Magna Carta: Reignite the spirit of rebellion!

Freedom is never given to us – it must be won.

As long as the human spirit retains its aspiration for liberty, Magna Carta will serve as a symbol of the neverending struggle for freedom.

No sooner did the rebellious barons force King John to grant them Magna Carta in June 1215 than it was annulled, just 10 weeks later, by Pope Innocent III. Although it was reissued by John’s son Henry in 1216, its status remained insecure, until a definitive version was conceded in 1225. What the experience of the 13th century demonstrated is that hard-won rights and freedoms can never be taken for granted.

Magna Carta was by no means the last word on freedom. It was a medieval document that provided safeguards against the arbitrary rule of the king. It implicitly upheld ideals that would gradually crystallise into a tradition that respected the rule of law. Some historians have questioned the iconic status of Magna Carta, on the grounds that it was a ‘Baron’s Charter’ and did little to protect ordinary people from injustice. However, what was important about this document was not simply what it said, but how it was seen by successive generations.

Magna Carta provided the foundation for a political culture that celebrated freedom against the exercise of arbitrary authority. English customary law drew on the precedent of the rebellion against King John to question and, in the end, unsettle the claim to Divine Right Kingship. Magna Carta was idealised and turned into a foundational myth by the radical wing of the parliamentary opposition to the Stuart dynasty. One of my heroes John Lilburne (1615-57), a true champion of liberty and one of the leading voices in the Levellers, linked the ideals of Magna Carta to the foundation of a new nation. Lilburne went to prison to defend the right not to incriminate oneself. He argued that self-incrimination violated Magna Carta.

Over the centuries, Magna Carta has become a historic document to which a bewildering variety of parties have attached their democratic and freedom-oriented ambitions. Although it has served as a foundation for English identity, its idealisation has transcended the borders of any single nation. Its universal appeal speaks to the universal attempt to overcome the obstacles to freedom.

The necessity of almost every generation since 1215 to appeal to the precedent set by Magna Carta points to the always precarious status of freedom. Freedom depends on a political culture that takes the principles of an open and democratic ethos seriously. History shows that freedoms that really mean something are won through the action of public-spirited people rather than being gifted by a benevolent ruler or state. In the current era, this lesson is often overlooked, as campaigners and movements look to the state to ‘empower’ them.

This misconceived project of finding freedom through the state rather than fromthe state is encouraged by an ideology that mistrusts people. Eight hundred years after the sealing of Magna Carta, we are confronted with the uncomfortable fact that in many Western societies, individual freedoms are no longer highly valued. The casual manner in which freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are often disregarded means that the rule of others – whether formal or informal — can too often be implemented with little resistance.

The spirit of rebellion which animated lovers of liberty from the 13th century onwards need to be reignited, so that the new generations assuming responsibility for the future understand that freedom is not just another word.

Frank Furedi is a sociologist and commentator. His latest book, First World War: Still No End in Sight, is published by Bloomsbury. (Order this book from Amazon (UK).)

ASADA exposed… defend everyone’s civil liberties

All politically motivated attacks on anyone’s freedom should be exposed and fought. Agencies like ASADA that consider themselves above the law should be opposed and exposed. Anyone who has their rights restricted should be supported and encouraged to defend their rights.

Following post received, with gratitude, from guest blogger TomB.

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The investigation into Australian Football League club Essendon players receiving drugs has concluded that there was no illegal substance injected. The AFL’s anti-doping tribunal found that had proper records been kept then there would have been no need for an inquiry.

More than two years of investigations and public grandstanding by a government organisation fanned along by the media has now started to turn against that agency. The background to the investigation is now coming to light.

The Labor government wanted to get the focus off their incompetent government and were willing to ruin people’s careers and place others under unnecessary negative scrutiny, not to mention defamation slander and gossip that accompanies a witch hunt.  This was just to ‘buy time’ for the Labor government not to even save it – which nothing could do.

The media was happy to accommodate and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) saw an opening for it to gain more money and more power. This was always the case and one journalist Chip Le Grande from The Australian did actually report most of the facts over the two years; however no other journalist did or bothered to acknowledge or respond to his articles. Even now there are journalists saying we will never know if they took illegal drugs. No player returned a positive test and there is no evidence of illegal drugs being administered. The criteria for not knowing is the same as for everyone else, we will never know if anyone is given something they weren’t supposed to get but any reasonable person assumes the doctor is giving you a flu shot when he says he is.

ASADA has now shifted focus to the way drugs were given and is trying to salvage some credibility by pretending to be concerned about the same players they want banned from professional sport. They are doing this not through the proper channels but through the media. The outcome has finally exposed what should have been reported from the beginning: a fruitless attempt by a government agency for relevancy and an orchestrated attempt by the government of the day to distract attention away from its poor governance.

The disappointing aspect  is that this was so easily achieved. So many people were only too happy to jump on board. They found a club isolated and players singled out and then “put the boots in”. Other clubs saw an advantage for themselves as did other players and took full advantage. Now they are trying to cover this up or make excuses for their opportunistic behaviour.

The political issue here is that it is still possible to have scapegoats, witch hunts etc. It may only be sport but it was instigated by a political party in order to gain popularity. The fact that it was the ALP is not surprising as one would expect that if any party is going to resort to fascist tactics it is the ALP. All politically motivated attacks on anyone’s freedom should be exposed and fought. Agencies like ASADA that consider themselves above the law should be opposed and exposed. Anyone who has their rights restricted should be supported and encouraged to defend their rights. It would seem at the moment professional sports people are denied the same rights as others.


Thanks to ‘Tomb’ for this post.

It may seem of little importance, just athletes and drugs; however it is about freedom and if you deny it to any group of people then that can always be applied to anyone or everyone.


The attack on freedom comes in many different ways and in many different areas, from jailing whistleblowers to anti-terror laws. Some of these attacks are in seemingly irrelevant fields such as sport. Athletes being singled out to adhere to rules/laws from which the rest of the populace are exempt. Singling out athletes in this way is bad enough but to place a body overseeing these laws that is outside the judicial system is an attack on the freedom of athletes.

A recent case in Australia of football clubs being used as political tools outside the law is of strong concern. The then Australian Labor government, through its Minister for Sport, spoke of ‘the darkest day in Australian sports history’ in order to try to take the focus away from their dismal poll showings. The Australian Crime Commission looked at it and found there was no evidence of anything illegal and decided not to pursue it, however the sports doping body – ASADA -agreed to and received police powers and increased funding to do so. The Essendon and Cronulla football clubs have been attacked by ASADA, the doping body of sport in Australia. ASADA used intimidation and threats to try to get the players to admit they had taken a banned substance. The players refused as they had not taken a banned substance as far as they knew and ASADA had not given them any evidence that they had. According to ASADA it doesn’t matter if you knew it was banned or that someone was giving it to you without your consent or knowledge. You are guilty. You have to prove it didn’t happen and ASDA can go on rumors to charge you.

ASADA tried to get someone to admit they took a banned substance as they had no worthwhile evidence. Footballers from Cronulla agreed and accepted a penalty of insignificance in order to finish the saga which has dragged on for more than 2 years while those at Essendon refused as they knew they hadn’t and wouldn’t accept an irrelevant penalty to get ASADA off the hook.

The important point here is the role of the media in convincing people there was some grievous crime committed and these clubs particularly Essendon should just accept the penalties. This has been the case without virtually any dissent from all journalists and a witch hunt has been happening for 2 years. The fact that so many people have accepted the guilt without question is of concern. Now one official is appealing a court decision that was seen to be not based on law and the media is trying to label them as monsters for pursuing their legal right.

It may seem of little importance, just athletes and drugs; however it is about freedom and if you deny it to any group of people then that can always be applied to anyone or everyone.