Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thomas Paine's Common Sense

Thomas Paine logically points out the troubles in society that come from having a king. His title, "Common Sense," suggests that all people should be able to identify and try to solve the problems caused by having kings, but because so many people are still dutifully allying themselves with their harmful king, one can assume that Paine's logic is not "common" sense. He oversimplifies, jumps to conclusions, exaggerates, and twists facts to serve his purpose of convincing people that kings are evil and deserve to be removed.

Many of his arguments must be oversimplified and forced if they sound so obvious, yet the public hasn't realized it yet. "For 'tis the Republican and not the Monarchial part of the Constitution of England which Englishmen glory in." It cannot be that simple or the English would have instituted a true republic already.

It is impressive that Paine, who was brought up to view kings and monarchies as the norm, is able to avoid the typical views of his society and realize the actual absurdity of kings. He is very good at recognizing underlying evils and at identifying contradictions. For example, Paine recites that "the most plausible favor of hereditary succession is, that it preserves a nation from civil wars" and pairs it with the fact that since the time of kings in England, there have been "no less than eight civil wars and nineteen rebellions."

Although all of Paine's predictions and speculations are logical and probable, the fact still remains that they are not certain truth. In order to strengthen his argument, he doesn't point out the possibility that his conclusions do not actual support his point. Paine doesn't hesitate, however, to highlight the uncertainty of other's predictions. The statement, "but this is mere presumption; the fate of war is uncertain, neither do the expressions mean anything," does not trust the assumer's ability to draw conclusions as much as he trusts himself. Paine conveniently leaves the possibility of a false conclusion out of his presumptions.

The class discussion helped me to be wary of Paine's assumptions. Mr. Quinn identified many instances where Paine exaggerated the good that comes from the absence of kings or twists things like the Bible to make it seem like it argued for the destruction of kings. Many of Paine's histories are probably products of historical revisionism, retold to support the argument.

It is ironic that Paine says "I would carefully avoid giving unnecessary offense" when he earlier called the king an "ass for a lion." It seems to me that Paine is unnecessarily offensive towards the king, either expressing a desire for revenge against injustices or a desire to be beheaded if the king ever got his hands on him.

I find it slightly sad and possibly false that Paine relates the size of a country to its friendliness. He says, "we forget the narrow limits of three hundred and sixty miles (the extent of England) and carry out our friendship on a larger scale." I'm not exactly sure what that's supposed to mean, but it seems like Paine is saying that a country's friendliness is proportional to its size. To disprove that assumption, I would like to offer Wakefield as an example, for it is so small compare to other schools yet it is the friendliest place I know.

1 comment:

  1. Nice analysis of Common Sense and the class discussion. The idea of historical revisionism is something I had never thought of Thomas Paine doing, and though I am not sure I agress, is a plausible tack to take. Well done! 20/20