Common Sense #2

This post resumes the examination of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”.  The Introduction can be found here.  I am going to avoid posting the whole text of the work, just pertinent sections and my comments.


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 our 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. I had never really considered the difference before – I knew there was one, but this is a simple explanation.

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 calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer! Is this not still the truth today!  The government that we pay taxes to with one hand goes and binds our other hand, using the same money we paid them with.  I see this so often at work, when the federal taxes I and my employer pay are turned right around and fund the regulator that tells us we must spend more money to be “safe”.  Just this year and last alone, my company has had to spend more than $120 million to improve security equipment, several million to install safety gates at every spot where one could step off a platform (thanks to OSHA), hire more people and implement a complex program to ensure that people are not working too much, and take a tens of millions charge to prepare for the coming healthcare law.  I am funding my own regulatory demise!  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 expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others. Now this is the truth – security is the purpose of government – both national and local security.  Our present mode of government is certainly not in the least expensive and greatest benefit to all involved!  Perhaps lawyers would disagree…

The next few paragraphs talk about how a society logically begins to form.  People need to live together to gain the benefits of specialization, protection, and help that comes with living near others – Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newly arrived emigrants into society, the reciprocal blessings of which, would supersede, and render the obligations of law and government unnecessary while they remained perfectly just to each other. And this is the rub – people are not perfectly just to each other.  Even when there are good intentions, accidents and misunderstandings happen.

Some convenient tree will afford them a State-House, under the branches of which, the whole colony may assemble to deliberate on public matters… In this first parliament every man, by natural right will have a seat.

But as the colony increases, the public concerns will increase likewise, and the distance at which the members may be separated, will render it too inconvenient for all of them to meet on every occasion as at first… This will point out the convenience of their consenting to leave the legislative part to be managed by a select number chosen from the whole body, who are supposed to have the same concerns at stake which those have who appointed them, and who will act in the same manner as the whole body would act were they present. And thus we have a legislature.  Or government body, or whatever name you want to give it, there it is.

More to come on this section of the work – I recommend getting a copy from the library and reading it yourself.  Text on a screen does not do Paine true justice.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s