During the 18th century, if you liked your politics radical, Thomas Paine was your guy. Paine was the quintessential agitator. A British expat and adopted American, Paine was a tireless polemicist who never met a revolution he didn’t like. His thoughts on individual liberty were way ahead of the curve and his notions about the right relationship between government and the governed were downright Jeffersonian - you might even argue that it was Jefferson who drew inspiration from Paine.
Paine’s most famous work was a pamphlet entitled Common Sense. Published in 1776, the pro-revolutionary tract laid out the case for separation from Great Britain and roundly condemned not only King George III, but also the very institution of monarchy. The influence it had was enormous. From New Hampshire to Georgia, discontented colonists devoured Paine’s prose and the desired effect was achieved. To this day it remains a seminal text of American political thought.
The genius of Common Sense was that it gave voice to the collective anger and frustration felt by countless American patriots and it succeeded in spinning an already angry populace even further into the realm of tear-ass rebelliousness.
In order to get into the revolutionary spirit, I read it for the first time while on my recent trip to Yorktown, Virginia. It’s a quick read and moves right along. I dug the parts where Paine gets really cutting and takes potshots at British royal history,
It’s paragraphs like this that lead me to believe Paine would make for a super snarky talk radio host were he alive today. To portray him as a bomb thrower, however, is inaccurate. Paine’s liberalism was earnest and Common Sense has plenty of political theory mixed with its acerbic wit. He's a man that wants to get back to basics. A believer in the fundamental goodness of humankind, Paine constantly rails against the corrupt systems that destroy humanity's spirit. The seedling of modern progressivism is embedded within Paine's writings (for those of you interested in delving a bit deeper, look to the debate between he and Edmund Burke over the meaning and philosophy of the French Revolution as it prefigures the current ideological battle between right and left).
Paine’s at his best when issuing impassioned calls to arms and by book's end I was ready to mount the barricades. Go get ‘em Thomas,
Methinks I can hear the people sing. There's definitely a chorus being taken up by the people of Hong Kong at the moment.