We imagined our great documents and their imposing concepts emerging out of figures as grand as the ideas they devised. Then, more recently, there came an era in which, disappointed in the self-interest and flaws of human creators, we tended to imagine that ideas were intrinsically damaged by their clouded origins, the way the ideals of the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution were imagined as diminished because of their slave-holding authors. Even now, there is a temptation to be hesitant in affirming the virtues of such a history — apologizing for it instead of celebrating it — because the highest principles pronounced have not always been so nobly put into practice.The Times sounds like First Things, and Reno's South Dakota Dreamin' at First Things sounds like the Front Porch Republic. How nice when clear insight can't be trademarked.
The Magna Carta, though, with its own conglomeration of small and large concerns, its mixture of particular corrections and sweeping reforms, its history of conflicted ambitions and compromises, proves how mistaken this contemporary perspective is.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Post-Revisionism at the Times?
Viewers of Robin Hood will have Russell Crowe's imperfect, but nevertheless instructive dramatization of Magna Carta in mind, which can be conveniently supplemented by a 1217 version of the real thing that happens to be in New York for another week. Even more surprising, in my estimation, is the refreshing take on the document from Edward Rothstein at The New York Times.