The Religious Foundations of Magna Carta’s Legacy of Liberty

December 2, 2021 | Walter Russell Mead, Jonathan Silver, Catherine Pakaluk
About the author: Walter Russell Mead is a distinguished fellow at Hudson Institute, professor of foreign affairs and humanities at Bard College, and editor-at-large of the American Interest. His books include Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (2004), God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (2007), and The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People (forthcoming 2017). Jonathan Silver is the editor of Mosaic.

Issued by England’s King John in 1215, Magna Carta sets a series of constraints on the monarchy that became a fundamental part of the British constitution, and a direct line can be traced from this charter to the traditions of limited government that underpin the American founding. It is also, as Walter Russell Mead, Jonathan Silver, and Catherine Pakaluk explain, a document that places religion front and center. Mead observes that it opens with a “reassertion of the rights of the church,” and takes as axiomatic that “freedom and liberty if not grounded in reverence and faith sooner or later will go badly.” To Mead, the lesson to be learned from Magna Carta is that the cause of liberty and the preservation of tradition go hand in hand. (Video, 77 minutes.)

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