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Happy 800th Birthday, Magna Carta!

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

What sometimes seem like epic battles to reshape the world generally fade to irrelevance very quickly. To take just one recent example, 20 years ago the Justice Department was trying to break up Microsoft because the software giant was perceived as too powerful to be challenged by other firms. Today, of course, all the talk is of Google and Apple with Microsoft struggling to find a niche.


Only a few events and documents -- like the American Declaration of Independence -- are worthy of celebrating even a century or two later.

On Monday, June 15, the Magna Carta turns 800, and it is worthy of great celebration by freedom-loving people everywhere. This is the document that brought about a fundamental rethinking of the relationship between a king and his subjects. Up until that point, English Kings were the law. They could decide who lived and who died and take whatever they wanted.

The Magna Carta changed all that. It established the idea that there is a law that even kings and governments must obey. There could be no taxation without representation and no arbitrary taking of personal property by the government. In short, the Magna Carta was the starting point for all the "unalienable" rights that we now enjoy and led directly over time to our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. In many ways, it was the cornerstone for the idea that we now describe as freedom.

Daniel Hannan is a British member the European Parliament whose district includes Runnymede, the place where the Great Charter was negotiated. He describes the Magna Carta as the "most important bargain in the history of the human race." That's a big claim, but it's hard to argue with him. His book, "Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World" backs it up.

Still, despite the enormous impact the Magna Carta has had, there has been decidedly little recognition from official sources. The American Bar Association was the first to place a memorial stone at Runnymede. They did so in 1957 -- more than seven centuries after the fact. This year, due to the efforts of Mr. Hannan and others, there will finally be a British acknowledgement of the fact. A statue of Queen Elizabeth II has been erected.


Also this year, President Obama signed a proclamation urging Americans to celebrate this historic event. But there has been little enthusiasm among the political class for such a celebration.

It doesn't take much of an imagination to understand the reluctance of government leaders to give the Magna Carta the recognition it deserves. The document is first and foremost about placing limits upon political leaders and government to do as they please. It enshrines the notion that society should be governed from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

Perhaps the greatest tribute that can be offered on the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta is that it is still relevant today despite the fact that governments have been trying to ignore it for all these years.

Happy Birthday, Magna Carta.

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