Author’s Choice: Peter Linebaugh

Event Details
Date: , 2006
Time: to
Venue: The Spyglass, BS1 4SB
Price: Donation
With: Peter Linebaugh
Series: Bristol Radical History Week 2006
Page Details
Section: Events
Subjects: Commons, Customary Rights & Enclosures, Democracy & Suffrage
Posted: Modified:

Magna Carta And The Commons

Magna Carta And The Commons. Or, How Bad King John Pretended to Launch a Crusade against Islam in order to better Conceal his Robbery of the People’s Hydrocarbon Energy Resources which at the time (1215-17) took the form of Woodlands; and, Whether the Hydrocarbon Energy Resources which in our day (2006) take the form of Petroleum can be Restored to the “communa tocius terre,” or not.

We may propose three methods of interpreting Magna Carta: in a word, the legal, the documentary, and the constitutional. We have traced the legal interpretation largely in the history of the USA via the interpretations of chapter 39. The documentary interpretation in 1217 introduced some significant emendations to the charter of 1215 (“widow’s estovers”) as well as the entire charter of the forest. This led us to the concept and the history of ‘the commons’ which, far from being the retrogressive relique of backwardness, provides both a significant portion of human subsistence and the kind of historical memory which is grasped as an anchor of hope in the storm. The third interpretation, the constitutional, concerns the constitution of society whose parts in the thirteenth century are far different from those of the 21st. In the thirteenth century institutions (church and state), classes (barons, merchants, commoners), the relation between husband and wife concerned material production and social reproduction. This interpretation, inasmuch as the constitution of society is concerned, is revolutionary. The class structure of 13th century England, the role of its polity among the other European centralized monarchies, and the ideological power of its religious life were fundamentally different. An alliance of classes and a “foreign” intervention produced the military situation in which Magna Carta could be imposed. Magna Carta was the direct consequence of rebellion. Moreover, it insisted on the right of resistance.

If Magna Carta is to be recovered in its fullness today, we must bring with it all that can be obtained from all three of these interpretations. The first one gives us protection from intrusions, prying, despotism, surveillance from the authorities, the state. The second one calls for the abolition of those divisions of race, class, gender, religion, and country of origin which have blocked our way to commoning. The third renews the right of resistance, the duty of rebellion, in the name neither of law nor higher law, but our human commons.

“The Great Charters of the Liberties” provided restraints upon the royal realm: they provided subsistence in the common realm. We are taught that these are relics, archaisms, belonging to feudalism, or we are taught that they are peculiarities of the English. I want to express them not as a medieval reliquary or as English peculiarity but as principles of conduct in social life. The Magna Carta was not a communist manifesto, though in truth it manifested the manifold of the commons.

First, the principle of anti-enclosure is directly stated in the prohibition of enclosing arable grounds.

Second, the principle of subsistence is upheld in the references to pannage, estovers, and such. It is an anti-accumulation principle.

Third, the principle of travel, or unobstructed passage, is maintained. This is the right to roam. Human rights attorneys have recognized it as part of the Palestinian right of return.

Fourth, the principle of neighborhood is found in the provision that twelve rangers may permit the gathering of scotale. They are selected by election, like “the twelve men good and true” of the jury.

Fifth, the principle of reparations is expressed in the call for disafforestation.

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