Thomas Paine on modern America

In “Common Sense” Thomas Paine deconstructs several reasons America should rebel from great Britain to form the United States. I found his reasons for revolution in 1776 against the British amazingly applicable, in many ways, as the reason we should demand change (revolution) from our own Government today.

1. The ruling class is not equip to govern the people.

Much like the royal class in 18th century Britain modern America has the political and corporate elite. A wealthy and well connected ruling class that passes wealth, connection, and power from one generation to the next. Kings are replaced by names like Bush, Rockefeller, Rothschild, Kennedy (the list goes on).

Thomas Paine points out many good reasons why such families are not equip to govern the people:

“There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of a monarchy; it first excludes a man from the means of information, yet empowers him to act in cases where the highest judgment is required. The state of a king shuts him from the world, yet the business of a king requires him to know it thoroughly; wherefore the different parts, by unnaturally opposing and destroying each other, prove the whole character to be absurd and useless.”

2. The Government is overly complex.

The founding fathers, having learned a valuable lesson from English rule, intentionally designed American law to be fairly easy to understand. Today our government and legal system couldn’t be more complicated.

Once again, Thomas Paine had brilliant insight:

“But the constitution of England [like modern America] is so exceedingly complex, that the nation may suffer for years together without being able to discover in which part the fault lies; some will say in one and some in another, and every political physician will advise a different medicine.”

The most effective Government?

“The more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier repaired when disordered…”

3. The size of the federal government, the power of the executive:

Many of the issues Thomas Paine identifies with the English king I believe we see coming to fruition (to a lesser extent) with the modern day federal government – especially the executive branch. Here are a few that parallel:

  • The authority to make decision without consultation or consent of the people or their representatives (executive orders today)
  • The disconnect between the executive and the desires of the common man. (similar to #1 above)
  • Lack of election by the people (due to the amount of money it takes to run for president we are basically given choices for President, we do not choose our own from among the people)

4. Meaningless Debt

Perhaps the most compelling reason Thomas Paine provides for separation from Britain is the burden of debt on the American colonies due to English imperialism and military. The comparison undoubtedly highlights American folly today. Ultimately the debt we incur and pass on to posterity is unfair to future generations.

“…to expend millions for the sake of getting a few vile acts repealed, and routing the present ministry only, is unworthy the charge, and is using posterity with the utmost cruelty; because it is leaving them the great work to do, and a debt upon their backs, from which they derive no advantage. Such a thought is unworthy a man of honor, and is the true characteristic of a narrow heart and a peddling politician.”

 

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5 thoughts on “Thomas Paine on modern America

  1. theworldaccordingtomarc

    Very insightful correlation, Atticus. Democracy and Capitalism still require engagement. The bigger government gets, the more power it usurps from the people, and the more the people become disenfranchised, the more the democracy approximates the monarchy. That is why the entire country needs to return to its more conservative roots, because though conservative politicians are no better than liberals w.r.t. self-preservation and power-mongering, they are the lesser of evils by their very nature toward smaller government. YEah corporations are self-serving, but that’s better than a government in bed with the corporations. If the corporation does not, on-balance, succeed, it will perish (as long as it is not in-bed with the government that props it up). Not so of a government of the disengaged.

    Reply
    1. Atticus C. Post author

      Thanks, Marc. I agree – the more fascistic a Government becomes the less it can be trusted to act in the interest of the people it is supposed to represent.

      Reply

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