This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

Fun With The Magna Carta: A Letter to Three Musketeers From New Hampshire

“All members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived.”

— NH House of Representatives Bill 1850
(Bob Kingsbury – R, Tim Twombley — R, Lucien Vita — R)

Dear Messrs Kingsbury, Twombley and Vita:

I would like to begin by thanking you, Gentlemen, along with many of your colleagues in the conservative movement, for providing countless hours of quality entertainment, so badly needed in these difficult times. You’ve been working overtime since at least 2008, and I think America doesn’t give you quite enough appreciation for all the good times had by water-coolers all over the country.

Second, I would like to congratulate you, good Sirs, for proving yourselves to be certifiable badasses. I mean, how can you one-up someone who pledges to uphold the Constitution he has never read? Some might mumble something stupid, like “Oh yeah? Well, I REALLY love the Constitution! Whatever it says.” But you were bold, and you never lost your nerve. You went for the kill, the triple-dog-dare-ya when you introduced a bill which would require all laws that grant individual rights to be supported with a direct quote from the Magna Carta. Congratulations! You are living proof of what it means to be hardcore.

Third, I thank the Lord for the thirty-eight martinis, or the fifty-six beers, or the case of gin that you Gentlemen probably consumed during the meal when you decided this was a good idea. Please don’t tell me you had milk to go with those steaks, because I just won’t believe it. Unless it was kumys. But I digress.

Predictably, haters have taken you to task for introducing so radical a bill without actually reading the Magna Carta first. I hasten to assure you, Gentlemen, that I don’t share this extremist, fascist-communist view. I know you are hardworking men, laboring tirelessly to save this God-fearing nation from heathens, Satanists, gays, urban youths, and you simply haven’t the time. What does dismay me, however, is that the New Hampshire House of Representatives hasn’t provided you with a staff of unpaid clerks, whose job it would be to read the damned thing and brief you over lunch about what the Magna Carta actually says. It’s a shame.

Sure, it's pretty, but what sick masochist wants to read that script??

Handicapped though you are by a lack of staff to do your work for you, some of your assumptions in introducing this bill are actually spot-on. You correctly assumed (because I believe this is what it was all about), that the Magna Carta, having been drafted in the good old days, when men were men and women were chattel, does not have anything like a right to a lunch break, or decent working conditions, or reasonable work hours, or equal protection, or primary education, or abortion, or safe housing, or liberty to unionize. In fact, this document mostly talks about the rights of landed aristocracy, so in that regard, it is consistent with modern American conservative values. Plus, there is a provision about how nobles cannot be be judged by social inferiors, so finally, finally, the good people of New Hampshire will be able to keep the riff-raff out of their juries. There is also a provision about cities not being “forced” to build bridges, and that’s great, given how much you guys hate public infrastructure. All that is good stuff.

But some things in the Magna Carta kind of give you pause. For example, there is a provision that, essentially, makes it legal for a man to kill his children, and for anyone to kill children of lower-class widows and single mothers. Now, I know you’ve been pushing hard to turn women into second-class citizens and to strip them of civil rights, but this one I believe is a bit too salty even for your kind. At least I hope it is. In any event, it would not be consistent for you to be in favor of such a position when you claim to be “pro-life”.

And then, some of your other assumptions about the Magna Carta are downright dumb. Don’t be cross — I say this with love.

For example, the Magna Carta does not guarantee a right to bear arms. No, I’m serious, it doesn’t. I know, it surprised me too. But I went over the text with a fine comb twice just before writing this post, and nope, it’s not there. So, Gentlemen, say goodbye to statutes that authorize the ownership and carrying of firearms. Sure, there are a couple of really wacky provisions in the Magna Carta about how you can wage war against the King if he doesn’t redress your grievances, but the document is awfully specific about what must happen in order for that right to attach. There is certainly nothing there about carrying deadly weapons into kindergartens or shooting burglars.

And that’s another thing. The Magna Carta does not grant one the right to kill or maim in defense of private property. In fact, it does not grant one the explicit right even to kill in self-defense. Go ahead, read it: you won’t find it. What it does contain, however, is a statement that any redress against a private wrong must be proportionate to the harm suffered. So no, under the Magna Carta, there is no right to blow someone’s head off for stepping on your lawn. That’s sure to piss off a significant number of your constituents.

There is a provision that public officials must be knowledgeable about law. So if your bill passes, you Gentlemen may find yourselves looking for work in the private sector very fast. It’s something you should think about.

There is a bit of bankruptcy law in there that might cause you trouble with your friends in the finance industry. Specifically, it states that if someone is unable to pay his debts, the creditors must go through his personal property first, before seizing his lands. If that were the law today, it would essentially invalidate mortgages, and put banks in the position of having to go through people’s pool tables and stupid Star Wars collectibles before taking the house for which there are arrears on the mortgage. I don’t know, perhaps this policy made sense in 1215, but today, I’m telling you, Gentlemen, banks are gonna HATE this, and they are gonna hate YOU.

There are provisions for all kinds of taxes, including what you guys like to call “death taxes”. So I guess the whole argument about people having the “right” not to pay estate or inheritance taxes goes right out the window.

There are a couple of provisions about Jewish money lenders that are sure to cause an uproar — from Jews because they are singled out for disadvantageous treatment, and from Gentiles, because that disadvantageous treatment will mean that people will borrow exclusively from Jews.

There is a provision that requires a widow to obtain royal permission to remarry. I guess in this case, the Governor would be in a position to grant the permission, but why would anyone go through the trouble when you can just shack up?

The Magna Carta is silent on the subject of torture. Perhaps you see this as a good thing, because now all that whining about water-boarding can stop, at least in New Hampshire. But if no one has the right not to be tortured, then the next Republican politician caught trawling for sex in a public restroom can also be racked and burned at the stake, just like they did to gays in the Middle Ages. Perhaps you should think some more about that one.

There is nothing in the Magna Carta about peaceable assembly. So while that’s bad for Occupy Wall Street, it also means that tea-partiers will not longer be able to hold their rallies with tri-cornered hats and gun-brandishing.

I could go on, Gentlemen, but I don’t want to bore you with all these pesky little details. Suffice it to say, don’t rush to conclude that having lots of individual rights is a bad thing. You’ll miss them if you lose them, believe me — especially if you are the ones to sign them away. At any rate, you’ve got to decide for yourselves whether you love your rights more than you hate the rights of others.

Also: lay off that old malmsey. Seriously.

I hope this has been helpful.

Very truly yours,

Amused.

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4 thoughts on “Fun With The Magna Carta: A Letter to Three Musketeers From New Hampshire

  1. Brilliant.

    You’ll like this… the “gun toting TEA Party guy” was a Lyndon LaRouche follower.

    I have to look into what would have possessed them to quote the Magna Carta.

    Thanks again. (Oh… and agree with you about Shakespeare! Clearly Bacon wrote all of it.) I have to get back to my 57 cases of beer…

  2. You read the Magna Carta?

    You’re a braver lawyer than I’ve ever known, reading something so archaic when they didn’t have to do it for some client or a boss.

    You did it for us, “we the people,” who thank you for pointing out the error of our New Hampshire leaders’ severely conservative ways.

  3. Contoveros: I’m grateful to Fordham Law School for putting a very readable translation up online. Alas, I don’t know Latin (I tried once — it was painful).

  4. Barbara Backer-Gray on said:

    Hilarious!

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