Archives for posts with tag: Magna Charta

“Profit is a natural by-product of voluntary commerce, exchanging value for value. Increasing profits come from better exchanges of value over time. Accepting a lower value of trade in order to benefit someone else believed to need the benefit is a myth. Self interest has always been a key component of human commerce.”

Paul Garner

The barons who had forced King John to sign the Magna Charta were interested in preserving their privileges, not in the deepening of their fellow citizens’ freedom… yet this was the ultimate consequence of their actions.

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

This clause gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial. However, ‘free men’ comprised only a small proportion of the population in medieval England. The majority of the people were unfree peasants known as ‘villeins’, who could seek justice only through the courts of their own lords.”

The heirs of those barons had evicted their Scottish tenants in search of the higher profits yielded by raising sheep, not because they wished to improve the local food market. Yet exactly those ‘clearances’ had constituted the stepping stone for the economic blooming of Scotland. And for the advent of the ‘Scottish Economic Thought’, epitomized by Adam Smith.

Are we to understand that ‘self interest’ will, sooner or later, somehow morph into ‘the greater good’? By its own, according to a yet unknown ‘natural law’?

I’m afraid this is nothing but wishful thinking.

The barons who had rebelled against King John were following an already established tradition.
Being the nephews of the Norman – read Viking, invaders, they were familiar with the Scandinavian things. Their uprising against the king was nothing more than a defense of their fore-fathers’ way of life.

Of their fore-fathers’ free way of life!

The landlords who had evicted their tenants to make way for the more profitable sheep may have created the conditions for the development of a thriving free market… only it was exactly this free market which had represented the doom of the ‘landed aristocracy’…

So. Is freedom the most important aspect of the free market?

I’m afraid that would be an oversimplification.

The markets are free, period.
If anything impedes their (transversal) freedom in ‘space’ – a ruler, a dictator or even a natural set of events, markets will find their (longitudinal) freedom in ‘time’. All dictatorships have been toppled by ‘history’ and all ‘natural’ sets of events have been overcome. As yet, at least.

The most important ‘things’ in the market are the people who animate it.
Any market would be nothing but an empty intersection of roads if not for the people who gather there to trade their wares. To better solve their existential problems by exchanging the ‘fruits of their respective skills’.
And the freer those people are to hone their skills and to take the fruits of those skills to whatever intersection they choose, the better the solutions developed, by them, for their existential problems.

And what about the profit? Is it good?

Of course it’s good. But for only as long as it remains free!
For only as long as it doesn’t depend on external forces and for only as long as it doesn’t become an obsession.
Since most of you understand the perils of monopolistic ‘external forces’ being exerted to limit the freedom of the market, I’ll delve directly into my obsession about the hidden dangers of pursuing profit as an existential goal.

We describe ourselves as being conscious.

In Humberto Maturana’s terms, ‘we are able to catch ourselves red handed’.

As a human being I do what we human beings do, I operate as an observer observing. The observer is not a condition of being, it is not a transcendental entity that exists by itself, it is not a material entity, it is our experience of being aware of ourselves doing what we do as we human beings operating as observers observing. And what do we do as human beings operating as observers in observing? We make distinctions. We make distinctions of objects, of notions, of ideas, of concepts, …,of entities that we bring forth with our operations of distinction together with the domains of existence in which they arise.

When hungry, we not only feed ourselves. We also notice that we feel good once our bellies are full. And we strive to make provisions for the next meal. Thus increasing our chances to survive.

Some of us end up eating too much. They are so keen to reproduce ‘that’ good feeling that they end up morbidly fat. Thus diminishing their life span.

Still others try to make sure they’ll enjoy their next meal by appointing themselves ‘gatekeepers’ to ‘food’.
And, sooner rather than later, every time they succeed, this ‘arrangement’ ends up in abject failure. The most publicized recent example being the failure of the centrally planned ‘popular democracies’. Unfortunately, there had been countless other examples. In fact, in all instances where power had been concentrated in a too small number of hands, the societies which had allowed this to happen have eventually collapsed.

Another example is our addiction to drugs.
All of us enjoy feeling good. Which is an evolutionary device meant to show us we are on the right track. To prod us in the right direction.
Some of us have discovered ‘the short cut’. Instead of doing ‘the right thing’ first and expect the reward afterwards, they just imbibe the ‘right’ substance. Alcohol, sugar, nicotine, heroine, coke, THC

Now, can any of us pretend that a drug addict or a morbidly fat individual is a free person?

Returning to the freedom of the market, we can only say that a market is functionally free for only as long as a functional majority of the trading agents behave in a free manner. Do as they individually see fit.
Compare this to the situation when, for whatever reason, the majority of the trading agents feel compelled to follow a fad.
The Tulip Mania is the first example which springs into my mind every time I discuss this subject. Followed by all other bubbles which had ‘punctured’ our economic history ever since.

The current fad being ‘profit’.
Which profit is essential for the long term well being – read ‘survival’, of any economic enterprise.
Only we need to remember that economic enterprises are meant to solve problems. To be of service to people. So useful to the consumer side of the market that the consumers are willing, on their own accord, to part with enough money to make those enterprises profitable.

If the market is warped so far that things go the other way – enterprises are managed to maximize profits at the expense of the services rendered to the clients and the ‘beneficiaries’ are not aware of what’s going on, or have no say in the process, the whole thing starts to resemble what used to happen inside an opium den.

We somehow managed to weather all economic crises that we, ourselves, have brought upon our heads. And to outgrow our obsession with opium.

I’m sure we’ll manage to free ourselves from our current obsession with profit.

Nota bene!
Under no circumstances we may allow capitalism itself to be left behind in our quest for liberty from the tyranny of ‘profit’.
Capitalism is something else than the unending and callous adoration of the ‘golden god’, just as profit is a very useful indicator but a horrible master.

 

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Democracy works. Authoritarianism works too.

Athens, the Ancient version, had become the dominant power of the Ancient Greece as a democracy. Only the Parthenon was build under Pericle’s rule. And Pericle was, for all intents and purposes, a dictator.
Rome, the Ancient version, had build a huge empire. As a democracy. Then enlarged it some more. As a growingly authoritarian and eventually discretionary regime.

England had started as the most democratic kingdom in Europe. Building upon the democratic traditions developed by the Vikings, the barons had forced King John to sign Magna Charta Libertatum. Way back in 1215.
Meanwhile, France – England’s neighbor and long time competitor, had become the dominant power in Medieval Europe. As an increasingly absolutist monarchy.

At some point, the people living in the future United States of America had decided that they had enough. That they wanted to enjoy the same privilege as their British counterparts. “No taxation without representation”.  George III would have no such a thing so the US had been established as the first democratic modern state. And the most successful to date. By almost every measure.
Following on America’s foot steps, the French had their Revolution. After a very short – and very tumultuous, democratic stint, they had reverted to authoritarianism. And conquered almost all Europe, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte the First. Only to be eventually defeated by a coalition led by the more democratic British empire.

On the other side of Eur-Asia, things had been more linear.

The Russian Empire was developed in fits and starts. When the dictating ruler knew what he was doing – Peter the Great, for instance, things went forward. When not…
India had been, for all but the last 70 years or so, a melting pot of feuding dictatorships. Yet had developed a fascinating culture and much of what we currently call science and technology. The numbers our computers crunch had been invented there. And the steel we use to build our cars
The Chinese Middle Kingdom had once been the most civilized country on Earth. Then had crumbled under the assault of the marauding already democratic Europeans… only to revive, like the famous Phoenix… and all these while remaining submissive to a succession of authoritarian regimes.
Japan is a story by herself. Never fully authoritarian and yet still ‘imperative’ in many ways even today, she had somehow managed to put up a relatively good show. But for the period when she had succumbed to the ‘charms’ of hard core dictatorship, of course.

Coming back to Europe, I have to note that in the last century the inevitable tension between democracy and authoritarianism has produced immense tragedy.
WWI was the consequence of the inflexibility inherent to the authoritarian regimes. The leaders of the Keiserlich und Koniglich Habsburgic Empire, the Deutches Reich and the Russian Empire were not able to solve their disputes otherwise than dragging the whole continent into a huge mess.
Which, unsolved, had given birth to a second, and more horrible, one.
To complicate things even more, the battle was not fraught between the democratic regimes and the authoritarians.

The relatively flat layout of most parliamentary chambers has induced in us the idea that society is linear. From left to right and backwards.
Also, the current almost ubiquitous existence of parliaments drove us to forget that until recently – historically speaking, of course, most societies have been punctiform. The sovereign king was the only one able/entitled to make any significant decision…

Meanwhile we are told by the political scientists that long term political stability can be achieved only through ‘checks and balances’. Meaning that the state has to be organized in such a way that nobody can get amass too much power.
Actually most modern states have an executive, a legislative body and a judiciary. Each of them performing their specific tasks while keeping a jealous eye on the other two.

The problem with long term political stability being that it is a very abstract goal while most people just want to be happy. And are willing to go at considerable lengths in order to achieve their goals….

And it’s exactly here where ideologues start to argue among themselves

Some say that the individual is sacrosanct. That individual freedom is the most important value that is and the most fundamental ‘human right’.
Others say that society is more important than any individual. That all individuals should put themselves at the service of the society and that individual liberty pales when confronted with social necessity.
And a third category consider that democracy is a waste of time and of opportunity. That the best for any society is that a capable person/group of persons to be given absolute power over it. The rationale being that ‘the capable’ will take good care of their ‘property’. A far better kind of care than any group of bickering politicians would ever be able to offer….

On the practical side, those preoccupied with ‘freedom’ consider that the main duty of the state is to preserve/protect individual liberty. That people, once free, will know how to achieve their personal happiness.
The socially minded consider that individual happiness cannot exist before/outside the well being of the entire society. Hence the ‘rational citizen’ has to postpone (read forget) any personal goals and sublimate their own persona into the society.
‘The more capable than the rest’ consider that the ‘incapable’ cannot be trusted with defining their own goals and have to be told what to do. For their own good!

It is very easy to observe that none of the three ‘ideal types’ described above doesn’t work on its own. That each have been experimented and found to be ‘unpractical’, to say the least.

Individual absolute freedom exists. The Saan living in the Kalahari desert and the  Baka in the Cameroon don’t have any formal rules, no social hierarchy and are absolutely free to do as they please. Both have been easily overcome, their habitat is being encroached/destroyed by their ‘neighbors’ and have been able to survive only by going further and further away from anything.
Socially minded people have, time and time again, congregated. Only to witness their communities dissolve or develop malignantly. From the early christian settlements to the XiX-th century phalansters.
The ‘know better’ is, apparently at least, the most successful arrangement. All kingdoms and empires have been organized according to this principle.
And all of them eventually failed. Even Plato’s idea of ‘king priests’ has led to Alexander the Great’s ultimately disastrous campaign into the Middle East. Not to mention the fact that the erstwhile mighty Athens had fallen into anonymity just after starting to be governed by specially trained rulers.

Since the pure ideal types didn’t work, let’s see what we get if we combine them.

Since I’ve been experimenting it for the first 30 years of my life, I’ll start with the result of crossing ‘social minded’ with ‘know better’. Does ‘communism’ ring any bells with you?
Let’s cross ‘liberty’ with ‘know better’. Actually this has already been done. It was about liberty for those who knew better… Nazism, and its newer variants, are the first examples which come to mind.
And the most interesting result comes from crossing freedom with social minded. This has also been experimented. In the democratic Ancient Athens and in during the truly Republican phase of the Roman Empire. The same combination was used by the vikings and somehow perpetuated to this day. Its offshoots being the western style democracy.

Which democracy – just like the Roman Empire, will survive for only as long as it will conserve both individual freedom and social mindedness while allowing, but only when needed, the ‘know better’ to take over for the short periods of time when their presence at the helm is absolutely necessary.

In my previous post, Loyalty, I proposed a four dimensional analysis of an interaction.

The nature of the interaction.
Who are the participants.
The intensity of the interaction.
The manner in which the interaction is changed by the passage of time/changes the passage of time.

I’m going to use the method in my attempt to understand the legislative process.

Hammurabi, “the best known and most celebrated of all Mesopotamian kings“, is famous for, among other things, having compiled one of the best preserved – hence best known, ancient codes of law.

“When he began ruling the city-state of Babylon, he had control of no more than 50 square miles of territory. As he conquered other city-states and his empire grew, he saw the need to unify the various groups he controlled.
Hammurabi keenly understood that, to achieve this goal, he needed one universal set of laws for all of the diverse peoples he conquered. Therefore, he sent legal experts throughout his kingdom to gather existing laws. These laws were reviewed and some were changed or eliminated before compiling his final list of 282 laws.”

Having learned that, it becomes safe to say that a ‘legislative process’ is a development which clarifies the relationship between a ruler and his subjects.

But why would an absolute ruler – as they used to be in those times, put a cap on his own authority? Why would he limit his own powers? Why not judge each case individually? Why not do according to his ‘present mood’ on each occasion?

For two reasons.
As his empire grew, he wasn’t able anymore to judge all the cases by himself. He had to delegate at least some of his judicial powers. And he didn’t want the appointed judges to do as they pleased, without any ‘guidance’.
Secondly, as his empire grew, more and more people – following diverse traditions and bylaws, became incorporated in his empire. He wanted all of them to enjoy the same level of justice and he didn’t want to alienate any one of them.

For this he had first gathered the existing laws throughout his kingdom. He didn’t want to impose his own ‘weltanschauung’ on everybody else, he only needed to build an effective ‘governing tool’.
And he had understood that a law actually makes sense only if it reflects the mores of those asked to abide by it. This way, those who have to ‘police’ those people have to deal exclusively with the relatively few trespassers. Had his laws been a ‘wholesale invention’, the job of the government/police would have been enormous, the costs incurred would have been prohibitive and the result uncertain – to say the least.

I’m sure that most of you noticed that the last paragraph was about the intensity of the relationship so I’ll jump directly to the last dimension.

We have the history of the legislative process and we have history itself.
Is it farfetched to consider ‘history itself’ as the ‘success and failure’ story of how the legislative process has influenced the fate of various people?

Hammurabi had a predecessor. He wasn’t the first to have conquered the entire Mesopotamia. Sargon the Great of Akkad had done the same thing a few centuries before him. There is though a marked difference between Sargon and Hammurabi.

“It is a testimony to his rule that, unlike Sargon of Akkad or his grandson Naram-Sin from earlier times, Hammurabi did not have to re-conquer cities and regions repeatedly”

Joshua J. Mark, Hammurabi, http://www.ancient.eu/hammurabi/

From then on, history is choke full of examples leading to the same conclusion.

The ancient Romans were sticklers for the rule of law – and everything went OK as long as the rulers kept their part of the bargain, yet the first major ‘Roman’ code was compiled by Justinian, the Byzantine emperor, long after the Western part of the Imperium had collapsed. And is imperious for us to remember, in this context, that so many of the Roman emperors had a rather ‘erratic’ behavior…

This example also suggests that there’s no real need for complex and all encompasing code. All it takes is for both rulers and ruled to do their respective jobs in a responsible manner by implementing the existing rules of the land in a reasonable manner.

Fast forward to Great Britain.
The only modern country without a written constitution.
And one of the best working countries in the world, too… except for the last two years or so… I’ll leave it there, for now.
OK, it resides in an island, which somehow insulates it from outside intervention and provides better conditions for stability. Yet it would be very hard to deny the correlation between the legislative stability and relative political continuity that can be observed throughout the British history. Specially when you compare them to what happened in the rest of Europe during the same period.
France is at it’s fifth Republic in less than two and a half centuries.
Germany had morphed from an aggressive Reich to a republic, but not before bringing the whole world to the brink. Twice!
Italy cannot get a grip on itself… Spain almost killed itself during the Civil War, the Greek people had allowed some of its citizens to ‘steal’ almost everything in the country…

What is the common point between all these countries? All of them had been run, during the last 10 centuries or so, in a lot more centralized manner than Great Britain? Their legislative processes have been mostly a top down thing while the one in England had started with Magna Charta? Which was anything but top down!

Coda.

I still need to educate my writing.
I started putting my thoughts down on paper – up in the Cloud, actually, as a manner of bringing my mind to some sort of order.
My success is relative.
I start writing about a certain subject having a certain goal in mind. Yet sometimes that particular goal fades as I write and others, more important, jump at me from various corners.

Now, there’s this ‘small’ issue regarding the ‘Constitution’.

Like any other Law, it defines an interaction between people. Hence, it belongs to the same ‘legislative’ realm.
On the other hand, while the Law defines what a certain person might or might not do and what is the punishment for trespassing, the Constitution delineates the whole environment where the entire social life will take place.
In a sense, the early constitutions were contracts between an erstwhile ruler and his ‘former’ subjects. Both parties entering this contract transforms the relationship between them changes.
While an absolute ruler would give a law as a promise – I’ll behave in such and such way if/when you, the people, will do such and such, when entering the contract known as constitution the ruler acknowledges a new statute for his erstwhile subjects.

Erstwhile ruler and erstwhile subjects become sort of equals.

Constitutions adopted by countries organized as republics go one step further. They actually proclaim the status of equality among all their citizens.

Unfortunately there’s a second similarity between Law and Constitution. Both have to be read and implemented by people.
And there is a difference if most of the people choose to read and implement them in good faith – for the common good, or whether too many of ‘the people’ choose to interpret the law/constitution in a manner that would be beneficial exclusivelly for them.
For those powerful/skillful enough to manipulate enough of the rest into believing that ‘this is how it has to be’.

This is how ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ has come to be coined…

 

 

PS. I borrowed the first block-quote from ushistory.org and they implicitly asked me to publish this information.
I’m only happy to oblige, given the wealth of information which is available on their site.
Thank you.
The origin of the rest of the quotes can be determined by simply clicking on them. All the links will open in new tabs.

AUTHOR ushistory.org
TITLE OF PAGE Hammurabi’s Code: An Eye for an Eye
TITLE OF PROGRAM Ancient Civilizations Online Textbook
URL OF PAGE http://www.ushistory.org/civ/4c.asp
DATE OF ACCESS Monday, March 19, 2018
COPYRIGHT 2018

Does he have any ‘right to exert his authority, inside the limits that have been delineated for him’?

Somebody who has real authority enjoys a certain degree of autonomy, if not outright independence. ‘Authority’ is almost never clearly delineated, there is always a gray area where the discretion of the individual in charge is the one that calls the shots.
More over if we, the ‘subjects’, consider that he has ‘the right’ to exercise that authority then it’s us who are in deep trouble.
‘Exertion of authority’ ‘smacks’ of the situation  when the ‘authority man’ had conquered his position against the wish of his subjects – like the emperors of the old. (Or like the communist dictators of not so long ago, only they pretended to exercise their authority for the benefit of the people while the emperors of the old were more straightforward and declared themselves ‘gods’)
Nowadays, at least in the democratic states, authority is, theoretically, used as a tool, towards the accomplishment of what the person in charge is supposed to achieve, not as a right enjoyed by that person.
In fact the notion of a right to exert authority inside some limits is akin to what has been described as ‘feudalism’, a social arrangement not that different from the Athenian democracy. The people were divided in two categories, just as in the previous situation – the ‘imperiums’ of the Antiquity, the difference being that in an imperium the top class was inhabited by a single individual – the emperor/dictator, while in feudalism/Athenian democracy the top class was inhabited by the free people, whose authority/freedom extended only as far as it started to encroach the authority of the equivalent individuals. I have to remark here that in many circumstances feudalism has very quickly degenerated back to imperium – for instance in absolutist France, ‘L’etat c’est moi’, or in tsarist Russia, while England successfully avoided that due to the spirit enshrined in Magna Charta.
The difference between feudalism/Athenian democracy and the modern democracy being that currently we can no longer speak of individual authority simply because nowadays no one has the “right” to own slaves – as the Athenian ‘democrats’ had, nor even enjoy extensive authority (bar the right of life and death) over other people – the serfs, as the feudal barons did not so long ago.
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