Noam Chomsky recent gave a meaty talk, “Destroying the Commons: On Shredding the Magna Carta” that shows how fragile the rights of commoners truly are. Achieved after enormous civil strife, the Magna Carta supposedly guaranteed commoners certain civic and procedural rights. A companion document, the Charter of the Forest later incorporated into the Magna Carta, expressly guarantees commoners stipulated rights to access and use forests, land, water, game and other natural resources for their subsistence.
Both documents are now being shredded today with barely a peep of acknowledgment that centuries-old principles of human rights are being swept aside. Much of Chomsky’s talk is dedicated to his familiar critiques of US geopolitics and corporate globalization. But he has a few illuminating passages about the Charter of the Forest and modern-day enclosures, especially in the global South. Chomsky gave the speech at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Citing Linebaugh’s book, The Magna Carta Manifesto, Chomsky writes:
The Charter of the Forest imposed limits to privatization…. By the seventeenth century, however, this Charter had fallen victim to the rise of the commodity economy and capitalist practice and morality.
With the commons no longer protected for cooperative nurturing and use, the rights of the common people were restricted to what could not be privatized, a category that continues to shrink to virtual invisibility. In Bolivia, the attempt to privatize water was, in the end, beaten back by an uprising that brought the indigenous majority to power for the first time in history. The World Bank has just ruled that the mining multinational Pacific Rim can proceed with a case against El Salvador for trying to preserve lands and communities from highly destructive gold mining. Environmental constraints threaten to deprive the company of future profits, a crime that can be punished under the rules of the investor-rights regime mislabeled as “free trade.” And this is only a tiny sample of struggles underway over much of the world….