Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



This dissertation is an overview of the concept of liberty and community in Magna Carta. The central point is the ethical understanding of liberty which Salisbury calls the habitus of liberty. Liberty is an ethical condition of the individual which exists in tension and parallel to the social status of Liber Homo. This dual characterization of liberty is the causal factor behind the understanding of Magna Carta as both document and event in constitutional history in the related History literature on this topic. Because Liberty is understood in Magna Carta as a habitus, the particular behaviors associated with liberty, referred to in the modern parlance as rights, take on a significance that is distinct from their modern understanding. The practice of rights contributes to liberty but is not constitutive of liberty, as rights are exterior manifestations of an interior state of freedom. Insofar as the practice of free behaviors aid in the formation of personal character, they are helpful and good, but the deprivation of these behaviors, even by force, does not deprive the individual of liberty. Liberty, as a characteristic of personality, can only be lost when the individual voluntarily surrenders to servility. The medieval writers links this to Christian liberty of the soul; freedom is to virtue as slavishness is to sin. The characteristic of liberty is identified with the redeemed Christian soul and the transformative element of habitus in Aristotelian ethics is identified with the Pauline renovatio of the soul through the Holy Spirit. The elements of the vita libertatis, presented here as a refinement and completion of the ancient vita activa, are identified as a particular understanding of community as a multidimensionality of relationships which intersect on the individual upon diverging ontological, temporal, and relational axes, and are expressed through the typical life of a free individual. The 12th Century Liber Homo lived as a warrior, a landholder, a friend, a Christian, a judge, and a leader. Like the understanding of rights, these roles are not constitutive of the free life, but contribute to it. The challenge is to examine our own lives through this foil.



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Committee Chair

Sandoz, Ellis