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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thomas Paine part III: Rights of Man

Rights of man was the lengthiest of the works in the writings of Thomas Paine that I read.  While Common Sense was more of a work on why American should be independent from England, Rights of Man was more an attack on hereditary monarchy itself.  Even though it was written specifically to address the French Revolution and the case for it, the work is directed more towards a perpetual case for man's right to government by consent of the governed and the right to revolution if he is denied this right.

This was the most challenging and yes, dry, of the pieces in this book.  It was very long going but that was because I was really into understanding what I was reading.  I am very weak on European history,  I'm OK when it comes to knowing the dates and places of American history but to tell you what was going on in Europe at the time is something that I couldn't do.  It's not that I'm totally ignorant to things like the inquisition, Shakespeare, the reformation, the 100 years war and so forth.  I know that all these things happened and in a way what they mean but I really couldn't assign a date to them or put them in order.  This book actually helped, partially because it referenced so much history but partially because I had to spend hours on Wikipedia to understand who the people and places that Thomas Pain referenced were.

Paine discusses the beginning of monarchy, he references Samuel 8.  Go read it, God hates kings, I had no idea.  I guess if I wouldn't have skipped seminary class for two years I may have had a shot at knowing this.  Then after he shows that kings have no moral standing he states that he believes that the first kings of Europe were bands of brigands and ruffians who banded together for self preservation and enslaved the populous.  How can you believe in a divine royalty that is descended from outlaws who enslaved your ancestors?

After Paine made the case for why kings weren't something to revere but something to despise, he goes on to make the case that people could live under a better form of government.  Paine makes the case that government and society are separate institutions.  People seek out other people naturally, we need other people to trade with, to love, to inspire us and interact with.  However because we all have a darker side we need government to keep our worst sides in check.  Government tries to limit the extent that we cheat and rape and kill each other in these interactions but government doesn't have to be of a certain form, and government certainly has room to change as our needs change.  These were radical ideas at the time, even people who supported the American Revolution because it just made sense geographically couldn't see the sense in upsetting the institutions of government that existed in Europe at the time and Paine took them to task, individually and in name.

If Thomas Paine lived today I have a firm belief that he would be an cable news anchor.  Taking the powerful, but wrong opinioned (and if you didn't completely agree with Paine you were wrong opinioned in his eyes) to task was his favorite part of the book.  He even published extensions in his revised editions that berated his opponents.  In one appendix he even said that there were so many dull witted writers creating rebuttals to his work that he wouldn't even bother answering them unless they sold as many copies as he did.  He was like a cocky rock star telling you your music sucked unless you could hit the charts at the same level he was at.

So in these pages I learned to love Paine.  I learned a lot about European history, dates and places and learned a bevy of words that aren't in common use now, I've looked up a few in the thinner dictionaries laying around in office supply stores and they just don't rate. Thanks to Wikipedia and online dictionaries this book really expanded my knowledge base.  How did anyone read anything before the web?

So tell me what are you reading and what should I read next?  I'm getting behind on the writing but I always want more for the reading part.  What are you reading now and where should I go next?

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Hey I appreciate you leaving your thoughts behind! Be well my friend.