It happened today - June 15, 2015
There is so much to say about Magna Carta… and we are in the process of saying much of it in our documentary. But there is one thing that stands out for me, with increasing clarity, as I study the story and retell it. And that is courage.
Without courage we would never have had Magna Carta and even once we had it we would never have kept it. The courage of men like Stephen Langton and Edward Coke, Alfred the Great and George Washington (who, by the way, was assigned to lead the Continental Army on this date). But also the courage of countless thousands of men, and women, who determined to stand up for liberty at great personal cost.
If you defied King John and lost, your family as well as you personally risked humiliation, ruin, torture and death. The same was true when the enemy was Danish raiders, and on through history. Of course meek surrender was no guarantee of personal safety either. But it’s easy to say in a comfortable, well-heated, well-lit study facing no worse issue than the size of the display screen on your word processor.
Aristotle called courage first among virtues because without it we only practice the others when convenient. So much as the story of Magna Carta is one of principles, of mental clarity, of stubborn determination, it is first and foremost the story of the courage that gave us liberty under law and all the blessings from prosperity to cultural dynamism that flow from it.
Courage may of course be misused. It baffles me to hear suicide bombers denounced as “cowards”. It takes enormous misplaced courage to strap on explosives and blow oneself up. But courage properly applied is a great virtue. It is a terrible thing when the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
So remember, as you count your blessings, that courage is a renewable resource. We not only can, but must, find the courage in our own time to uphold those good things given to us by those whose courage did not fail them. Including the rights enshrined in Magna Carta.