The Magna Carta, the Great Charter, or the Big Letter, signed by King John on June 15, 1215, at Runnymede, a meadow by the River Thames, to make peace with rebel barons, is perhaps the most well-known document that argues the existence and vigor of individual legal rights. Specifically, at the time of its signing, the immediate goal was protecting the private property of wealthy elite feudal lords who didn't like their King.
Habeas Corpus—"show me the body"—as a defense against unlawful imprisonment, also traces a legal genealogy to the Magna Carta. However, the origins are in the Assize of Clarendon of 1166. I point out this distinction as noteworthy as there is more to the history of the Great Charter and its legacies.
For example, the Charter of the Forest, issued on November 6, 1217, two years after the Magna Carta, is the less-known of the agreements between these warring parties.
"Unlike the Magna Carta, which dealt with the rights of barons, the Charter of the Forest addressed the rights of the common man. It restricted the amount of land that the king could claim for private use and restored the right of common access to natural resources."
"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."
On November 7, 2017, Dr. Linebaugh addressed the House of Commons on the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest.
"One wind, a hurricane, and diabalo, brought flood and fire threatening the destruction of petrochemical civilization, call it capitalism. Homelessness or prison accompany the wind from Detroit, Michigan, to Houston, Texas, from Puerto Rico in the Caribbean to northern California at the Pacific edge. A second gentler, softer wind, a zephyr, has renewed my spirit from the Lacandón jungle in Chiapas where the Zapatistas have vowed to protect the forest and reclaim the land, or from the Great Plains of the American continent where pipelines of oil and gas endanger the pollution of land and the rivers. Encampments of indigenous people and their allies by prayer and by protest have become, in their words, "water protectors."
Check out the entire presentation here at Counterpunch.
Why the Charter of the Forest now? A shared cultural logic of dominion and domination of the earth through a death cult that worships power and money in the name of development and innovation, and that determines usefulness by profit and politics by privatization, is destroying the planet.
"If Magna Carta is to be recovered in its fullness, we must bring with it all that can be obtained from these interpretations. The first one calls for the abolition of the commodity form of wealth that blocks the way to commoning. The second one gives us protection from intrusions by privatizers, autocrats, and militarists. The third one warns us against false idols. The fourth renews the right of resistance."
Abolition. Protection. Warning. Resistance.
You can listen to an interview on GRITtv with Linebaugh about the 800th Anniversary and the ongoing importance of the Charter.