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The Law of the Land

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on January 24, 2020 13:51

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It is easy to forget the origins of our politico-legal system, and the foundations on which the most successful economic and political system ever was built. But we forget at our peril, for we risk repeating the mistakes of history.

He was a lonely man, John. He had friends, and he worked hard at keeping his close associates in the money, but his temper suspicious nature and ill-will towards those who crossed him undermined him. In the end the people he had alienated forced him to put his signature to a document that forms the basis of the western political system – the Magna Carta.

King John of England. Creative Commons


King John was not a pleasant man. The good aspects of his reign are not remembered, not by contemporary historians, not by Hollywood. Used to endless and expensive wars at home and abroad, he bitterly resented being forced to limit his power, but had no choice. Beset by powerful enemies, he had lost his treasure in a natural disaster. Immediately after signing the peace agreement he denounced it, embarking instead on a civil war with his Barons. Had he not died of dysentery within a year England likely would have endured years of tyranny, bloodshed and war.

Signing ceremony. Bridgemanimages.com


Winston Churchill, in his ‘A History of the English Speaking People’ describes this document as an affirmation that there is a law to which the Crown itself is subject. The principle that the Commander in Chief is subject to the law of the land was tested by Kings and other leaders through the ages. Governments based on popular support, on the Rule of Law, stood a better chance of political, social and economic success, those that ignored it ended in failure, sooner or later.

England and of the Dutch Republic, the two countries that embodied this principle, were the leaders in the colonising period of Europe. France held out, with the Sun King declaring: ‘I am the State!’ Until the people of France sent their aristocrats to the guillotine, asserting their right to participate in the governing of their country.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen - cornerstone of the French Revolution. Creative Commons

Africa has had, and still has its share of Big Men. Democratically elected leaders, misusing histories of tribal monarchy and colonial administration, set themselves up as pseudo-kings, and with foreign support often get away with it at the expense of the prosperity and lives of their people. Rulers under the Code Napoleon are immune from prosecution while in power, American Presidential aides claim immunity from summons to testify before Congress.

A few exceptions stand out – Thomas Sankara, and the case of Benin, where the people overthrew a dictator, and a few years later invited him back because the successor they had elected was worse. Nelson Mandela and the people around him were heirs of this ancient tradition.

The legend of Robin Hood, who stole from the rich to give to the poor has many echoes. Dullah Bhattiled a peasant revolt against Mughal rule in the Punjab. These are the people who are remembered. 

Dullah Bhatti tending the poor. Creative Commons
Coen Van Wyk

Posted on January 24, 2020 13:51

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Source: TIME
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(LONDON) — A man suspected of trying to steal a Magna Carta from its display case at Salisbury Cathedral has been arrested...

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