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The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All Paperback – June 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


“With a passion, eloquence and lyrical reverence for the hard-won freedoms of Old England that take the breath away.”
(The Independent 2008-06-20)

“The year's most lyrical and necessary book on liberty. The Magna Carta Manifesto is such a pleasure to read.”
(John Nichols The Nation 2008-12-31)

“Shows how restraints against tyranny are being abridged as rights once held inalienable are laid aside.”
(Times Higher Education 2008-09-18)

“Linebaugh should be commended for the impressive scope of his analysis.”
(Insight Turkey 2010-12-13)

From the Inside Flap

"This is an original, powerful and ground breaking book. It is utterly fascinating and charts a path that gives me, and will give others, hope for a better future. Linebaugh sends an important message to a world that increasingly believes that private ownership of our resources can make us more prosperous. As we struggle to regain lost liberty The Magna Carta Manifesto makes us understand that freedom is about guaranteeing the economic and social rights that allow all of us to partake of political freedom."—Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights

"Ideas can be beautiful too, and the ideas Peter Linebaugh provokes and maps in this history of liberty are dazzling, reminders of what we have been and who we could be. In this remarkable small book, he traces one path of liberty back to the forests and the economic independence they represented for medieval Britons, another path to recent revolutionaries, another to the Bush Administration's assaults on habeas corpus, the Constitution, and liberty and he links the human rights charter that Magna Carta represented to the less-known Forest Charter, drawing a missing link between ecological and social well-being."—Rebecca Solnit, author of Storming the Gates of Paradise

"There is not a more important historian living today. Period."—Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"Ranging across the centuries, and from England to Asia, Africa and the Americas, Peter Linebaugh shows us the contested history of Magna Carta—how the liberties it invoked were secured and (as today) violated, and how generations of ordinary men and women tried to revive the idea of the commons in the hope of building a better world."—Eric Foner, author of The Story of American Freedom

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (June 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520260007
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520260009
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on September 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Historian Peter Linebaugh, author of The London Hanged and history teacher at the University of Toledo in Ohio, USA, has written a splendid book on Magna Carta. He studies a wide range of references to Magna Carta, particularly the US Supreme Court's references.

In the early 13th century, Britain's landed aristocracy was destroying the woodlands for commercial profit, undermining the wooded basis of material life and expropriating the indigenous people. The people then forced two charters on King John at Runnymede in 1215 - Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest.

The two charters became the common law of the land. Magna Carta's Chapter 39 laid down habeas corpus, trial by jury, a ban on torture, and due process.

However, the ruling class has wiped the Charter of the Forest from memory. It has also twisted Magna Carta into a defence of private property, corporations' rights and laissez-faire. But the two charters should not be separated. Political and legal rights exist only on an economic basis. To be free citizens, we need to be free producers.

What did the Charter of the Forest say? It limited expropriation and upheld the principles of neighbourhood, subsistence, travel, anti-enclosure and reparations. It pointed towards ending the commodity form of wealth, and to protecting the people from privatisers, autocrats and militarists. It was against false idols and for the right of resistance. It defended the commons, maintaining that all property should be vested in the community, and that labour should be organised for the benefit of all.

The ruling class has always feared and detested the peoples of the world.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By EGD on April 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I picked up Peter Linebaugh's Magna Carta Manifesto expecting an historical tour of the Magna Carta's influence on Western political-legal development over the intervening centuries. There was enough of that, but one mostly gets instead a non-fiction acid trip through forest culture and the meadows of Runneymeade, New York City on a good day.

Linbaugh's argument is true brilliance, if less-than-perfectly coherent: that despite the universal rhetorical reverence in which the Magna Carta is held, Western governments have never truly embraced the spirit of that great document, and continue to defy its most important articles through the eradication of customary economic rights (as embodied in the English "common") and prolonged (if interrupted) history of usurpations against the liberties of those out-of-favor. His proof is obvious, so Linebaugh respects the reader by withholding much of it, devoting himself primarily to context instead. It's a tour of the arts and humanities, with hard truths carved into monuments, captured on canvas, exposed and encrypted through poetry, poetry, and poetry. The tone is socialistic, the flavor is utopian, as though truth really does set one free. Here is a book about justice; let it enhance your mind.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Georgeann Johnson on March 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The issue of "LIberties and Commons" is very much up in the world right now. This is a dry, but well done
history of the Magna Carta. The passage from Olde England to private property England, and across the ocean to the pre-revolutionary USA. And now, world-wide, we are back to the issue of Commons and Private Property.
Very relevant. Who are the contemporary Robin Hoods? The Kings? The Sherriffs? And who wants to join up with the Merry Band?
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Shayn Mccallum on April 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book that makes immense sense read alongside Karl Polanyi's "the Great Transformation", the masterpiece of political economy written in the 1940's.
I find Linebaugh's approach to these issues, viewing the use of law "social contracts" and constitutions through a lense rooted squarely in history and political-economy both instructive and fascinating. I myself had never given much time to pondering the "Magna Carta" idea or considering its implications for a liberating political-economy but this book explores these issues exceptionally well.
A former instructor of mine at Bosphorus University, Dr. Huricihan 'slamo'lu,actually more-or-less pioneered the field of "political economy of law" but this work is very much in the same vein and is an outstanding contribution to the analysis and solution of one of the key issues we face today; the struggle to preserve and extend the "commons" against the all-consuming transformation being wrought on society by unrestrained (or rather, "barely restrained")private power.
I thoroughly recommend this book for anyone interested in social justice and the struggle for a more humane world.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jack Cade on May 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Linebaugh's book is REAL history--with documentation that can be contested. While I disagree that the Magna Carta was a document of "liberty" the book is filled with so much insight that it is worhy of his great teacher Edward Thompson.His comparison with the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence is brilliant. I agree with the levelers Walwyn and Overton and with the digger Winstanely--Magna Carta (as a guarantee of rights) is not worth a "mess of poridge". But this is a very great book. Enough said
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