Sunday, May 17, 2015

Give Me Snarky Or Give Me Death: Thomas Paine continued

This is mainly some comments on the second half of The Rights of Man, and also includes a number of excerpts from Common Sense which are collectively entitled The American Crisis.

The reason for the title is that Thomas Paine's writings give me a sense of an early version of Baghdad Bob or Tokyo Rose.  It is an endless series of long winded articles full of sarcasm and mocking.  But then I found that Paine was from a Quaker family, thus, it all makes sense, since this was the manner of their founder, George Fox.  But now I am descending into the same morass so that perhaps I am hearing myself in the mirror.  The main thing that stuck in my mind was the alternation between claiming that the American colonists had been oppressed by taxation whereas elsewhere the English peasants were mocked for being poorer than their American counterparts.

The Rights of Man come across as a series of articles like Common Sense was.  The beginning part of this is a declaration of the Rights of Man by the French, which sound to me extraordinarily reasonable, but perhaps this is due to our current situation where those rights have multiplied astronomically.  An objection I had to the fixation on Rights was that it had nothing to say about Responsibilities, as if mankind should be utterly lacking in these.  This objection seems to have been raised at the beginning, and Paine's rebuttal is that their can be no Rights of Man unless their our Duties to protect the Rights of others.  While I can see some sense in this, it seems to me that if the Rights which were self evident needed to be explicitly enumerated, how much more so should the Duties of Man, since these, being derived from the Rights, should necessarily be less obvious.

A complaint that Paine gives is against governance by precedence, since the wisdom of the present age should be as good or better than precedents.  I will just note that America's judicial system continues to work by precedents to this day, under the name of case law.  A repeated insult hurled against monarchies is the epitaph of Political Popery.  America at this time included a number of Catholics, so I wonder how this was received.

The theme that Paine keeps returning to is taxes, which are outrageous due to the wars.  A key goal of his reforms is to shrink government by eliminating armies, thus, eliminating war.  But we must wage war to have the freedom to eliminate war.  He laments that in the process of raising taxes, government has intruded into vast areas of human industry with regulations designed to raise money or hamper trade so that monopolies can be engineered.  An evil associated with this lust for money is the raising of debt, and he blast those who take on unseemly levels of debt, and then boast of their wealth because of what they have been able to buy with the debt.

Finally, Paine makes some modest proposals for what could be done with the, um, Peace Dividend that would arise.  We could use a small sum to pay young families so that they could afford to pay to have their children taught.  A little more might be used to provide for those who were too old and worn out to continue at their labors.  Little did he know where that would lead.

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