The Magna Carta is a document written by a small group of relatively powerful
white intellectuals for people essentially like themselves. These paragraphs
indicate the fundamentally racist and imperialist bases of their analysis, as
well as its ahistoricity.

It is all well and good to cite the Mayflower Compact (does any reader
actually remember what the provisions of that document were all about?) but
to ignore the laws of the Iroquois Confederacy, which were consciously used
by the Founders as a model for the Constitution, suggests racist ignorance.
To cite the “Oklahoma land rush” as a reaffirmation of a “fundamental
principle of rights. . . that power resides with the people” is to transform
Native Americans into non-entities (“people” without “power” presumably don’t
count). I would hope that in this day and age even a freshman anthropology
course would expose the falsity in the statement that “there were no rules on
the American continent in 1620, or in the Northwest Territory in 1787;” what
the authors mean, of course, is that there were no white or European rules
(presumable, the only ones which count).

It is a simplistic chauvinism which mindlessly proclaims that “Americans
still celebrate individuality over conformity, reward achievement over
consensus and militantly protect the right to be different” at a time in
which we have not gotten very far beyond tokenism in providing true
recognition to social diversity–of gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
For women who have crashed into the glass ceiling, for black teenagers
growing up in neighborhoods where the true unemployment rate may be as high
at 80% and dealing drugs is the only viable form of economic activity for
miles around, for lesbians and gays who have been subjected to increasing
attacks of physical violence and who cannot secure the most basic of human
rights in most states–to legally express their love, to share in the civil
state of matrimony, and the like–and to all those other folks who are aware
of the enormous persistent inequities in American society, these statements
are truly Orwellian. (Nonetheless, in Marcusian fashion, every aspiring
politician repeats them.)

So do we really believe that Americans are the most free of all the nations
on Earth? Are the 40 million Americans without access to health care truly
more free than Canadians or the French? Do their programs of social
solidarity, a true “safety net,” provide more freedom or entail more

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