After a bitter conflict between King and Parliament, the power of royalty in the person of Charles II was restored. In defeat, Magna Carta was not forgotten. One of the leaders of Parliament, Henry Vane, was beheaded. On the scaffold, he tried to read a speech denouncing the sentence as a violation of Magna Carta, but was drowned out by trumpets to ensure that such scandalous words would not be heard by the cheering crowds. His major crime had been to draft a petition calling the people “the original of all just power” in civil society – not the King, not even God.
Well, no. The major crime was treason, being that of helping to execute Poppa, Charles I. It’s the sort of thing that happens to people who, in the long term, lose a civil war.
The significance of the companion charter, the Charter of the Forest, is no less profound and perhaps even more pertinent today – as explored in depth by Peter Linebaugh in his richly documented and stimulating history of Magna Carta and its later trajectory. The Charter of the Forest demanded protection of the commons from external power. The commons were the source of sustenance for the general population: their fuel, their food, their construction materials, whatever was essential for life. The forest was no primitive wilderness. It had been carefully developed over generations, maintained in common, its riches available to all, and preserved for future generations – practices found today primarily in traditional societies that are under threat throughout the world.
The Charter of the Forest imposed limits to privatisation.
Snigger, The Charter of the Forest imposed limits to nationalisation. It was “The King’s Forest” see? His private (ie, the State’s) hunting grounds. The Charter of the Forest detailed what the common people could do even on the State’s land.
And this is only a tiny sample of struggles underway over much of the world, some involving extreme violence, as in the Eastern Congo, where millions have been killed in recent years to ensure an ample supply of minerals for cell phones and other uses, and of course ample profits.
What? The Congolese civil war was caused by the lure of the profits from tantalite?
Err, no, I think not. Exacerbated, sure, possibly part financed agreed. But caused by? No, really, no.
The rise of capitalist practice and morality brought with it a radical revision of how the commons are treated, and also of how they are conceived. The prevailing view today is captured by Garrett Hardin’s influential argument that “freedom in a commons brings ruin to us all,” the famous “tragedy of the commons”: what is not owned will be destroyed by individual avarice.
Proper Chomskbollocks that. Hardin absolutely did not say that the commons must be privatised. All he did say was that if (IF!) demand was higher than the capacity of the commons to supply then access must be managed. He was very clear that it could be governmental (“socialist” in his own words) control of access or private. Which worked better (not which was more moral, but which worked better) depended upon the resource itself.
The grim forecasts of the tragedy of the commons are not without challenge. The late Elinor Olstrom won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 for her work showing the superiority of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins.
More entire Chomskbollocks. Her work was about when does such voluntary cooperation among users lead to adequate (superior if you wish) management of a commons and more importantly, when does it not. A rough rule of thumb is that when the number of users rises above the low single digit thousands then we’re back in Hardin territory. Government or private property.
That was 150 years ago – in England earlier. Huge efforts have been devoted since to inculcating the New Spirit of the Age. Major industries are devoted to the task: public relations, advertising, marketing generally, all of which add up to a very large component of the Gross Domestic Product.
3% is a very large component of GDP now, is it?
Both recognised that the public must be “put in its place,” marginalised and controlled – for their own interests of course. They were too “stupid and ignorant” to be allowed to run their own affairs. That task was to be left to the “intelligent minority,” who must be protected from “the trampling and the roar of [the] bewildered herd,” the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” – the “rascal multitude” as they were termed by their 17th century predecessors. The role of the general population was to be “spectators,” not “participants in action,” in a properly functioning democratic society.
Yes, I know he’s quoting the ad men there but it does sound very much like the revolutionary vanguard of socialism, doesn’t it? Or even the Guardian comments page. You peons should do as we enlightened say.
Could someone tell me why this grammarian is so respected as a political theorist?