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On Magna Carta

“Monday Musings” for Monday June 15, 2015

Volume V, No. 24/232

magna carta

Happy Birthday, Magna Carta !

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA, ScD (Hon)*

 

Today is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, Latin for “Great Charter.” Next time you are in London, go by the British Library, near Euston Station, climb the stairs. On the left you enter a pavilion full of old books, ancient manuscripts, including a Guttenberg Bible, etc. On the right, you will find a good size room set aside to display the magnificent British document, the Magna Carta, signed by King John of Lackland dated December 28, 1215. The document was actually written in Runnymede on June 15, 1215.

The room exhibiting Magna Carta is wired with the latest technology to give the viewers all they want to know about Magna Carta. But I have found the display, describing King Lackland’s Magna Carta, much lacking (pun intended), especially in the intellectual and political history of the precious document. What is presented in the British Library is very useful, but short on depth and epistemic understanding of events leading to the birth of the document. Here are some reflections and a brief critical analysis:

Faithful readers of this space recall the essay on Queen Matilda Maude of England (February 7, 1102- to September 10, 1167), who laid the cornerstone of Anglo-Saxon freedom and the governance of the rule of Law. Matilda was like our 20th century Susan B. Anthony (February 15, 1820 to March 13, 1906), who championed women suffrage by laying the work for the 19th amendment which was signed in 1919 by President Wilson. What a feat, 92 years of freedom and voting right for the American women. Going back to Matilda Maude and her important work to sow the seeds of Magna Carta in Britain’s mental space: Matilda and her younger brother were the only two legitimate children of King Henry I who had altogether sired 23 children. She reigned for a  brief period of time and was never crowned, thus not listed in the British monarchic line of succession. Instead, her male cousin Stephens of Blois was the monarch 1135-1154 and is listed in the history books. Omitting the work and contribution of Matilda Maude form history of Magna Carta is a major historic and intellectual oversight.

Another significant omission is the impact of assassination of Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, on December 29, 1170. As one notices, he was assassinated one day short of 45 years before the signing of Magna Carta. Archbishop Becket was assassinated by four knights from the court of King of England Henry II. They were dispatched to “rid England from a bothersome and intruding priest”. With the brutal killing of Beckett, the public became sensitized to the atrocities of Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their three sons (very much like Libya’s Gaddafi and his sons) and a ground swell of revolt against kingship began to slowly brew over the next 45 years.  Indeed the excesses of Kings of England over a century brought on the emergence of Magna Carta, the principle message of which was to severely restrict the powers of the throne.

King John Lackland who signed Magna Carta was not a benevolent and humanitarian king like King Cyrus the Great of Persia and Hammurabi of Babylon and other famous altruists of yore. The 12 years old battle of Bouvines definitely restored French power under King Phillip II Augustus bringing the Angevin-Flanders conflict to an end.  But the battle of Bouvines in 1214, enfeebled King John considerably. By 1214, King John was a worn out fellow bereft of energy and friends. The British Lords and aristocracy viewed him as a usurper of land with hedonistic tendencies similar to those Henry III. They detected King John’s weakness and vulnerability by moving rapidly and writing a document consisting of 61 clauses, they named it Magna Carta. It restricted the liberties of the king and moved England toward a constitutional monarchy. Magna Carta is essentially an unimpressive document mostly dealing with laws of commerce and cannons of trade. It does not hold a candle to US Constitution, our Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence But some of its clauses are brilliant examples of human rights advocacy. Consider Article 39. It states “No freeman shall be arrested or imprisoned or deprived of his freehold or outlawed or banished or in any way ruined, nor will we take or order action against him, except by the lawful judgment of his equals and according to the law of the land.” Doesn’t it sound like something written by John Locke or Thomas Jefferson?   In America, we are blessed to have the intellectual depth, wisdom, and knowledge of 2500 years history by a group of devoted patriots, America’s founding fathers who gave us our Republic. They skillfully wove concepts from Declaration of Human Rights by Persia’s King Cyrus the Great, dubbed Messiah in the Bible (Isaiah 41), Code of Hammurabi, and the renaissance philosophers, especially Pico Della Mirandola’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in the tapestry of our beloved nation.

Personally, I love America. Unlike many of my misguided colleagues who are ashamed of America, I am proud of America. I love the cacophony and gridlock in US Congress with 8% approval rating. I love the liberty and freedom to disagree, argue, and have robust and serious conversation without fear of being arrested and jailed. I love America’s devotion and commitment to supremacy of the rule of law and not those of a ruler, a Shah, an Ayatollah or a some two-bit dictator-President-for-Life.  And I am happy to pay my taxes to ensure the survival of our freedom, but not happy to see my taxes wasted, and moneys misspent on programs that encourage delinquent and antisocial behavior. Behavior like irresponsibly fathering many children by many women, and not being a daddy to them. Behavior like setting one’s highest ambition in life to get on public welfare. Behavior like coming to America, living here for many years, enjoying the fruits of the liberty, freedom and equality America offers, yet not learning the English language, and not assuming any civic pride and patriotic responsibility….

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

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Remembering Mrs. Thatcher

Monday Musings for April 15, 2013

Volume III 14/117

Mourning Maggie

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

 (Editor’s Note: The passing of Lady Thatcher was a blow.  Condolences to all. In observance of the occasion, we are re-running “Monday Musings” below for your reading enjoyment, and the link for your viewing pleasure. 

 Link on WRAL:

http://www.wral.com/news/local/video/12318911/#/vid12318911

Vol. 2 / No.20

Thatcher

From left to right, Dr. P. Geoffrey Feiss, Lady Margaret Thatcher, Dr. Assad Meymandi.

Lunch with Maggie

I recently saw the movie Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. We are not big movie fans, may be go to one or two a year, and often if the subject is disappointing, I leave after the 10-15 minutes but not this movie. Iron Lady is a movie depicting the biography of Lady Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of England (1979-1990). It was on her watch, and that of the late President Ronald Reagan, that the Soviet Union crumbled. Throughout the movie, I had a hard time keeping my composure.  It was hard not to cry.  I was weeping for Lady Thatcher, I was weeping for losing her warm, but elegant friendship, I was weeping for losing the promise and possibility of her accepting the invitation of the National Humanities Center to become a Distinguished Meymandi Fellow and give lectures to the RTP audiences. But above all I was weeping for the world losing a remarkable woman, another Lady/Empress Matilda Maude (1102-1167) who pre-wrote Magna Carta (King John, 1215).  The history of our relationship goes back to many years ago.  Below is a reprinted account of our initial luncheon meeting, first published in Wake County Physician magazine.

Seven other people, my wife and I were privileged to lunch with Lady Margaret Thatcher in the Plumeri House of William and Mary College. Our host, P. Geoffery Feiss, Provost of the College, seated me at the left side of the Iron Lady, because that is her “good ear”. The lunch and conversation went on at a leisurely pace. With the after-lunch-picture-taking-and book-signing ceremonies, the Lady stayed around for a good two and a half hours. Nonetheless the entire experience was an extravagant moment, but too short and too fleeting…Her trip was a hush-hush affair.  She was the mystery guest at the commencement ceremonies of the previous evening. The principle speaker was Ms. Halaby (Queen Noor of Jordan).But with the Lady Thatcher’s sudden appearance in the academic procession; the crowd erupted into a spontaneous ovation.  The Lady gave a fifteen minute unrehearsed speech.

Conversation around the round dining room table started with prosaic platitudes, and gradually escalated into an intense exchange of ideas. Of course, most of us listened while the Iron Lady spoke of the Falkland War, her friendship with Ronnie (President Reagan) and Nancy. We also spoke of the former (now the late) NC Senator Jesse Helms and Gorbachev.”The gentleman was devastated when his wife Raisa died”, the former Prime Minister of England informed us.

Thatcher sees no use for the United Nations. She abhors indecisiveness, appeasement and unprincipled diplomacy. She insisted that in our global collective and diffuse culture, individuals do make a difference. Our host invited me to tell the Lady my opinion on this thesis. I politely and dutifully suggested that the Lord, in order to provide Neolithic man with role models, sent Zarathustra to bring us enlightenment; Abraham to give us faith; Moses to demonstrate the possibilities of discipline; Christ to teach us love; Prophet Mohammad, peace be with him, to show us structure and system approach to problem solving; Mozart, to give us the gift of music; Thomas Jefferson and the framers of the US Constitution, the fresh concept of a working, living, breathing Republic where the rule of law is supreme. And then I added the name of Margaret Thatcher to this pantheon of deities who showed us how conservatism, private enterprise, and individual initiative elevate the majesty of human achievement. The lady seemed to enjoy the discourse. She indicated that she is willing to come to NC at a future date, perhaps as a Meymandi Distinguished Fellow at the National Humanities Center.

On a personal note, Lady Thatcher showed a bit of disdain for sensation seeking journalists who emphasize her “grocer” father, but neglect to say that the gentleman was a civic leader, chairman of the town library board, a civic leader and prominent in the cultural life of his hometown. It was her father who inculcated the love of books and reading in the future Prime Minister of England. Thatcher went on to study Chemistry at Oxford, because of the possibility of a better job. For a while a student she actually made and sold ice cream… I asked the Lady what force has been most influential in her rise to prominence. Without hesitation, she named Winston Churchill, and went on to extol the Gentleman’s virtues including his military career and becoming Prime Minister when he was well into his sixties.

The Lady gave me two autographed books which occupy a prominent place in my private library. And in my heart.

State Anniversaries for the month of May:  Wisconsin, State number 30, joined the Union on May 11, 1848.  Motto: “Forward“.  South Carolina, original colony number 8, May 23, 1788.  Motto: “While I breathe, I hope.”  Rhode Island, original colony number 13 (the last one), May 29, 1790, Motto: “Hope“.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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