Monday, November 29, 2010
Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense at a time when essentially all governments in the history of the world had been monarchies, ruled by despotism, or small enough to be totally and functionally nonexistent at a societal level. His articulation of the injustice of hereditary monarchies, military dictatorships, and colonial rule (of white people) is brilliant and ... wait for it... revolutionary.
His reasoning is clear, concise, and absolutely correct. The examples he uses, which range from biblical stories to the political landscape of the 1770s are fitting when one considers that the only information most people had at the time was printed in a bible, printed in small newspapers, read to them from a bible, or told to them by people who had read newspapers. I didn't need the story of the Jews' choice of a king to show me that kings are bad, but when most people learned to read by their bibles, I'm sure it was a smart move.
What is hilarious is that the Glenn Becks of the world use Common Sense as a manifesto for the evils of government. Well yes, he does castigate monarchies pretty thoroughly, and with good reason. And yes, they are governments. Governments that overreach and are fundamentally unstable in a changing world. But Paine speaks with passion, reason, and vigor about the brilliance of an elected representative government. Democracy is good. That is his thesis. We still have a democracy, as do most "socialist" European countries. Therefore it's folly to interpret this brilliant long pamphlet is a conservative treatise that gives you proof that the Founding Fathers wouldn't like liberals.
Highly recommended if you haven't read before.