

          2. In recent decades around here the quackers have been mostly displaced by the honkers.

            1. Peckers, either way.

    2. Porterhouses with potato salad.

      John Nash died in a traffic accident.

      1. That’s a shame.

        About Nash, not your choice of food, which is excellent.

      2. I’m making potato salad by surface-sauteeing red potato pieces with garlic in chicken fat, then broiling them, chilling them, & mixing w chopped celery & blue cheese dressing.

        1. Love the schmaltz….not sure about the blue cheese dressing. Just not a fan…

          1. I love bleu cheese, but in the above recipe it would seem to overpower all the fatty, broily flavors.

            1. It’s just WishBone in this case (on sale), so not a lot of blue cheese in it, really.

    3. Tebasaki. You guys can keep your buffalo wings.

      1. I had some smoked wings Friday that were to die for.

    4. Mrs. Candy gets back from a trip today, which ends my Indo-Chinese eating binge. Likely we’ll have an arugula and tomato salad, some grilled asparagus, and a couple pizzas, all washed down with Steve Edmunds’s superb “Bone Jolly” rose. I’ve been toying with the idea of a vegetarian sinigang, so I may be able to slip that one past her.

    5. About as far as I’ve gotten to day was getting some crepe batter made and into the fridge. Have some cooked shrimp thawing out so probably make a batch of cocktail sauce after I shower.

    6. Heading down to Newport Beach to do some Sunday Funday drinking. Probably be a little torn up when we get home, but i’m planning on making spaghetti with meat sauce. Ground beef, mild Italian sausage, onion, garlic, hand-crushed tomatoes, olives, and roasted red peppers. A bottle of wine.

      1. Do you crush the olives too, or are they in some other condition in the mixture?

        1. Just kalamatas, pitted and quartered. And I’m doing Barilla pasta. Not geeking out today and making my own noodles.

          Newport Beach Sunday Funday Update: I’m 6 vodkas in and the Dodgers lost and I’m hanging with beautiful women and life is okay.

    7. Hot dogs and hamburgers, corn on the cob and sculpin on tap

      1. Traditional summer American can’t be beat.

      2. “sculpin on tap”

        So do you put them in the blender first, or…?

    8. Smoked wild turkey with mashed potatoes and wild asparagus gathered fresh yesterday from the banks of a local river. And beer, of course.

      1. I googled foraging for wild asparagus. Looks awesome. I want to move to Portland at least part of the year so I can go hiking and forage.

    9. Barbecue Denver-style lamb ribs, masked potatoes and spinach salad with goat cheese and homemade lingonberry vinaigrette.

      1. *mashed

      2. I had to Google for what Denver style meant. Seems to refer primarily to 2 things, but I’m guessing you meant the cut, which is ribs w/o sternum, which makes it a lot more convenient than when the sternum is attached. The other meaning seems to attach to a type or brand of sauce, containing I know not what.

        1. It’s basically the same as St Louis spare ribs, only lamb instead of pork

    10. The potato salad I mentioned below. That’s to go with pork spare ribs I’ll be broiling with ketchup, cole slaw I made yesterday, & radish-garlic relish/sauce. Plus broiled carrots, raw plum tomato.

      The cole slaw was of green cabbage (I also make a red cole slaw w red dressing) & carrot shavings dressed w cheap mayonnaise, vinegar, powdered mustard, sugar, & cloves.

      The radish-garlic sauce is an interesting discovery I made a few yrs. ago. Mince red radishes & raw garlic, about 3 times the volume of radish to garlic, mix those w just enough mayonnaise (regular or low-fat, but not fat-free) to coat, then refrigerate for a time depending on how wet & hot I want it. The longer you let it sit, the more juice comes out & the “hotter” it gets, changing from a relish to a sauce consistency. 1 hour for mild, 4 hrs. for strong, a day for extra powerful. Produces lots of gas from both ends of me, as if I didn’t have enough of that already, but no prominent increase of duty in the pants.

    11. Beef. Lots of beef. Steaks, burgers, tubes.

      There are no Philistines in my household.

      Moo

      1. I think I’m in love.

    12. Merguez sausages, roasted cauliflower and chickpea salad, fresh-baked country loaf bread and some homemade Gew?rztraminer wine (Alsace-Lorraine style, though it’s lacking a certain spiciness… mebbe next time…). The spousal unit and I have been packing all day for movers who are coming to the condo tomorrow to begin the ending of our long relocation nightmare.

      The Lower Mainland of British Columbia will look much better when we’re finally in a single-family dwelling rather than these filing cabinets for people.

  3. The latest EconTalk goes into the weeds of the Magna Carta. Russ Roberts does a geat job of breaking up a lot of “narrative” we’re told about this “sanctimonious” document

    1. Haven’t listened to that one yet, I am two weeks behind on podcasts.

  4. Always conflate philosophy with strategy. If you master the principles of sword-fencing, when you freely beat one man, you beat any man in the world. The spirit of defeating a man is the same for ten million men. The principle of strategy is having one thing, to know ten thousand things.

  5. The Magna Carta is worse than Adam Lanza.

    1. I see no difference between the Magna Carta and Mein Kampf

      1. One was written by Norman-English aristocracy. The other was written by German thugs.

        1. You say tomato. I say tomahto

    2. The Magna Carta’s authority was never recognized in Fort Kick-Ass… take solace in that.

      1. I’m here to kick ass and chew bubblegum and I’m all out of bubblegum

    3. the lanza gag gets staler every time

      1. You gotta admit it’s fresher than monocle jokes and Big Lebowski quotes.

        What about references to Columbia Journalism School – those are still funny, right?

  6. OT, but I think this looks like a great winter project for next year.

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=jAMATekiRUs

    1. I am trying to figure if not wearing a seatbelt is some superior strategy?

      1. Quick death vs a lingering one.

      2. I’ve seen stats (not intended to convey this, but they do) & heard expert opinion that seat belts don’t save lives, although helmets would. Probably seat belts prevent non-lethal injuries more.

        What passenger & driver restraints do is prevent secondary collisions, i.e. body flying into hard stuff inside the vehicle. Unfortunately they can also make it hard for the wearer to duck objects thrown or projected at the wearer’s head.

        Nothing works vs. crushing, though.

        1. I’ve heard that seat belts don’t save lives because drivers drive faster. Basically, people take the same amount of risk, just get more value for it.

          1. I have heard the opposite, although it was anecdotal evidence and not statistically valid (“State Troopers say they never have to cut seatbelts to remove a corpse in an auto accident”). Not trying to be confrontative, just trying to figure out what is the truth.

            Of course helmets would help, but that’s not on the table except for racers and hypotheticals. I would note that racers rely heavily on their harness of shoulder and seat belts.

    2. Cue the calls for mandatory seat-belts in the back seat (again). “John’s Law”.

  7. “As Magna Carta scholars point out, the interpretation (mythology) and impact of the charter over the last eight centuries are as important as?maybe more important than?the document and the authors’ intentions themselves.”

    Yeah, the principles behind our rights didn’t emerge from the opinions of theorists or the intentions of the Magna Carta’s authors (or any other authors). Our understanding of our natural rights emerged from observation, but neither the Magna Carta’s authors nor the theorists invented the principles of freedom or our rights behind them any more than Newton invented gravity.

    Recognizing our legal rights may have been novel at some point in time, but our rights in law are a pale shadow of our natural rights–the real thing. And it should be noted that–through observation and over time–we tend to get the same results when the law comes into conflict with our natural rights regardless of time in history or culture.

    From King John in the Middle Ages to dictators in modern South America, Southeast Asia, or Africa, when the government violates our natural rights, it tends to produce the same kinds of consequences. Those negative consequences tend to persist–throughout time and across cultures–until the law is brought into harmony with our natural rights. If God invented our natural rights, then he may not have had a choice–because societies cannot flourish over time without respecting them.

    1. “If God invented our natural rights, then he may not have had a choice–because societies cannot flourish over time without respecting them.”

      Well put, and I agree! It’s something akin to the laws of physics and chemistry, but on a much higher level of magnitudes of complexities.

      On the theological front, I have news for you? “God” doesn’t even have any choice on whether to exist, or not, and along similar lines. If “God” is defined as that which answers our very most important prayers? Prayers for peace? If we had true peace, and no need for military spending, can you IMAGINE how much better we’d be off?!?! Well anyway, if we all prayed sincerely enough (for peace) tomorrow, to a God that may or may not exist, then peace would come about, regardless! We can’t pray for peace sincerely, and go screw over our neighbor, or start a war, in the next minute. “God” existing in a concrete sense, or not, is irrelevant here? So “God” has no choice, but to exist! The important choice (of whether to pray for peace, or for non-peace, in all of its ten zillion ugly flavors) is ours! One could thus argue that WE, not “God”, are the ones with the power of choice!

      1. The reference to whether God had a choice was intended to do two things: it was meant to channel Einstein’s “What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world”, and it was meant to counter the typical knee-jerk rejection of natural rights on the basis that there is no God.

        In the past, “God given rights” may have been taken literally as rights given to us by God by the masses, but to both theorists and average people, it also meant that our natural rights are different from our legal rights in that they do not originate from government. Certainly, there were libertarian benefits in people believing in God from that perspective.

        The understanding that the government cannot create, determine, revise, or interpret our natural rights is among the necessary principles of liberty, and that fundamental principle of freedom is probably in greater danger of abuse than any other right now. And it isn’t just the progressives trying to treat our natural rights as a popularity contest…

      2. I’ve seen utilitarian libertarians take positions here at H&R as if our rights should be tweaked to optimize some outcome. See various staff positions on everything from gay wedding cakes, self-driving cars, vaccines, etc. for examples. Like all other utilitarians, they have terrible trouble integrating qualitative criteria into their thinking.

        Our rights are a right to make a choice for ourselves, and perhaps the greatest benefit to society of a government that protects the natural right of individuals to make choices for themselves in the law is that we get a society that results in the optimal mix of millions of conflicting qualitative considerations–that utilitarians can never even account for, much less optimize.

        Anyway, yeah, defying natural law on rights results in demonstrable and predictable consequences as does defying the law of gravity, and just like believing in physical laws like gravity doesn’t necessarily depend on a belief in a personal God (Einstein didn’t!), believing in natural rights doesn’t necessarily depend on believing in the God of Abraham either.

        That’s basically what I was trying to say with that “if God had a choice” reference.

        1. I’ve seen utilitarian libertarians take positions here at H&R as if our rights should be tweaked to optimize some outcome.

          Since rights are things we invent so we can better get along w each other, why shouldn’t we optimize the outcomes? If your point was that to “optimize some outcome” doesn’t necessarily result in optimal overall outcome, then I agree that that’s a flaw.

          1. As I explained above, rights aren’t something we invent.

            1. Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the USSR, et. al., they all ended up on the ash heap of history because they imagined that their fantasy–the law–was reality and that they could violate people’s natural rights with impunity because natural rights were just a fantasy. They had it exactly backwards.

              You seem to have it backwards, too. Design an airplane any way you like. If it isn’t in harmony with the natural laws of physics, then it’s going to crash. Physics is reality. It’s your design that’s a fantasy.

              If the law has any reality behind it all, it is only because it is in harmony with our natural rights. I imagine the idea that property was theft was a popular delusion with Chinese peasants when it became law.

              They starved anyway. That’s reality.

              1. There was air before there airplanes. There were people before there was law. There were living things before there were people. All that time, and only recently law. Yet the world didn’t crash, unless you’re saying all of existence up to the time of the invention of law was crashing.

                1. Yeah, gravity existed long before Newton discovered it–he sure as hell didn’t invent gravity. Although he invented the math to describe it.

                  The respect for our natural rights was always a precondition for a thriving society. They sure as hell weren’t invented by the Magna Carta or anyone else.

                  They were discovered.

                  And our natural rights always existed independently of whether people believed in them.

                  Just like the sun was orbiting the earth long before people realized it. Just like gravity worked its magic on all of us long before Newton invented the math to describe it. Just like showing a certain amount of respect for our natural rights was always a precondition for a sustainable and thriving society–regardless of whether people always realized it.

                  1. You still don’t seem to be able to recognize any kind of difference between legal rights and natural rights.

                    Do you believe that Rosa Parks had a right to sit in the front of a public bus–no matter what the Jim Crow laws said or don’t you?

                    Do you believe that Jews had a right to their lives during the holocaust–no matter what their government said or don’t you?

                    I answer both questions in the affirmative. Just because those governments ignored and violated the natural rights of Rosa Parks and the Jewish victims of the holocaust with their laws doesn’t mean that those people’s natural rights didn’t exist.

                    Rosa Parks’ natural rights were real, and the law was a fantasy. The natural rights of the Jewish victims of the holocaust were also real–and the legal justifications for the holocaust were a fantasy. That’s why the Nazis were criminals in the truest sense–no matter what their laws said.

                    Natural rights are real. Legal rights are only real insofar as they are in harmony with our natural rights. Popularity contests and elected politicians don’t legitimize anything. Their laws are a fantasy if they aren’t in harmony with our natural rights. Legitimacy is a function of harmony with our natural rights. Deal with it.

          2. Or maybe you’re not getting the distinction between natural rights and legal rights?

            The shadows on the wall are our legal rights. Our natural rights are the real thing.

            The law said that Rosa Parks didn’t have the right to sit in the front of a public bus, but when Rosa Parks shined the light of reality on that legal shadow by insisting on her natural rights, it was Jim Crow laws–and the idea that people’s natural rights could be violated without consequence–that disappeared and proved to be a fantasy.

            The law in China said that private property was theft. Tens of millions of people starved to death in China because their legal rights according to that law were not in harmony with their natural rights. Those consequences were both predictable and repeatable in other countries, and once the Chinese government realigned their laws to be more in harmony with our natural rights, their negative consequences improved dramatically.

            The government can and does muck around with our legal rights, but the government is a slave to our natural rights. It can’t violate our natural rights without consequences in the real world–no society can flourish without respecting our natural rights.

        2. Hi Ken,

          I’m cool with all you had to say, thanks! … “God of Abraham”? Excuse me for my honesty, but that particular God is closely related to the barbaric God / Allah of the goat-fuckers in the Middle East! Self-righteous barbarism can kiss my ass! (I can say that, masked with my annonimousness, thanks be to internet days, w/o fear of being beheaded). God as described by Jesus, now, THAT was / is a totally different creature! Some smart fella way back a few hundred years ago, I cannot recall who… Said something along the lines of, “We behave in the same manner as we imagine God is, as we hold God in our head.” Hold a barbaric God in your head? Behave as a barbarian! Fairly obvious by now, actually…
          Well anyway, thanks for your thoughtful expositions, and, I for one am hoping and/or praying for peace to prevail… NAP to us libertarians… And I guess one of my fundamental points would be, arguing about whether “God” exists or not, is one of the biggest wastes of time that I have witnessed in my day…

          1. We’re talking about something like the cosmological argument as applied to natural rights, correct?

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Cosmological_argument

            The God of Abraham covers Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (with a footnote credit to the Zoroastrians by way of the three Magi), but it probably doesn’t matter to the cosmological argument if you believe it was Krishna, the Great White Buffalo, or L. Ron Hubbard.

            Anyway, what I’m saying is that our natural rights don’t depend on belief in any god or gods. They’re observable in history and in the world around us in the present tense. In the past, when dictators have violated people’s natural right to free speech, for instance, there have been consistent consequences–across all times and cultures. It still works that way today.

            At some point, that becomes like objects falling at 9.81 m/s.

    2. Unfortunately in this case the “pale shadow” on the cave wall has more reality than what’s casting it. “Natural rights” (or “natural law” generally) are a nothing, just a statement of opinion.

      1. As I stated above, violating natural rights has consistent, predictable, and repeatable consequences–independent of time in history or culture.

        Do you know the difference between an argument and a…

        Have you ever seen this before?

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnTmBjk-M0c

        1. I am a descendant of one of those pesky barons.

          1. I invented the omelet.

            1. No, you aren’t.

  8. Mr Richman does not think fighting for Tax Honesty is one of the superior strategies for liberty. So answered his 3 part attack on Tax Honesty on my blog Tax Honesty http://tinyurl.com/kjpczoo

    Magna /carta led to the right of freemen to demand a civil trial before taxes can be collected
    Shouldn’ we fight to restore this 7th amendment right?

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  10. So the libertarian strategy should be to kidnap the head of state, hold a knife to his throat, & extract concessions from him?

    1. If that’s what it takes.

      1. I guess you really are almighty, JB!

        Anyway, though, these things do advance by incident such as this. The American Revolution was actually at least the 2nd such. A century earlier, the colonists had succeeded in throwing off the Dominion of New England.

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  12. “its concerns were addressed in the document, all 63 clauses of which were written in Latin on a single sheet of deer-skin parchment.”

    As Cicero once said, quidquid latine dictum, altum videtur.

    What significance could the MC possibly have when valiant men of system need to accomplish their latest grand scheme? It’s just a goddamn piece of vellum.

  13. Magna Crater?

  14. Shorter Richman: What difference, at this point, does it make?

  15. “Trial by jury in criminal matters did not exist at that time.”

    This is, shall we say, an exaggeration.

    Magna Charta itself protects trial by jury, or at least by a proto-jury, in criminal cases.

    Check out Clause 36 in this link:

    http://magnacarta.cmp.uea.ac.u…..carta_1215

    As the commentary indicates, even at the time a form of jury trial was developing for criminal defendants. Although a person could accuse you of a felony and demand a trial by combat (or ordeal?), there was a workaround by which the defendant could get a panel of local residents to decide whether the accusation was brought by malice, and if so, you would be released or at least bailed. Clause 36 guarantees that you didn’t have to pay to summon such a proto-jury.

    1. “King John appealed for help from Pope Innocent III, who excommunicated the barons and declared Magna Carta null and void because the king signed under duress. However, it was reissued by subsequent kings, albeit with important changes from the original, such as elimination of clause 61, which called for the creation of a council of barons that could sanction the king for wrongdoing.”

      Yes, first it was issued under duress, and the Pope had a problem with that, just as today we’d have a problem with a mob invading Congress and forcing it to pass a law, however wise or just. And as Richman notes, later kings re-issued the Magna Charta (or the important bits) without being rebuked by the Pope – why would the Pope object to the *substance* of a law which guaranteed the rights of the Church?

      1. And the Pope did England a favor, since subsequent versions of Magna Carta left out Article 61, which specifically authorized a committee of barons to wage war against the king if they decided he was violating the law.

        “The historian Wilfred Warren argues that it was almost inevitable that the clause would result in civil war, as it as “was crude in its methods and disturbing in its implications”.” The barons were trying to force John to keep to the charter, but clause 61 was so heavily weighted against the King that this version of the charter could not survive.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magna_Carta

  16. There are two distinct things which are often confused.
    1. The Rule of Law – the king, the Lords, and the serfs have IDENTICAL rights and responsibilities.
    2. Libertarianism – the law must be minimalistic.

    I’ve pointed out the opposite of cronyism is Rule of Law, not liberty or small government. A tiny tyranny, a compact corruption is still wrong.

    The RoL is much easier to achieve when there are fewer, simple, and obvious laws (hence “ignorance is no excuse”), so Liberty matters, or is critical. The current “three felonies a day” applies to Obama and to a child in DC, neither will be prosecuted, but the former has a claim of immunity.

    Libertarians would win every battle where they would REQUIRE the RoL for any arbitrary policy. Kill the law, or apply it to every branch of government. Let every citizen be able to collect a bounty enforcing the myriad nonsense laws.

    This is the Mordred option. Mordred discovered Guinevere’s adultery. Adultery was a capital crime. Arthur was given the choice: Kill the queen or kill the law.

    The elites will kill the (nonsensical, intrusive) laws in short order.

  17. (reposted from my comment to the article)

    There are two distinct things which are often confused.
    1. The Rule of Law – the king, the Lords, and the serfs have IDENTICAL rights and responsibilities.
    2. Libertarianism – the law must be minimalistic.

    I’ve pointed out the opposite of cronyism is Rule of Law, not liberty or small government. A tiny tyranny, a compact corruption is still wrong.

    The RoL is much easier to achieve when there are fewer, simple, and obvious laws (hence “ignorance is no excuse”), so Liberty matters, or is critical. The current “three felonies a day” applies to Obama and to a child in DC, neither will be prosecuted, but the former has a claim of immunity.

    Libertarians would win every battle where they would REQUIRE the RoL for any arbitrary policy. Kill the law, or apply it to every branch of government. Let every citizen be able to collect a bounty enforcing the myriad nonsense laws.

    This is the Mordred option. Mordred discovered Guinevere’s adultery. Adultery was a capital crime. Arthur was given the choice: Kill the queen or kill the law.

    The elites will kill the (nonsensical, intrusive) laws in short order.

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  20. I suspect we have a better chance of achieving liberty here by reading the US Constitution rather than the Magna Carta.

    Of course, since that hasn’t worked maybe we should try the Magna Carta or the Popol Vuh or perhaps flouridation/hallucination of the water supply

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