The foundations of many Americans’ most deeply held principles, Sir Robert Worcester says, lie in a nearly 800-year-old document with a Latin name that many people today know little about.
That document is the Magna Carta (Latin for “great charter”) and Worcester took the opportunity presented him Thursday evening as KU’s second-ever Chancellor’s Lecturer to tell an audience at the Dole Institute of Politics that it’s as relevant today as it’s ever been.
He’s also the chairman of the Magna Carta 2015 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, which aims to spur a worldwide celebration of the document’s importance in three years.
“I’d like people here at and around KU to join in the celebration,” Worcester said Thursday. “We wouldn’t be here tonight enjoying the liberties we do if the Magna Carta hadn’t led the way.”
Worcester, a native of Kansas City, achieved fortune and fame in Britain as a pollster. He founded Market and Opinion Research International, better known simply as MORI, in 1969. The firm provides polling services for major British publications as well as the British government, and it’s become the largest independent research group in that country, Victor Bailey, the director of KU’s Hall Center for the Humanities, said in an introduction.
For the audience at the Dole Institute, Worcester reeled off a lengthy list of now-accepted principles that had their roots in the document hammered out by British barons in 1215. Among them: the phrase “no taxation without representation,” the concept of a free church, trial by jury and even the idea that courts should have a permanent place to sit; back then, instead of in a permanent courthouse, courts would sit wherever the king decided to put them.
“It was the foundation of human rights, under threat now as we consider how to cope with the threats which face us in the 21st century,” Worcester said.
He spoke to a crowd of about 200 people, which Dole Institute director Bill Lacy said was more than he’d anticipated.
The lecture was Worcester’s fifth talk of the day, following one to business students, one to journalism students, one to students in history and political science, and one over dinner to a private group at the Dole Institute.
Before the evening lecture, Worcester said he’d enjoyed some give-and-take with students — especially a journalism student who challenged him on the merits of opinion polls.
“They were as lively as I’d hoped,” Worcester said, “because I like to fight.”
He said he’d often fallen back on his KU education during his career, and he’d have never landed his first job with the consulting firm McKinsey and Company, which brought him to England, without his rare combination of business and political science degrees.
He said he makes it back to campus about every three or four years.
“It’s the friendliest place I’ve ever been,” Worcester said. “Everybody wants to know how they can help. Everybody wants to say hello. Everybody wants to say, ‘Have a nice day.’”
But his 13th century castle, not to mention his knighthood, help him continue to love living in England, he said.
Worcester closed his talk Thursday night by outlining some of the plans his Magna Carta anniversary committee is making for the big day, June 15, 2015. The committee’s highest goal, he said, is to enlist Queen Elizabeth herself to mark the occasion with an appearance at Runnymede, where King John applied his seal to the charter under pressure from angry barons and others. Other celebrations will occur throughout Britain and the world, he said.
“It is my hope over 100 countries will be commemorating the importance of what began on an open plain 800 years ago to this generation and many generations to come,” Worcester said.