Before last week’s jaunt to Germany, I’d been zooming out from the origin and reinvention stories of stroke survivors. Instead, I was focusing on the origin stories, anthems, and mottoes of countries: (1, 2)
[Get apoplectic.me’s more whimsical and personal cousin here.]
In The State of Origins, Pts. 1 and 2, I observed that
…origin stories, national values, and national mottoes are not easy to pin down.
And this jogged something. In 2015, I couldn’t fathom why British media outlets were making such a big deal about the eighth centenary of the Magna Carta. But I put this down to my own ignorance.
So I revisited Paul Sinha’s Sinha Carta, a comedic summary of what one needs to know about the Great Charter. A couple of weeks later, I can’t remember a damn thing. And it turns out I’m in… company.
Favourite of the blog, Davey Cameron, was embarrassed on David Letterman’s Late Show in 2012, when he couldn’t tell the host what the words Magna Carta meant (clue above). But to be fair, it’s not like he had the advantage of a fancy education where Latin tutelage was readily available.
In the aftermath of this, MC Wee Davey C (guess what the MC stands for) placed himself at the forefront of a campaign to increase awareness of Magna Carta. Here’s his article from the Mail on Sunday on Magna Carta and, god help us, British values.
It’s classic Cameron, an example of governance driven by a need to swat the latest fly – without going through the boring bit of amassing any knowledge about what you’re doing (a particularly egregious example here)
Oops, it’s a spider.
So, yeah. Magna Carta was all over the shop for a bit, a shining example of democracy and British values.
Except, not really. Because Magna Carta is primarily an agreement of truce among King John and his barons – and most notably, the financial arrangements among them. There’s some unfortunately sexist and antisemitic stuff in there, too. And something about removing fishing traps from the Thames and the Medway.
You see, Britain isn’t the U.S. Ironically, because certain snippets of Magna Carta were eventually used to build the argument for American independence and the resounding founding documents. No taxation without representation. No imprisonment without due process. That sort of thing.
So now, the U.S. has an an origin story so gripping and filled with theorising that Nerd Bait obsession, Hamilton, is packing 20,000 words into a musical. And audiences into the Richard Rogers Theater through 2017.
Magna Carta was everywhere in 2015, because Britain and its constituent nations don’t have an origin story they can talk about in polite company. Cecil Rhodes and the expansion of empire? The 1707 Act of Union? And up here in Scotland, we’re in a kind of limbo three hundred years later that leaves us in the narrative clutches of seven-hundred year-old wars of independence that eventually came to naught.
No wonder it’s so hard to find a national anthem for England, Scotland, and the United Kingdom. I wouldn’t presume to wonder how Wales ended up with something as awesome as Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers).
Maybe, as The Prof suggested in his comment to Part 2, we’ve passed the time for national anthems. Our populations are so segmented. Heck, families don’t even consume the same entertainment products of an evening. What chance coming together around one song?
Maybe Billy Connolly (here) and Radiohead (here) have the right answer – a national anthem without words. Of course, Scotland tried that by collectively not learning the words to Scotland the Brave, then we dumped that so we’d have something to sing at sporting events. Now it’s Flower of Scotland that’s on the pedestal, getting a kicking from Pat Kane and others for being to sentimental, too dirge-like.
But maybe there’s an answer. A new song, free of baggage, easy to remember, that even gives us a chance to replace patron Saint Andrew with the much more apt Saint Columba referenced therein.
2 thoughts on “The State of Origins, Pt. 3”
So the constitution is a pretty remarkable document. Except for the completely unacceptable massive oversights (see: 3/5 compromise; women) it has worked pretty well but mostly because it is ambiguous. For instance (since hey this is a legal blog right) Supreme Court judicial review of constitutionality wasn’t even something which happened until 1803 and marbury v Madison.
So I guess when I look at systems I think flexibility is what makes them work at human scale. But also what puts all the risk in.
And really there hasn’t been an organizing principle which has survived for more than a couple of hundred years in the west. Rome was the longest run and even they had republic and empire split. (I don’t count the Middle Ages as a coherent system).
And we always make the mistake of thinking now is the stable time.
But anthems create identity which, at its best, creates stability (see: America) and at its worst creates harmful boundaries (see: nazi appropriation of Wagner). And so are powerful and dangerous things.
But hey if Scotland wants the swimming song as its anthem thats good with me!!
Legal blog! Ha!
As it happens, I’ve got my Dean’s award for best performance in Con Law I at UT around here somewhere. Admittedly, I got a little extra time for being a foreign student! Guess I’m lucky I learned English in time to meet Mrs Stroke Bloke.
Mason makes a case in Post-Capitalism for our current economic system having reached an unsustainable looping point that requires an innovative break of some sort. But he also has to acknowledge capitalism’s incredible ability to absorb and mutate threats, and I’m not sure that he makes the case that things are different today.
Maybe the constitution has reached a similar point of unassailability and adaptability. If we trace America’s founding documents back to the Declaration of Arbroath ;o), then the system’s had an even better run. But then, we saw James I last night, and even in a contemporary play playing up symmetries, it would be hard to argue that there hasn’t been some sort of break with the C14th feudal system described therein. Maybe. I guess we’ll see what happens to the Land Reform Bill as it passes through Holyrood.
As #EURef gains momentum, the problems of the half-way house that is the EU become more apparent when lined up next to the US. There’s something to be said there, maybe about the nature and timing of the different sorts of existential threats that the US and the EU (and Scotland, and England, and Britain) have faced, and how those impact upon identity and boundaries.
But hey, imagine the Scots running out for the first game of the 6 Nations on Sunday against England and belting out The Swimming Song!
“And listen to that! They’ll be dancing in the streets of Jedburgh tonight!“