Thursday, June 30, 2005

Thomas Paine's Common Sense

Back when I only taught fourth and fifth graders I used to offer an "A" for the whole year in Social Studies if anyone could explain what Mr. Paine meant in his opening paragraphs:
SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. 1
Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expence and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.
No one ever got the "A" but we had great discussions.

Today I finally read the whole thing, and ya know what? I agree with Mr. Paine. I think we should declare our independence from Great Britain.

But seriously, I think COMMON SENSE should be required reading in all high school government classes. This, of course, will never happen because Mr. Paine is not politically correct, and he does depend on scripture to advance the early part of his argument. We wouldn't want to offend anyone by mentioning the Bible in the classroom. It's much better to reamain ignorant.

Other, but certainly not all important points include:
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
O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her.—Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.
Here it is, the plan for the United States to be the last best hope of mankind. Read the whole thing. It's only about 60 pages, and it's well worth the time to indulge in a careful reading. After all, it's up to each generation to make sure the U.S. remains mankind's best hope.

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2 Comments:

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Lennie Briscoe said...

"I think we should declare our independence from Great Britain" ...I thought you did with the Declaration of Independance?

 
At 12:15 PM, Blogger Harry said...

I've got two responses, neither one of them very good. I apologize for both of them in advance.

1. Wow, my history classes were even worse than I thought.

2. Oops! I must have gotten caught up in the passion of his writing.

 

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