Posted by Casey on November 6, 2007
Thomas Paine has been a personal hero of mind ever since I learned about him in American history class and read his amazing pamphlet, Common Sense. His global thinking makes him both ahead of his time and timeless.
Much of what he says about the world and about governments in Common Sense and his other works is still true. If he lived today, I can’t help but think he would have the same impassioned reaction to the environmental ruin of our planet that he had for life, liberty, and the pursuit of freedom, and would be one of the most persuasive voices to finally get the right people (locally and globally) to open their eyes and implement the changes in how we humans inhabit this planet that need to be implemented now.
In other words, I’d like to think he would have produced works (in the most appropriate medium) that would have the same impact on the world as Common Sense, Rights of Man, and Age of Reason. His written work influenced the ideas and wording of the Declaration of Independence. He spent four months in France helping Lafayette draw up The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen — one of the primary documents of freedom during the French Revolution. He even suggested the new American country be called the “United States of America.”
He was a revolutionary, radical, liberal intellectual. For some, all or several of those four words may have a negative connotation and may perhaps even be a little frightening. For me, those four words sum up all the positive aspects of the world and age I grew up in. Thomas Paine fit right in with my life and everything surrounding my life in the late 1960s, early 1970s, when I first learned about him.
He lived an interesting life where his ideas and writings made him famous and infamous, embraced by nations and influential people, and scorned by nations and influential people. In the case of France, he got a taste of all worlds, including just missing the guillotine because of a happy circumstance that probably wouldn’t have been believed if written in a work of fiction. Truth can be stranger than fiction.
I just want to note a couple of passages from Common Sense. Paine could be sitting in a Starbucks expressing these opinions (in slightly more modern speech pattern and terminology) and be commentating on what he had just read in the newspaper. Not much has really changed in the world between 1776 and 2007.
From the INTRODUCTION:
Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour; a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.
From the section OF THE ORIGIN AND DESIGN OF GOVERNMENT IN GENERAL:
Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.
Thank you Mr. Paine for continuing to be the voice of reason.