SEARCH BLOG: HISTORY
Reading and re-reading Thomas Paine's Common Sense gives one an appreciation for both the breadth of his thinking and how he over-estimated the honor in politics.
An oil painting of Thomas Paine by Auguste Millière (1880), after an engraving by William Sharp, after a portrait by George Romney (1792)
On why mankind creates society:
In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end of government, let us suppose small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of the earth, unconnected with the rest, they will then represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought. A thousand motives will excite them thereto; the strength of one man is so unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetual solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assitance and relief of another, who in his turn requires the same. Four or five united, would be able to raise a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but one man might labour out the common period of his life without accomplishing any thing; when he had felled his timber he could not remove, nor erect it after it was remove; hunger in the mean time would urge him from his work, and every different want would call him a different way. Disease, nay even misfortune, would be death, for neither might be mortal yet either would disable him from living, and reduce him to a state in which he might rather be said to perish than die.Why government is needed:
Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newly arrived emigrants into society, the reciprocal blessings of which, would supercede, and render the obligations of law and government unnecessary while they remained perfectly just to each other; but as nothing but heaven is impregnable to vice, it will unavoidably happen, that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigration, which bound them together in a common cause, they will begin to relax in their duty and attachment to each other; and this remissness will point out the necessity of establishing some form of government to supply the defect of moral virtue.So man creates society for survival and government for his own inability to retain virtuous relationships. Yet, Thomas Paine was not naive. He recognized that his idealized view was removed from reality.
I draw my idea of the form of government from a principle in nature, which no art can overturn, viz. that the more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered; and the easier repaired when disordered; and with this maxim in view, I offer a few remarks on the so much boasted constitution of England. That it was noble for the dark and slavish times in which it was erected is granted. When the world was overrun with tyranny the least removed therefrom was a glorious rescue. But that it is imperfect, subject to convulsions, and incapable of producing what it seems to promise is easily demonstrated.Paine went on to describe the flawed structure of a government based on the monarchy, the aristocracy, and a representative [republican] form of representation for the common people. He concluded with:
An inquiry into the constitutional errors in the English form of government is at this time highly necessary; for as we are never in a proper condition of doing justice to others, while we continue under the influence of some leading partiality, so neither are we capable of doing it to ourselves while we remain fettered by any obstinate prejudice. An as a man, who is attach to a prostitute, is unfitted to choose or judge of a wife, so any prepossession in favour of a rotten constitution of government will disable us from discerning a good one. [Quotes from Common Sense; Chapter One published by Fall River Press]Naturally, Thomas Paine was criticizing a hereditary monarchy and hereditary aristocracy. He wanted representatives who would have to return back to those represented every few months to be sure there was no misunderstanding what the representation should be.
He would have been appalled at the notion that a representative could spend a lifetime in a government position being given special privileges and perks and would use government to tax those being represented so that, by returning part of what was taxed to a sufficient number of those being taxed, would guarantee that the position in the government was continued. After all, the purpose of government was to supply the defect of moral virtue. That is, the government's purpose was to ensure that above all else individuals in society dealt fairly and justly with each other... and were true to their responsibilities as citizens of the society.
What would he have thought about the concept that those who prepare well, work diligently, sacrifice much and provide means for themselves and others to prosper should be forced to also provide that which was wanted by those who avoided similar efforts for creating prosperity? What of the responsibility of those being given what others have earned? The virtue of cooperation being corrupted into the mandate for support.
Oh, sure. That was 200 years ago. Things change. Government isn't there to ensure a virtuous society; government is there to ensure that those with enough votes get to order the rest of the society to do their bidding... based on how those in government want to interpret what those orders should be.
How far, then, is it from the rulers in the government simply deciding for everyone what must be the case for everyone... like the old King of England?But don't worry... unless you are one of those who are being directed by those mandates. Oh, wait, that's everyone... except the Office of the President and the U.S. Congress. God save the King.
I draw my idea of the form of government from a principle in nature, which no art can overturn, viz. that the more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered; and the easier repaired when disordered.
- Climate legislation - over 1,000 pages not read prior to voting
- Health Care legislation - over 1,000 pages not read with pressure to vote on it quickly.