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Thomas Paine's Main Argument in "Common Sense"

← Erasmus and the Council of Trent

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Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (1776) is one of the most influential political pamphlets in the history of the United States. The author outlines several important issues both relevant to his historical epoch and important to the overall social development in all countries and periods. The current paper aims to specify the key argument presented by Thomas Paine and apply it to modern political concerns.

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Thomas Paine’s Common Sense may be analyzed from several perspectives. On the one hand, the author clearly states that all people in the Colonies should unite their efforts and fight for independence. Paine supports his position both by ethical arguments and his strategic position on the Colonies’ ability to consolidate efforts and effectively utilize their resources. Thus, Paine’s position aimed to encourage a specific mode of action among Americans. As his ideas were persuasive and realistic, a large number of people supported them.

On the other hand, Thomas Paine makes a highly important distinction between society and the government. Although both concepts are often confused, they have very different origins and implications. The former is based on people’s voluntary cooperation and interactions with each other.[1] All individuals have strong incentives to unite their efforts as it allows satisfying their needs and addressing their common interests in the most effective way. The effective forms of social coperation have a large number of advantages in comparison with individuals’ isolated interactions with each other.

The origins of the government are different. The government does not emerge due to people’s voluntary cooperation or mutual interests. The fact is that the government’s existence is always associated with considerable difficulties and problems for private individuals. The reason is that the government introduces some restrictions, collects taxes, and may have a negative impact on individuals’ liberties. However, Paine believes that the government’s existence is an objective necessity.[2] As the growing society creates different incentives among people, some of them may participate in illegal or violent behavior. Therefore, individuals are interested in a mechanism for minimizing the scope of social injustice and threats.[3] They may be even interested in the temporary restriction of individual liberties and social opportunities.

Thus, the government should be considered to be a “necessary evil,” and Paine stresses that the civil society should do everything possible to control it and prevent the concentration of power.[4] In order to address these threats, elections and adequate representation of authorities are necessary. Although all forms of governments are dangerous, Paine emphasizes that some of them are especially negative for ordinary people. In particular, monarchical and aristocratic tyrannies contribute to the almost unlimited power of rulers.[5] As a result, their subjects remain unprotected and cannot enjoy even the most basic rights and liberties.

It seems that Paine’s analysis is highly relevant to the modern political situation and debates. Although the most oppressive tyrannies are not observed in developed countries, the threats associated with the growing role of the government in all social spheres are not properly recognized. It creates substantial risks for social members and their liberties. Therefore, it is reasonable to closely control the government’s operations and maintain the priority of social interests over governmental ones.

In general, Thomas Paine’s pamphlet contains two major arguments. The former refers to the need for organizing the consistent resistance to the British oppression. It should lead to the complete independence of the Colonies and the proper recognition of all people’s rights and liberties. The latter refers to a broader statement about differentiating between society and the government as well as doing everything possible to prevent serious threats associated with the concentration of power in the hands of rulers.

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