Does the 21rst Century Need a New Magna Carta?

The 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta provided the ideal backdrop for the final event in SIPA’s first annual “Clash of Concentrations” Debate Series, hosted by the SIPA Debate & Diplomacy Society and The Morningside Post.   By Danielle Stouck    On April 14th, the SIPA Debate & Diplomacy Society and The Morningside Post hosted the final event in the school’s first annual “Clash of Concentrations” De­bate Series. The 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta provided the ideal backdrop for the motion: “Does the 21st century need a new Magna Carta?” The finalists from International Se­curity Policy (ISP) were allocated the propo­sition side and the International Financial and Economic Policy (IFEP) students played opposition. Kevin Kravitz (MIA, ‘16) opened for the ISP team, arguing that although the advance­ment of liberty has always been incremental, it takes a “seminal moment” like the Magna Carta to reinvigorate the process. On the other side of the table, Aris Iliopou­los (MPA, ‘16) downplayed the significance of the Magna Carta document. The fleeting peace treaty, which was revoked by King John after only 12 days and included claus­es designed to disenfranchise black slaves and women, was only important for its 39th clause enshrining “…lawful judgment of his equals and the land of the law.” This was not a metaphysical “seminal moment” in human history, he argued, but rather a symbol and a principle. “ What would a new Magna Carta look like?” asked Adam Goldsmith (MIA, ‘16), an IFEP concentrator. In the face of globalization, net neutrality, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drone strikes, technological advancements, income inequality and wealth distribution, what would a new Magna Carta look like? The IFEP concentrators pushed harder, and argued that the Magna Carta itself was an “historical accident,” and without the physical inscription, it would not have meant much. The “Magna Carta went viral,” Abir Joshi (MIA ‘16) said, “it was to the year 1215 what cat videos [on YouTube] are to 2015.” It’s true that the world has fundamental­ly changed since the original signing of the Magna Carta. “We’ve advanced at a pace never before seen in human history,” said Alex Khadivi (MIA, ‘16) from the ISP team. But society today faces strikingly similar challenges pertaining to authority and power structures, justice and civil rights, freedom of expression and equality before the law as it did eight hundred years ago. Should Internet providers be al­lowed to control the speed with which we can access certain websites? Should private armies and police forces be held accountable for their actions before the law? Should poli­ticians and policymakers be held ac­countable for using campaign funds from powerful corporations with vested interests? “ Our leaders have been consistent­ly late to all of these issues,” Khadivi argued, the time has come to “redraw the lines of authority.” ISP concentrator Nicholas Ward (MIA, ’16) evoked images of Gandhi and Mandela, and reminded the au­dience that it may be hard to see the impact of these “seminal moments” from the 15th floor of the “Ivory Tower,” but for Eric Garner, Michael Brown and countless others, the 21st century needs a new Magna Carta. The concentration of wealth and power at the top are evidence for a “case of renewal,” Ward concluded. A new Magna Carta would not just en­shrine a broader definition of human rights, it would reverberate through­out history and strengthen the un­dertakings and institutions that hu­manity developed in the past. For the newly established SIPA De­bate & Diplomacy Society, the “Clash of Concentrations” Debate Series was a huge success. With wine and cheese in hand, the audience at the final event was attentive and engaged but also found moments to laugh. “ This was way better than any Ox­ford debate,” quipped SIPA Professor Gerratana, who served as one of the guest judges. The Series ended with a ceremony for the victorious ISP concentration, complete with a surprisingly heavy trophy and a gang of social media pa­parazzi. Check the Facebook Group for details. Now, back to the Magna Carta. Is it time for an update? Can a timeless piece of history that has paved the way for democracy, civil rights, and equality before the law simply be re­newed? The “Clash of Concentrations” left us all with big ideas to ponder, and we hope that the topics raised helped to spark some real discussion between students from different concentra­tions. One thing is abundantly clear; students from all concentrations at SIPA have a unique and informed perspective. Only by working togeth­er and challenging one another will we learn to convincingly articulate our positions and push forward our visions for how to make this world a better place. Danielle Stouck is a second-year Masters of International Affairs stu­dent.   This story first ran in the print edition of The Morningside Post on April 20, 2015.

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