Tag Archives: Magna Carta

The Nature of Power

power photo

I recently watched the film Cromwell, starring Richard Harris and Alec Guinness, whose mighty screen presence aptly portrayed Oliver Cromwell and King Charles 1st respectively. What interested me about this piece of English history was the nature of the source of the power used by both in their in dire opposition to each other.

On the one hand you had a monarch who shared the same beliefs as his father, who once described kings as “little Gods on Earth” chosen by God to rule in accordance with the long held belief in the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ making them only accountable to God for their actions. Here religion was being used as a means to power, something many have practiced over the centuries with great success, including the church.

Cromwell on the other hand was a deeply religious man who reacted against the unregulated power used by Charles, driven by a compassion for the common man (and woman) who were on the receiving end of this abuse. The sheer arrogance of the King incensed Cromwell and other members in the contempt with which he held parliament, because of his belief in his ‘divine right’ to rule.

Indeed, he twice sacked parliament and ruled uncontested on the second occasion for 10 years. This belief in his ability to exercise absolute power saw him further antagonise the country by taking a Catholic wife, thereby constantly threatening the power of the Church of England.

We all know the outcome. Cromwell fought relentlessly to uphold the rights of the common man and a democratically elected parliament, taking the country into two civil wars and Charles was eventually beheaded.

From this we can draw similarities with a despotic King John 300 years earlier, who’s abusive intolerance of his people led to rebellion and the introduction of the now world famous Magna Carta bill of rights to protect the common man from oppression. (Cromwell referred to it as Magna Farta!)

In spite of this, Magna Carta has become the rallying cry for all efforts to manage the misuse of power. It was an influencing factor in the American Constitution and during the Cold War between America and Russia we saw the birth of “This Universal Declaration of Human Rights” pushed through the United Nations in 1948 by Eleanor Roosevelt to champion the common man (and woman), extolling amongst other things that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”. (Edward Snowden and Julian Assange ring a bell!)

What all of these solid charters identify is the ongoing problem we, as a species, have with power. Human fallibility succumbs to the trappings and status of power and from this abuse quickly follows.

Often power stems from traditions that are not encapsulated in the written word. They are simply beliefs and their vagueness allows and encourages abuse. That a King (or Government) may collect taxes for the upkeep of their country is a given but how that money is applied is the stuff of countless rebellions across the centuries.

Hence Magna Carta. Here what the King could and couldn’t do was put down on paper to identify and contain his powers. The American Constitution and many others followed suit, all of which have failed to be maintained and abided by. Writing it down is one thing but putting into practice is something we, as a species, have not yet mastered.

In this 21st century we are experiencing a new phenomenon as the abuse of power is now coming, not from religious belief in the divine right of kings but a belief in the divine right of profit. No longer is the abuse contained within a realm, it is manifesting internationally.

Its growth has been fuelled by the decline of traditional religious institutions who have lost credibility in their outmoded teachings, resulting in their subsequent loss of power. These traditional beliefs have been replaced by financial values and beliefs, which although more tangible for us to see touch and understand, lack any depth or compassion in valuing and respecting human life and this planet.

Capitalism preaches that the only merit is in PROFIT and this narrow yardstick is now used in how we handle and manage our lives. The abuse comes from the current unassailable right of corporations and banks to mismanage their own money with impunity, taking our money to subsidise their own misdemeanours, whilst penalising and controlling us financially and morally with odious debt and personal discredit through dubious credit ratings.

The raw power of Capitalism does not deal in morality and therefore allows, indeed encourages unmitigated abuse, including the abolition of democracy. With no constitution that can be meaningfully applied to constrain this growing abuse we are being driven to our own destruction, taking the perpetrators as well!

It was our ignorance in the past that fuelled our apathy at the constant mistreatment of the many by the few. We are now beginning to wake up and are no longer the ignorant serfs of just a century ago.

By looking beyond what is actually happening to us and becoming aware of the nature of what we are dealing with we are achieving understanding and with that understanding will come change.

 

Until the next time

 

Thinking from his Book: Global Magna Carta. Returning Power to the 99% . . . If They Want It! By J T Coombes

Magna Carta and TTIP

As a species we are designed to strive and achieve as much as we are designed to breed and build a home; it has been the way of things since the dawn of time. This striving is best recognised when we are young, pushing the boundaries with our parents, teachers and Society during the painful adolescent years as we seek to find our own identity and place within that Society.

This desire to push the boundaries remains with us throughout our lives and constantly manifests in sport, careers, business, the arts and all other aspects of Life. Often it can become obsessive and addictive, leading to gross irresponsibility’s. The banking collapses of 1929 and 2008 were evidence of this human characteristic at its most irresponsible, with the subsequent worldwide devastation they caused.

For this very reason, throughout our history we have sought to create buffers which guard against these excesses. This has become a critical aspect in the work of governments, with the laws they put on the statute books and constantly update as we evolve. Our desire to strive and accomplish then pushes back as we seek ways to bypass these restrictions and so the eternal ‘Ping-Pong’ of expansion and containment continues.

We are at a point in this endless game where boundaries are being pushed in unprecedented ways and protective barriers are being removed at an alarming rate to permit the unrivalled creation of wealth. Global corporations are now as wealthy and powerful as small nations, capable of dominating political parties and influencing the enactment and repeal of laws that support their growing power and profit.

For me this is vividly demonstrated by the insidious TTIP secret trade agreement now being pushed through with the minimum of democratic debate. Here we have the power of the written word at its most menacing, as laws and agreements are put into place that will hold our governments accountable in a fashion that the people can only dream about. Any government action that works against corporate greed will result in penalties for that government (and of course its people, as they will have to pay the costs of these governmental transgressions!).

Just think about that for a moment. This deal is at the heart of the democratic process, where government is held accountable for its actions! Democracy here, however, is not for the benefit of the many but just the few. Indeed its impact upon the many (and this beautiful Planet) will be like a cancer, as our quality of life and our natural resources are abused and discarded with equal disdain.

If this is the way the game is now being played then “what is good for the goose, is also as good for the gander!” If it’s written agreements that now determine how we live, as integrity seems to have gone the way of the Dodo, then the people need their own ‘TTIP’ with which to hold government accountable.

I have argued before that Society is in exactly the same position that it was here in Britain 800 years ago, when unbridled power brought the country to its knees. Yes barons were looking after their own interests then with Magna Carta but it reflected back on the people in “no imprisonment without trial by peers”. With Terrorism we are now headed back to those dark times before Magna Carta.

It worked before and it can work again, in using the power of the written word to bring back accountability. This time the barons need to be replaced by a political party that will adopt a revised Magna Carta and legally invoke it as The Objectives of Parliament for the foreseeable future. It would be updated from time to time, to keep it in line with a changing Society and its needs, but its essence would always reflect the protection of our quality of life.

The last thing we want is a legal document that would keep lawyers in clover forever but a means by which the people can decide for themselves if government is doing its job. Manifestos would become simple forms which declare each new incumbents intentions to support all, or particular aims of the Charter during their term in office. People could then decide who to vote for, depending upon the popular consensus as to what needed tackling in Society at that time.

Clauses might include a ‘public’ monetary system, gender and religious equality, protection of planetary resources, a people’s democracy and so on. Empowerment of the people would come from being able to measure each government’s achievements and decide if they had done a good job or not in furthering the aims of the Charter. Their decision would then influence their next vote and secure our steady progress as a Society.

How would we arrive at this new Charter? Easy! Follow Iceland’s example and give it to the people to design and agree upon. It worked there, in spite of ridicule by the opposition party and it can work here just as well!

Whilst none of this will happen by this election, if a seed is sown it will place the present party’s on warning that we are setting the political stage for the future. We are looking for a party to unite and lead us . . . and we expect it SOON!

Until the next time

 

Thinking from his Book: Global Magna Carta. Returning Power to the 99% . . . If They Want It! By J T Coombes