The Magna Carta Turns 800


We learned in school the Magna Carta was an enormously important document, one of the foundations of our Constitution. Okay, so the truth is a bit less dramatic, as Uri Freidman explains in The Atlantic, but there is still a connection. Heck, the Constitution had a few flaws, as well, such not giving women the right to vote, acknowledging slavery, etc.

Law professor Tom Ginsburg writes in the writes in the New York Times that we should “[s]top revering Magna Carta” and that “the myth of Magna Carta seems to matter more than the reality.”

That comment got me thinking. Yeah? So? Is this the first time myth has overcome fact to establish itself in a culture or a government? Consider all the myths surrounding America’s founding and traditions. It wasn’t a ragtag bunch of farmers (okay, some of them were hung over) that surprised the Brits at Lexington and Concord, but a “well-regulated militia,” and it eventually took a real army, with a big helping hand from the French, to bring the Redcoats to heel. The West wasn’t “won;” it was conquered by first wiping out the natives and then becoming layered over with the mechanisms of Western European civilization. And so on and so forth. I remember in college reading “Myth and the American Experience” and pondering the power that so many of those things so many of us were taught to believe had over our lives despite the fact they were bunk.

The point is – and I have to give this further thought sometime – we believe what we want to believe, usually what we’ve been trained to believe. From there, the value or the burden of our myths resides in what we do with those beliefs.



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