Wednesday, July 21, 2010
"In the following pages I offer nothing more than common sense."
So I started reading Thomas Paine the other day because that's what history grads do, and wanted to just stop. I felt it too "old time" for this kind of world, but then I began thinking about what the possibilities are for someone to create a new idea on "common sense." The times of monarchs are gone, so this idea no longer applies to our world. Would it even work?
Thomas Paine has been remembered as one of the radicals of the American Revolution and his writings impacted it greatly. Some say he was the catalyst for the sentiment of freedom to be felt throughout the thirteen colonies. The pamphlet sold over 150,000 copies at a time where men were the only ones, generally speaking, that could read. Some say he was one of the founders of the American Revolution, with the likes of Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington. His "common sense" had that much of an impact for their time.
Thomas Pain was a great writer. He took the ideas that people spoke during revolutionary times and was able to provide an understanding to the masses that proved necessary for revolution to occur. For Thomas Paine it was also essential to live in this time in order to write this lovely pamphlet because it was "destined" for it; I do mean the pamphlet. Now we ask ourselves what was so important about the pamphlet and how can we apply it to our lives? Everything in life is connected, so let's see what we can find.
The first section is titled Of the Origin and Design of Government in General. With Concise Remarks on the English Constitution. Just to give you a little idea of Paine's opinion on the government, "Society is produced by our wants, government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices" (pg 6). We come to find that we govern ourselves according to two sets of laws: society's laws and government's law. In this case, Paine points out that society is responsible for designing our "civilization" providing ideas for growing and "creating." On the other hand, government is solely responsible for "maintaining order" by providing discipline on situations that may be too much for society. While society allows you to grow, government limits you.
Furthermore, the government has sections that correspond to responsibilities in order to create a more "balanced" view of society. With regards to the English government, it has three branches of government, the Commons, the Monarch, and the Lords. While responsibility lies on the fact that all will participate in government affairs, calling themselves a "republic," common practice was that the king decided everything. Now Paine makes the point that the English government in itself is completely contradictory. The purpose of the republic is representation in the government and a limited government. But, the king is still the one responsible for making all of the decisions, especially when it comes to the thirteen colonies. Now we come to the point where we see why there is so much negative sentiment for the English government. They are hypocrites. They show a republic, but all of it is a puppet show for the King to rule everyone.
The second section is titled Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession. Now for a long period of time Paine was considered to be an atheist because of his radical views. This section completely refutes that for the purpose that Paine actually believed in the Bible heavily, and he quotes it a number of times in order to show that hereditary right is completely ridiculous. According to Paine, the idea of a monarchy was first introduced by the Heathens, and later adopted by the Jewish kingdom, which was later brought to Europe. Hereditary rule goes against the laws of the bible because every man is born the same way, so by definition they are equal. It also goes against the laws of society because a position of public honors has to given to you by the public, and nobody is born with that right. He makes the point that hereditary monarchs are not common sense because they pose more problems than they solve. (Anyone remember how well a child king rules?)
The third section is titled Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs. According to Paine our goal is to reach posterity, which is succeeding in future generations collectively. The state of American affairs are leading to this goal, but there has to be a fight for it. The English are prepared for battle, and so are the Americans. Paine first begins to describe the relation of America with Great Britain (GB). He states, "I have heard it asserted by some that as America hath flourished under the former connection with GB..." In order for America to be in the place that it was, it need the English because it brought them to the point where they wanted to be independent. But, to continue with the quote, "...that the same connection is necessary towards the future happiness, " (pg 20) is nothing more than fallacious. In essence, there comes a point in time where there is a need for independence from the "motherland" especially when it has been treating you badly in the last couple of years. There was plenty of petitions and talks about the problem, but nothing was ever solved, so to eliminate this relationship meant establishing a new one that wasn't so controlling. Paine believed that America was finally ready to become an independent country.
There is one more section, but that can be skipped since it talks about abilities to win the war.
So, to answer my questions, is there a possibility for a new Thomas Paine to come out with a new "Common Sense"? I think so. There are so many battles to be fought throughout the world with the words used by Thomas Paine. His ideas are universal in that they correspond to anyone who wants to have the right to choose. Now could it be worded differently, ABSOLUTELY! We are no longer in 1776 and our language has developed greatly.
I think that if I were to pick a topic to write about, I would pick immigration. We as a country have lost the ability to think rationally when it comes to this topic because we are so focused on protecting ourselves from threats around the world. But immigration is our right as human beings. We can go and live wherever we like because this is our planet. The government has made it almost impossible for people to move around because of the control that they have for the "borders." While we increase in population, we also deal with the fact that Earth is changing because we have not taken good care of it. There will be a need for immigration once many of coastal places get sucked in by the rising sea level. Problems will arise from this if the government continues to show a strong stance against immigration. Wars will be fought because there will be a need to move. Now I am talking about some hypothetical situation, but I do think there is a need to address this issue eventually because we we'll have to suffer the consequences if we don't.
Just a thought, but I am not going to get carried away. If I were to write a "Common Sense" I would be more articulate, right now I am just babbling. Have fun!
Reference: Paine, Thomas. Common Sense and Other Writings. New York: Random House, Inc, 2003.