Profoundly frustrating for the reactionary remains the obsession with Magna Carta that has been running unabated in centre-right political circles for the past months. Indicative of the attitude is this piece in the Telegraph, from which the excerpts below come.
Most people are understandably a little hazy about the charter’s contents (it runs to 63 clauses and over 4,000 words). But they are aware that it was a “good thing”
Vague belief that status quo is a good thing, underpinned by ignorance. Sounds about right. Most people readily absorb passive ideology. What Moldbug noted as the shifting political centre is a representation of this phenomenon. It belies the fundamental lack of understanding about the world, and a desire to remain ignorant. Politics is not as old as any individual, but to those who have taken on board second-hand ideology, we see this attitude. Right, so far as they can conceive, is not a dim reflection of yesterday’s progress ageing badly, but rather the most right-wing that has been seen.
At the same time, most people think of John himself as a “bad king”, not least because he crops up as the villain in the tales of Robin Hood.
The left get a huge amount of their narrative straight from fiction, and that’s something that the right needs to internalise better. Sometimes it’s the evil capitalist and a factory that is designed solely for the purpose of destroying the environment, in others it’s a thief who history glorifies because those in power we’re giving the people their pound of welfare.
Despite occasional attempts to rehabilitate him, his reputation among academics remains extremely poor.
One can only imagine what King John would say of academics. The defeated are always history’s most marginalised voice, and must be kept that way if they don’t conform to the demands of progress.
Most of all, John was shockingly cruel. In a chivalrous age, when aristocrats spared their enemies, capturing them rather than killing them, John preferred to do away with people by grisly means. On one occasion, for example, he ordered 22 captive knights to be taken to Corfe Castle in Dorset and starved to death. Another time he starved to death the wife and son of his former friend, William de Briouze. In 1203 he arranged the murder of his own nephew and rival for power, Arthur of Brittany.
Oh no. Death by starvation. That’s definitely better than hanging, drawing, and quartering, a much more civilised way of taking out the trash. Maybe if he had dealt with treason the way his successor Henry III and future monarchs did, we wouldn’t be in this mess. He just wasn’t progressive enough. And killing a rival? Unheard of! Clearly the most evil king in history. I bet he died by a blade, or perhaps asphyxiation, instead of the far more forward thinking burning at the stake.
John might have got away with such nefarious acts had he not also been politically incompetent. At the start of his reign in 1199, he inherited the greatest dominion in Europe
You mean he oppressed people from a huge number of backgrounds, who finally were able to have a head of state from their own country. I thought that’s what everyone needs. No Francophone tsars, no damn English on Australian currency. Finally, they could be free.
This is, however, the most legitimate criticism of King John. A king who loses from the realm robs not just his heirs, but all of his subjects. King George VI was, by this standard, the worst king of our history. With allies like the international socialists (the Soviet Union) and the democratic socialists (New Deal USA), who needs national socialists for an enemy?
Contemporaries put this down to a lack of boldness on John’s part, calling him “Soft-sword”, and he did indeed lack the necessary martial skill that his brother Richard had possessed in spades.
Perhaps Richard would have liked to spend some more time at home. Philip II was making noises for long enough in his reign. It’s easy enough to escape the blame game when you’re futzing around in the Middle East instead of doing your job as king.
To raise the massive armies and fleets this enterprise would require, he wrung unprecedented sums of money from England. Taxes were suddenly demanded on an almost annual basis. Nobles were charged gargantuan sums to inherit their lands. Royal justices imposed exorbitant fines for trifling offences. The lands of the Church were seized, and the Jews were imprisoned and tortured until they agreed to pay up. John’s reign saw the greatest financial exploitation of England since the Norman Conquest.
It’s a good thing we had Magna Carta then. It would suck to have ‘almost annual’ taxation. What next? Tax on income or consumption? And don’t get me started on inheritance tax for the rich, or ridiculous fines for (say) growing tobacco, or speeding when it’s obviously safe to go above the current limit.
Today the detail is no longer relevant.
It never is.
What we now celebrate is the famous sentiment in the middle of the charter, which declares that a free man shall not be imprisoned, exiled, deprived of his property or otherwise destroyed simply because it is the king’s will.
And if that was all it said, then great, it makes good business sense for there to be nothing arbitrary in the law. But of course, it didn’t. It opened the door for the aristocracy to undermine the power of the King through Parliament, and set in motion a chain of disastrous events, from the English Civil Wars (English, Transatlantic, and American respectively), to the sickening French Revolution, symbolic monarchy, and the 20th century, the bloodiest and most contemptible in human history. This we can trace, at least in part, to the barons.
John’s crime was allowing the Angevin Empire he inherited to dissolve under the onslaught of Philip II of France, who proved an abler monarch and transformed France into the unquestioned first power of Western Europe. For those who complain about King John’s treatment of the Jews, it’s worth noting that Philip forced them from France, and that the policy was pragmatically motivated rather than necessarily ideological. Because Jews were allowed to practice usury and not much else, they were a relatively wealth foreign target for a king to bleed should the need arise. This led to his preferred stance of apathy to give way to extracting tax from them when Normandy fell. Let’s not forget that the Magna Carta has a number of explicitly anti-Jewish clauses in it, especially preventing intergenerational debt.
As is to be expected this writer supports King John, at least to the extent that he condemns the barons, who on no lawful authority opened the door to a world they would immediately disavow, should the opportunity to view it arise. His taxation was more moderate and his reasons more legitimate than any modern British or Australian government’s policy.