The Anarchist Township

Fight the war, fuck the norm!

Month: December 2011

Reflections and Responses #1: Common Sense, by Thomas Paine (Chapter 3)

Hey guys! Sorry about the late update but things have been a bit busy with me and I’ve been doing some procrastination here there as well so that didn’t help. Anyways with only one chapter left the first Reflections and Responses is drawing to a close. Let’s see what Paine has to offer up in this chapter.

Best fitting picture I could think of...

Chapter 3: Thoughts on the Present State of the American Affairs

A few brief notes beforehand. Although this is the longest chapter first (coming in at 22 pages while the last was 11 and the one before it was even shorter at eight) there’s actually not a whole lot to talk about. Now why that is may become clearer as we go on but I just want to make it known before I start that in all likelihood that this will be one of the shorter pieces on this book (at least in comparison to the last two).

With that out of the way let’s begin.

1. Analyzing Paine’s Arguments Against Britain

So a lot of this chapter is about Thomas Paine basically saying that independence is good and relying on Britain is bad. I’ll quote some of my more favored quotes from this part of the chapter (and it makes up the bulk of it) but I’ll try to keep it down to 3-5. I shall also do a commentary of what I like so much about each quote as we go along. Let’s begin then with this quote:

“Alas! we have been long led away by ancient prejudices, and made large sacrifices to superstition. We have boasted the protection of Great Britain, without considered, that her motive was interest not attachment; and that she did not proect us from our enemies on our account, but from her enemies on her own account, from those who have no quarrel with us on any other account, and who will always be our enemies on the same account. (pp. 23-24)

So besides the obvious fact that Paine loves saying the word “account” what else is noticeable about this quote? Well the the first thing that sticks out for is the obvious truth in this quote. It’s at once plainly obvious from what Britain put America through (most notably the French-Indian Wars) that Britain never protected America because it cared about the colonists there (after all the whole reason why they’re there to begin with is due to a religious rebellion of groups of Europeans) but because Britain’s own interests would be more benefited in the long run. And enemies of Britain now become the enemies of the colonies even if they don’t do anything themselves to Britain’s enemies. This, in the end, will cause more conflicts then needed and there’s a running theme of Britain’s “connextion” (as Paine writes it) and is probably one of his stronger arguments.

The next good quote Paine has in favor of separation actually goes back to that point,

“But the injuries and disadvantages which we sustain by that connexion, are without number; and our duty to mankind at large, as well to ourselves, instructs us to renounce the alliance; because, any submission to out dependence on Great Britain, tends directly to involve this continent in European wars and quarrels; and sets us at variance with nations, who would otherwise seek our friendship, and against whom, we have neither anger nor complaint.” (pp. 26-27)

There’s a bit more to this quote but the point is made well enough I feel even just by this point. This goes back to the same point I made on extrapolating Paine’s earlier point. The link with Britain is proving to be a volatile and unstable one that doesn’t seem to benefit the colonies so much as it benefits Britain through taxation and extortion (or do I repeat myself?) through wars that the colonies have little to do with (besides them maybe taking place near where they live) and then forced to pay for the debt Britain accrues. Britain is not a great protector, ally and all-around it tends to take advantage of the colonies and exploiting the wealth they can produce themselves and harvesting it for their own good.

So yeah, Paine’s points here are pretty spot on and well…kind of common sense. This is really where Paine shines and if you think about it’s kind of where he has to. The whole point of this pamphlet was to emphasize the common sense nature of a departure from Britain and declare the independence of the colonies. Even just looking over these first few pages you get the sense that Paine is unequivocally an independent and supports nothing less. And it usually comes out pretty well…however…one thing is worth pointing out that baffled me. While Paine is talking about the “natural pleads of separation” and mentions the “blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ’tis time to part.” he says this:

“Even the distance at which the Almighty hath placed England and America, is a strong and natural proof, that the authority of the one over the other, was never the design of heaven.” (p. 27)

…Where do I start? Where do I even begin to say how ridiculous this sounds? Now upon further reflection (and discussion with a co-worker about this specific passage) it seems clear to me that this statement is a product of its time especially. Even smart men like Paine fell victim to the idea that things like these should not be questioned and should be left to be explained by “the heavens” or “God”. And that was probably pretty common back then. Still as a deist and the guy who wrote Age of Reason it somewhat takes me aback that Paine himself would say something like this. I obviously understand why he said it but I guess the logical part of me just wants to slap Paine in the face and say something like this…

“How do the geographical spacing of the world necessarily denote just and non-just political authority of one country over another? How does that follow? What evidence do you have to back this speculation? Why would you say this? Are you just trying to appeal to the more theist inclined people here? Is that what you were doing earlier too in the last chapter?”

But yeah… *sighs* Let’s move on!

One of the other sort of best points Paine makes is what will happens if the colonies do not declare independence from Britain:

“I mean not to exhibit the horror for the purpose of provoking revenge, but to awaken us from fatal and unmanly slumber, that we may pursue determinately some fixed objects. It is not in the power of Britain or of Europe to conquer America, if she does not conquer herself by delay and timidity. The present winter is worth an age if rightly employed, but if lost or neglected, the whole continent will partake of the misfortune; and there is no punishment which that man will not deserve, be he who, or what, or where he will that may be the means of sacrificing a season so precious and useful.” (p. 30)

The whole: we either resist or die, is not only a powerful statement but given the quotes already presented (And other evidence throughout this chapter) it’s safe to say that a lot of what Paine is saying is in all likelihood not that big of an exaggeration if any at all.

In the end these two types of arguments boil down to a few things for Paine:

1. The present conditions are unbearable to any good friend of liberty
2. If present conditions are not halted or fought against then these conditions may become worse

And in both cases Paine provides the events of the past, massacres, laws and so on that have harmed the colonies while doing great benefit for Britain. Really it is precisely common sense that America should’ve separated and a wonderful thing that it did. Even as an anarchist I of course laud the move for separation but my problem with Paine as usual is that he doesn’t go far enough.

With that said I want to move from analyzing some of Paine’s better arguments in my opinion (which isn’t to say the rest of the arguments are terrible or something of that sort) into turning some of his other arguments into a case against government in general.

2. Re-Radicalizing some of Paine’s Arguments

Originally I thought about titling this something along the lines of: “Using Paine’s Argument Against Monarchical Governments Against the Notion of Government Itself” or something like that. As you can see however, that’s a bit of a mouthful and my real goal in this section I think is better seen through this new choice. I chose this title instead because in essence re-radicalizing Paine’s arguments is all I’m really doing and all that really needs to be emphasized. The basic point I’ve been making (and will continue to make) is that a lot of Paine’s problems with monarchical governments don’t go away once they become republics. You’ll see what I mean as we go along but basically I’m trying to turn his arguments against monarchy into an argument against republics as well. This would leave anyone who accepts Paine’s ideas in an awkward position. They must either defend tyranny of the same sort under a different name, contest that it’s not tyranny when republics do it, or try to say these aren’t “really” republics to begin with. Either way it puts them on the defensive and raises a lot of questions so it’s an endeavor worth pursuing in my opinion.

With that all said let’s get started. I want to make it clear that I’ll be using both arguments against monarchy to arguments against America not having Britain’s government controlling them because both fit the bill well enough for my case to be made. This is another reason to pick the more general title of “re-radicalizing Paine’s arguments” then specifically mentioning the arguments against monarchy and using those ones.

The arguments I’ve already quoted in relation to Britain making wars that involve the colonies actually work against the current regime in America itself. After all, what are some of the main reasons for the current US government to go to war? To protect the borders? That doesn’t seem to be going well last I checked. To protect our freedoms? Well what about the PATRIOT Act? SOPA? The Indefinite Detention Bill? The legal right for Obama to assassinate people abroad or domestic if they’re even “suspected” of terrorism? Where are our freedoms? If the US military is out there defending our freedoms and who we’re really losing our freedoms from the government that allegedly has our best interest at heart…why aren’t they here?

The point I’m trying to make is that the US government does not defend its citizens for our benefits (and if he get benefits that just keeps us better in line) but for their benefit. I know I’ve talked about this before but war is the health of the state and it bears repeating that not only is it the health of the state but a racket as well. Thus if war is a racket and the health of the state then the conclusion that one should draw (I think) is that the state is a racket producing organization. Why would you apologize for such an organization? If you take Paine’s arguments (and the classical liberal one in general) to heart about government being smaller then you obviously disagree with the current affairs. But if the state is a racket inducing machine in general then what good does a minarchistic styled government get you? I think the more radical argument (radical in that it strikes deeper at the root) is to being against the state in totality regardless of its form. It’s the substance after all that matters more than the form. And the substance of government is not one that tends to benefit the many but rather the few at the expense of the many.

It’s not as if your sense of identity needs to be kept in the nation-state or you need it to associate with others. Paine himself talks about on page 25 that people associate based on common interests in neighborhoods and towns. And of course anarchists are not against either scale because they most likely think that values such as liberty, equality and solidarity can flourish in such places. But in the case of a country where a national government is instilled and we are faced with a nation-state competition and cooperation (which are not so apart as some people may suggest, merely two sides of the same coin) are both limited and must be based around the existence of the nation-state instead of the individual’s freedoms.

The republic that Paine himself desired (which I shall examine a little later on) didn’t seem to actually get into wars for the colonies interest (though due to the more decentralized state of affairs it was obviously more closely linked) but rather benefited the people on top who were largely white, old (for their time), rich, land and slave owning men. The idea of independence allowed for a new ruling class to develop in the US and as I’ve already argued the American Revolution in general was just a sort of radical conservatism (in the sense of mostly conserving/preserving the old ways and structures) and not even a radical classical liberalism. So Paine’s ideas were impractical precisely because a government is de facto against his notions of fairness, “true equality”, liberty and more.

Moving on to page 28 Paine mentions the way that the government of Britain was a help towards, “running the next generation into debt…” which makes me wonder how he’d not only feel about the current government’s way of putting future generations into huge amounts of debt but the way that his idea of a “republic” did too. Throughout the American Revolution and long after it there was a huge debt that the Continental Congress had racked up from the wars and a lot the money to keep it going. Of course the Congress consistently couldn’t get money and so instead of just dissolving itself and letting the state’s do their own business they insisted on more power over commerce for themselves. Of course I’m sure that all of the officials were just perfect angels who had no other intentions or considerations about it.

A few more pieces I’d like to say is that on page 33 where Paine mentions that, “No man was a warmer wisher for a reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April, 1775, but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England for ever…”

But what happened once the republic was established? Well as soon as things like the Whiskey Rebellion happened Washington sent in troops to shut them down even though the people in the rebellion were rebelling for the same reason Washington had been before: namely unfair taxation. Instead of listening to the farmer’s pleas about the unfairness of what was happening with the debt, taxes and the taking away of their property they were using and occupying. Washington denied hearing their dissatisfaction until it boiled to the point of violence after which Washington promptly pushed them back with violence from his own army. Is this the sort of justice that a republic-styled government does?

The last point I want to make is that Paine says that the connection to Britain being severed means a great opportunity towards peace, stability and a lack of civil wars. But of course what happened over the course of the “republic’s” history? Peace was constantly interrupted, stability was never long-lasting and there were not only several major rebellions at the beginning but eventually the US itself would be engaged in a civil war. So again, Paine’s ideas for a republic (which were largely adopted as we’ll see soon) didn’t seem to play out well. You could blame the people, but can you really blame the individuals when similar incentive structures keep repeating similar results over and over? It’s time to start attacking the system and the concepts that keep it afloat instead of trying to just say it’s “bad apples” in an overall good system.

One of the main points I’m trying to make here is that Paine’s “radical” statements for his time should’ve been taken farther and were not lived out under the republic-styled government that eventually came to be. And seeing what that republic has largely turned into (pretty much what Britain was) it seems as if his eyes weren’t quite radical enough and just didn’t strike the root.

The issues of race, class, landless peoples, economic inequality, cultural strife, the issue of the Natives, the lack of women’s rights and voice in political systems and more are never even mentioned by Paine or if they are they’re swept aside as unimportant (as with economic inequality). So it seems the classical liberalism of Thomas Paine isn’t radical enough. Perhaps what’s better is an ideology that takes for granted some of Paine’s ideas but goes farther. For instance anarchism. I hope at least some of my main points have come across here. I recognize some are probably not as good as others but I’m not looking to make some sort of “perfect” or heavily detailed and well researched arguments in favor of myself (after all the classical liberal would still have to debate my first post) I’m just looking to make the point known that Paine’s ideas were either not implemented correctly or (what I think is more likely) could never be due to the de facto nature of government.

Finally, let’s see what political system Paine has to offer.

3. Analyzing Paine’s Political System

Paine first says that,

“…I offer the following hints; at the same time modestly affirming, that I have no other opinion of them myself, than that they may be the means of giving rise to something better. Could the straggling thoughts of individuals be collected, they would frequently form materials for wise and able men to improve into useful matter.” (p. 37)

So this is obviously a good caveat to put before he begins. Obviously all ideas can be improved on and Paine admits that the only opinion he has of these ideas (except implicitly that he probably likes them since he’s suggesting them) is that they can be improved upon and probably will be by wiser and more able men than he.

With that in mind let’s see his plan laid out:

“Let the assemblies be annual, with a president only. The representation more equal. Their business wholly domestic, an subject to the authority of a continental congress.” (p. 37)

“Let each colony be divided into six, eight, or ten, convenient districts, each district to send a proper number of delegates to congress, so that each colony send at least thirty. The whole number in congress will be at least three hundred and ninety.” (pp. 37-38)

Each congress to sit … and to choose a president by the following method. When the delegates are met, let a colony be taken from the whole thirteen colonies by lot, after which, let the congress choose (by ballot) a president from out of the delegates of that province. In the next congress, let a colony be taken by lot from twelve only, omitting that colony from which the president was taken in the former congress, and so proceeding on till the whole thirteenth shall have had their proper rotation. And in order that nothing may pass into a law but what is satisfactorily just, not less than three-fifths of the congress to be called a majority.” (p. 38)

But the kicker in all of this is this line,

“He that will promote discord, under a government so equal formed as this, would have joined Lucifer in his revolt.” (p. 38)

Now say what you will about the form of this government, the concepts underlying these ideas which supposedly justify them is what now particularly concerns me.

For here Paine reveals something pretty dark about this whole arrangement. He thinks that anyone who promotes discord is right up there with the devil. But what is meant by discord? Opposing this system in general? Opposing some parts of it? What if it turns out that this system is not so equally formed?

Also, Paine does not actually elaborate on what part of it makes this whole arrangement of making laws equal. So why is it equal to begin with? It’s just arbitrary numbers of people dictating things to another group of people based on so called representatives. What is so equal about this exactly? Paine goes back to his routine of not actually explaining why what he’s talking about is what he says it is. Perhaps Paine thinks this arrangement stands on its own of being just and fair but for the like of me I can’t see it.

When I read this I don’t necessarily feel like it’s a bad form of rule but that’s probably because the arrangement is ironically pretty vague. I mean I know this isn’t the main point of Common Sense and Paine said it himself that these ideas can be updates and re-organized (though wouldn’t that promote discord?) but if you look at what I’ve quoted it’s not exactly clear why these people have the right to monopolize the provision of law.

Ok, perhaps this is a good formation of law but why should it be the only one? Even if I grant Paine that this system of governance is a good one why does that mean it must be the only one? Why can there not be competing legal services or something of that nature? Paine also just seems to beg the question of where their authority comes from, which I suppose one could say, “It’s obviously the people!” but why? If “the people” (which is just a collection of individuals) have no right to impose laws on other people how can they give this non-existent right to other people?

But whether these questions can be answered or not is irrelevant. As I’ve said I’d rather address the underlying concepts of why Paine thinks such an association of people is just. So let’s skip over the talk of a Continental Congress and how it’d be formed (pp. 38-39) and onto some of the more conceptual ideas and problems Paine has (p. 40).

The first concept is the “rule of law” being king instead of a person being the king. Paine writes,

“But where, say some, is the king of America? I’ll tell you, friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter, let it be brought forth placing on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people who right it is.” (p. 40)

This is an old sentiment that really doesn’t amount to much. In fact (and I’ve linked this before but this point also bears repeating in my opinion) the “rule of law” is a myth. That is to say, it doesn’t exist. Who makes the laws? Who makes the rules? People do. People authorize other people to make them on their own behalf (and again where they get this right to force their beliefs on others when they can’t do it by themselves is still in question) and thus it’s still a rule of people. Saying it’s a “rule of law” is just using dodge-like terminology to try to make your case for government seem like the moral agency of it is somehow doesn’t share the flaws of a rule by people. But in the end the person calling for a republic like Paine must admit that the “rule of law” just means a rule of a small group of people dictating what is and what is not the law over a much larger group. How anyone gets the right or privilege to do all of this is still a mystery to me and one I don’t think the classical-republican can answer, that goes for Paine as well.

The second conceptual underpinning this whole idea is “natural rights” which I’ve dealt a bit with before but I’ll address it a little bit more here. Here’s what Paine says,

“A government of our own is our natural right: and when a man seriously reflects on the precariousness of human affairs, he will become convinced, that it is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool deliberate manner, while we have it in time and chance. If we omit it now, some Massanello may hereafter arise, who laying hold of popular disquietudes, may collect together the desperate and is contended, and by assuming to themselves their powers of government, finally sweep away the libertarians of the continent like a deluge.” (Ibid)

There’s a lot wrong here and a lot more that’s just flat-out question begging. Again I recognize that Paine’s main point in Common Sense isn’t to stress what the new form of government is right or wrong but that the state of affairs is wrong and should be done away with through revolution.

On the main point he’s obviously right. Paine really is giving common sense to the colonists and it’s a good thing to give them of course. But a lot of the concepts he rests his ideas on and especially his ideas of what the future should look like are I believe mistaken. So I more take issue with a lot of the side things in this book then the actual main part that is probably seen (correctly I think) as common sense. But the side issues (though they’re obviously not the main point) are important nonetheless. If Paine is going to tell the colonists what’s wrong with the present then he should probably try to take a chapter to flesh out what a sort of future based on similar common sense should be.

Instead Paine just attaches what he thinks this future will be as little sections of already existing chapters that don’t specifically have to do with these issues. Thus the concepts are highly underdeveloped and Paine often tries to have his ideas speak for themselves (which hasn’t been working for me thus far) instead of actually taking some time to explain them. This doesn’t mean he needs to start getting too intellectual for the colonists, after all, if he can talk about all of this in such a clear and concise manner (which is another big plus of this book, the writing) then why can’t he do so for the future? Obviously he seems to do this too much in this case. He downplays the importance of explaining some things that are actually pretty easily contestable (like the idea of “natural rights” itself which even by then I’m fairly sure was heavily debated from the utilitarians and others) to things that aren’t as much (like whether the colonies should declare independence from Britain or not). But what makes Paine’s cases in those cases of independence so clear and concise is precisely because he does eventually elaborate on the reasons and that a lot of these are just basic observations and not deep philosophical inquiries into the nature of the colonies and Britain. With all of that being said I do have a lot of problems with this passage.

First what is a natural right? Where does it come from? For Paine it’s God right? Well then the debate turns towards a theological one about how God can instill certain properties in all man that are universally inherent in them but constantly contradicted as human history marches forth. Does this not put a sort of damper on the people like Paine who think natural rights are so inherent to living a good life? Clearly people have found other ways of living while constantly denying these natural rights. But then this whole concept begs the question of how people would recognize a property that God put in them. How would they know God did it? Could it just be a similarity based on culture, inventive structures, rules, upbringing and so forth? I understand why (for the time he’s in) why God is the de facto answer but now and then there’s clearly many questions that can be asked about these natural rights. Establishing natural rights is primarily about justice I would think so perhaps the conversation could be switched towards a discussion of justice…but then Paine would probably start talking about God again, so we end up in the same problem.

Second, the rest of it is just completely question begging. Why would people just let someone arise from associations of voluntary cooperation and start terrorizing other people? Because there’s no government? What does a government do to de facto stop such action? Government is just an association of people monopolizing certain services that would be better provided in different institutions (such as the market place) and different ethical theories and ideas of justice, etc. then what is currently advocated. I also don’t think people just randomly stop caring about their safety and security without government. If anything, they’d care about it more and work harder towards creating the best social arrangement that doesn’t monopolize the service of defense/security. But of course creating a government will eventually de facto stop such creative individual and collective efforts. And then to add to all of that that this group will somehow consume the entire continent moves from a fairly big question-begging to a huge one. How would they get all the money through that way? Tributes? If you say that I can only think that you can’t grasp the concept that this gang of thieves and murderers is no different than a government when it starts out and continues to expand as it goes along.

Basically Paine says here that without government stability and security would be lost and thus a non-governmental society would be one that is chaotic. But of course he gives no credit to the ideas of individuals having the will of their own that is not tied to the government nor need it be.

Conclusion

So we finally get to the “common sense” part of Common Sense. How does it hold up? Well overall I’d say it works rather well in favor of Paine and my natural inclination of course based on history and what I now know (and what we all do of course) was that Paine was right.

But as an anarchist I can’t exactly agree with his prescriptions for a future society based on the failure of an idea of government which de facto monopolizes services that should be free to give out to people. Not only that but it perpetuates things that Paine himself never seems to recognize as social problems such as economic inequality, racial and gender based institutional oppression, stratified classes and so on. Ignoring these key ideas (though understanding considering the time Paine was living in obviously) leaves Paine obviously open to complaints from myself and other people like me who share my concerns that government creates artificial and unnecessary divides in society that lead to more strife and consequently less security and safety for the citizens.

Overall however this was probably one of the more enjoyable chapters to read and I can’t say I’m not happy I’m reading this book. It’s been an informative look at a lot of the original classical-liberal arguments in favor of government as well as some history and so on. And I am a big fan of history so on both of those fronts I’m quite pleased that I chose to read this book. The content this provides on both fronts isn’t spectacular though and if you’re looking for a good dose of either you’re probably better with actual books that deal with these topics. That only makes sense though, seeing how Paine was trying to just get some common sense into the colonists and not only does have convincing arguments but it’s not hard to see why now either. And that’s something worth commending.

Responses and Reflections #1: Common Sense, by Thomas Paine (Chapter 2)

Though I tried not to have this post center around disagreements as much as the last one did and more on general observations and remarks there are of course still going to be disagreements in these posts. I’m also trying to see if I can make it easier to determine different sections of these blog posts for easier reading and so I’ll be experimenting with different models until I find the best one.

One last note: These posts will be weekly so this series should end before January and then perhaps some concluding thoughts on “Common Sense” before the next week when I start a new book. But that’s just some ideas, nothing is concrete yet!

Chapter 2: Monarchy and Hereditary Succession

Part I: Monarchy

1. True Equality?

So to start off Paine starts talking about the “equality through creation” that man has. Now of course, I (again) object to this idea of man being created instead of creating themselves (existentialism of course being a philosophy I ascribe to I especially reject this, though I know those are two different ideas of “creating”). But not only that but I’d think that if the equality of man if (for the sake of argument) is universal and natural and can outweigh arguments for certain types of authority why not governments in general? I submit this is likely because this sort of equality (the other liberty) is an unknown ideal both then and unfortunately now. I think that should change personally which is one reason why I am a left-libertarian. Nonetheless the basic point is that if Paine was consistent he would’ve been an anarchist and taken this equality of man under nature much further.

2. Can Riches be made Through Non-Oppressive Means?

Paine says the following,

“…the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance; the distinctions of rich and poor, may in a great measure be accounted for, and that without having recourse to the harsh ill sounding names of avarice and oppression. Oppression is often the consequence, but seldom or never means of riches; and though avarice will preserve a man from being necessitously poor, it generally makes him to timorous to be wealthy.” (p. 9)

But how true is this? Well, when we look at the time Paine was living in it was certainly more true than now I think. Back when Paine was living if you were going to make your riches off of oppression it’d probably be pretty obvious (kingship, slavery, the use of class divides to justify demeaning relations between nobles and peasants and the feudal lords and peasants, etc. and Paine opposed these things…though I wouldn’t say they were “seldom” done…) but in today’s day it’s not so obviously so.

For example the very oft cited example of corporations using the state to get monopolized profits by anarchists is a pretty good example of profits gotten through oppressive (governmental) means in less obvious ways.

But how can you get a lot of money through non-oppressive means?

Well Paine gets it right here when he says it seldom or never happens. The relations between the peasants and the upper class was historically built on demeaning statuses and economic divides that was built on privileges granted by the king just like the corporations are granted privileges through the state. Otherwise how does one get to such a level of corporate status?

On a side note it also seems to me to be highly unlikely that corporations would exist without government privileges, protection, regulations that hurt the little guy more than the big ones and so on. So in present day society and the days in which Paine lived in oppression does seem to come from the most rich having that power but it also seems to have been one of their biggest aids in getting there as well in the case of some of the biggest corporations who use government privilege. So I think Paine is partly right and partly wrong here.

To be fair though I think it’d be pretty hard to get a lot of wealth off of oppressive relations without a government (though it’s obviously still possible and should be protested against through social and economic pressures). I tend to think as a left-libertarian that people with lots of wealth (lots of wealth like Bill Gates, etc.) are certainly de facto worthy of skepticism of how they got so much money. Can you really tell me they got all of that money through their own hard work? Did they use others? Did they use the state? How did they get so much wealth? Shouldn’t competition have made it so they got less than that due the splitting of profits and the costs of increasing productions and development in order to outdo the competition? So while it’s possible in a truly freed society to get a lot of riches without oppression I certainly think a skepticism of people’s means should be more into play than Paine is applying here.

3. Kings and Subjects vs. Rulers and Ruled

Paine instead posits that the key difference is between kings and subjects and this artificial division between man has been a horrible mistake. However, as with the issue of Paine’s idea of equality I think he could have taken this much farther.

How is the whole notion of there being rulers and ruled people a natural notion? It certainly doesn’t seem like a natural notion since most of human recorded history has been in relatively anarchic and egalitarian relations and not authoritarian ones. In fact it’s only when these authoritarian ones are artificially imposed from within or (what tends to happen) from outside is when major artificial class divisions starts happening. On these differences Paine says,

“Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad, the distictions of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth inquiring into, and whether the are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind.” (p.9)

Well it’s debatable how a lot of the distinctions between men and women are actually natural or mostly based on social constructs, the environment, incentive structures and the evolution of man and women as their own genders. This would of course go into a study of gender roles which I’m not too prepared to do and don’t intend to do as of right now but I think it’s worth noting that questions certainly can be raised on how “natural” these divisions actually are.

And of course he could raise these same questions about his idea of “natural legislators”…but he won’t of course.

4. Citing Scripture

A general observation (and one that’s obvious from the get go and even before this chapter but especially in this one) is that Paine constantly cites the bible, makes biblical references, talks about God, heaven, creation, etc. Yet later in his life Paine would be described as an “atheist” and “heretic” for writing “The Age of Reason”. So I just thought it was interesting to note how clear it is that in one of his most famous work that he is clearly a theist (or deist) of some sort.

5. Without Monarchy there’d be no Wars?

Right off the bat Paine makes an odd assertion,

“In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology, there were no kings; the consequences of which was there were no wars; it is the pride of kings which throws mankind into confusion.” (p. 9)

I’m unsure why exactly Paine is only using the history of the world from the scripture to say this. Weren’t there any historians he could’ve sent letters to? I know technology and knowledge in general was very limited compared to what we have now by an infinite amount but still I find it puzzling. Why would Paine just assert it based on this?

And even if we were to take the scripture as true why would this necessarily be the case? Why would people not have wars without kings? I’m fairly certain tribes thorughout history had their skirmishes and battles and perhaps even wars. I’m not an anthropologist so I may as well not even have as good of a response to Paine as Paine had an assertion. But it does seem odd at the very least that Paine seems to treat kings as the only sort of reason for why people would kill or go into wars to begin with in any case. As history tells us, long after Paine is dead, this isn’t the case.

6. Noting Paine’s use of the word “Heathens”

Throughout the first few pages Paine makes reference to the first people who had kings as “heathens”. Now of course if he’s using this to mean uncivilized then that’s just an ad hominem or at best a rude description. But if he means something else it’s not entirely clear what it is. What’s even stranger is that the word heathen is capitalized at first but then returned to a lowercase word. It’s possible (and even pretty likely to me upon further review) he’s referring to some other religion or something I’m just not aware of. He mentions in this chapter that the people who did accept kings were forsaking God and are “impious” so I think he means more of “godless” people then uncivilized people. Then again, for some theists (and even deists perhaps) “godless” people are in some way inferior to people who believe in Gods so either way it could be that Paine means these people are brutes or just plain old inferior.

7. The Authority of Scripture vs. Nature of Man

One thing that bugs me about this whole “nature” argument Paine makes is that if monarchy is the “unnatural” way to go why did it flourish? Paine would say because the pride of kings “confuses people” (as I’ve already pointed out) but why would the pride of kings (it’s more their power than their pride in my opinion anyways) confuse the natural state of man? If it’s so natural why didn’t it hold out? These flaws are probably some of the reasons why I don’t tend to make my case for anarchism on any sort of “natural” case.

Sure, I’ll say that on the whole I think people with the right system of incentive’s, environment, culture, up-bringing and so on will tend to support anarchism but that’s not something “natural”. In fact that’s something that people are trying to create in society, if anything it’s another artificial construction based on structures of thought and action that we as anarchists think will yield the most benefits for the most amount of people. But either way if people want to make their case for anarchism based on “nature” they can I guess (as I said most of recorded history is built on societies and communities that largely incorporated anarchic ideas) but it’s generally not something I do and Paine tends to prove why.

Now the authority of the scripture is really no better for me since I’m an atheist. So what argument should Paine have made instead? I think he would have been better off making consequentialist arguments as well as actually solid deontological ones (which I think do exist, they just tend to be very few in number by my experience if their not flexible and progressive). Paine instead rested on the nonsense of “naturalism” and gods.

8. “Render Unto Caesar”

I suppose in order to make sure that he’s not misinterpreted into saying that the scriptures don’t support any authority at all (which is debatable from what I know) Paine says,

Render unto Cesar the thing that which are Cesar’s is the scripture doctrine of the courts yet it is no support of monarchical governments…” (p. 10)

But even the courts or government in general being justified under this could be questions through scripture. Take for example the question of whether Jesus (who said that phrase) was an anarchist or not. Some say he was and if so then perhaps “Give Nothing Unto Caesar” would be a better phrase.

Regardless though, I don’t find appealing to scripture or what Jesus is this day of the week or anything like that worthwhile argument to make. For people who can make them, care about them and think they’re compelling (like the natural arguments for anarchism) then cool. If it gets more people into anarchism then why not? But as an atheist I couldn’t care less either way. And for the record the only point of making note about this is just to further undermine Paine’s arguments for justifying governments of any sort.

9. What is a “National Delusion” and If God is so Loving then…

The idea of a “national delusion” is introduced when Paine says,

“Near three thousand years passed away from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews, under a national delusion, requested a king.” (p. 10)

I’m curious exactly what a national delusion is and why it happened? Again, how could the natural state of man (equality) be disrupted by war if it’s…natural? I suppose natural doesn’t mean eternal but rather that it’s the state that man excels best at perhaps? Either way this would make a lot more sense but to have the best state of man overturned by a war, a charismatic general and 100 years before they try to have a king again doesn’t speak well of how well this so called “nature” holds up or how effective it actually is. Either way there’s no talk about how to prevent this only that God will forsake them and they deserved it and so on and so forth.

On the matter of God, God apparently thinks by asking for kings that they have forsaken his rule though…can I say God is being logically fallacious? Well anyways I guess that’s what I’m gonna have to do because why couldn’t the Jews have worshiped both the kings and God? What is so impossible about that? Obviously it’s not likely as to get worship as if God by itself but either way what does it matter? Why does God care if some forsake him and why should that forsake the entire Jewish race? God’s not only logically fallacious but a collectivist!

Ok…but in all seriousness this is some pretty silly stuff and I can’t help but poke fun at the obvious (to me) ridiculousness of this whole scenario. The idea that God would care what people chose as a political system only reveals (in these scriptures) the lack of political choice God is affording people. Some free will! Either worship God and only God or burn!

Now make no mistake about it I am not defending kings or monarchy (of course) but I’m just trying to bring out the absolute silliness of this whole scenario and why it just seems so logically improbable. God literally says to Samuel (allegedly),

“Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected, me, THAT I SHOULD NOT REIGN OVER THEM.” (p. 10)

So apparently God is logically fallacious, a collectivist, very possessive and likes using ALL CAPS (Billy Mays style!). God then mentions that the Jews have also worshiped other Gods besides him (again, who knew God was so possessive?) but never specifies who, why, when or for what.

Furthermore God doesn’t specify whether all Jews did it or just some of them.

So again, it appears as if the Jews are just being collectivized by what is probably only a majority or wealthy minority acting out. It all just seems so very unfair for a God that’s supposedly all loving, caring, etc. Apparently God made people fear him through thunder and rain (wiping out their crops)…so yeah, so much for caring huh? It’s also interesting to note that if kings ever backed up their demands through violence or government in general did or people did Paine would speak out against it but he does nothing of protest here. He just states the obvious that God doesn’t like monarchs or kings.

“Well besides that Mrs. Lincoln how was the play?”

Anyways that’s enough on god for now.

10. Paine…I get what you’re trying to do but…

So it’s obvious Paine is trying to make his case against monarchs not only based on nature (which has for me failed and even if it succeeded it should’ve been taken much farther) and based on scripture (which failed even worse). But unfortunately for Paine in my eyes neither of these assertions or the basis thereof make him look terribly good.

The natural argument makes him look naive’ and the argument from scripture makes him look like strict theist who doesn’t mind if god is violent, tyrannical, backs its threats up with violence and so on but for that same reason protests the kings. So it not only makes Paine look like an authoritarian but a pretty selective one who doesn’t mind if god intervenes in personal affairs. So…I’m unsure that Paine was a deist at all let alone someone who was very much consistent on his belief of liberty.

Don’t get me wrong, again I’ll say a lot of what Paine says it at least attempted to be backed up and sounds a whole of a lot better than what most people seem to favor these days (especially those in congress, etc.) but unfortunately it’s naive to the core. And not only that but Paine’s theism makes him look like a religious authoritarian, someone who relies on a god who is entirely relying on fallacies to make judgements on an entire race on people.

Sorry Paine, but I’m not interested in your governments, arguments here or your god.

Part II: Hereditary Succession

The Origin of Kings seems Familiar…

Paine writes on the origins of kings that,

“…it is more than probable, that could we take off the dark covering of antiquity, and trace them to their first rise, we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose savage manners, or pre-eminence in subtility obtained him the title of chief among plunderers; and who by increasing in power, and extending his depredations, overawe the quiet and defenceless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions.” (p. 15)

Wow, that sounds pretty much word for word what the anarchist historical account of how the state originated. Through the most powerful thieves! So again, it just seems like Paine’s critiques of power are just a few steps back from being the anarchist ones. It’s disappointing, frustrating and of course interesting to see this time and time again.

2. What about the Natives?

I’m unsure it was the wisest thing in the world to bring this up. Why? Well first let’s review what he says,

“A French bastard landing with an armed bandittie, and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original.” (p. 16)

So why isn’t this the wisest thing to do? Well it sort of begs the question of what Paine thinks about America to me and how it was founded. What about landing with steel, germs and a mindset for war against “heathens” and taking over the natives land through direct violence? Forget about overthrowing governments but slaughtering people, upsetting orders, traditions, and not bothering to learn their culture.

Now I’m not saying the natives were angels and obviously the germs part were never intended to kill the natives. But either way that doesn’t justify the seizure of their lands that they were using and occupying. Nonetheless I’m curious about what Paine would think of it. I’m somewhat inclined to (unfortunately) think he’d either brush it off or just diminish the perils of “heathens” as he’s already done before as I’ve noted in part I.

3. You Won’t Disturb Them?

Paine has an odd statement that I was especially puzzled at,

“However, it is needless to spend much time in exposing the folly of hereditary right, if there are any so weak as to believe it, let them promsciously worship the ass and the lion, and welcome. I shall neither copy their humility, nor disturb their devotion.” (p. 16, emphasis mine)

How does this make any sense? Why wouldn’t you disturb them? The idea that there should coercion based authority at all is a dangerous one let alone the idea that we should have kings. So why wouldn’t you say something to these people? Would you just allow them to keep speaking as if they and everyone around them need these horrific controls that you tell us yourself eventually leads to a massive loss of lives? I’d hope not. But in fact you state right after you say that last line that,

“…I should be glad to ask how they suppose kings came at first.”

Well…isn’t this disturbing their devotion? Wouldn’t this impact their devotion or energy they put into the idea of needing kings? Why wouldn’t it? If you can prove kings can only and have only come through illegitimate violence then I don’t see how these two statements go together. Am I missing something here?

The thick libertarian in me especially objects to not wanting to “disturb” people for holding mistaken beliefs.

I’m sorry (not sorry), but I’m not going to let everyone stand around and believe the world is flat while we could be exploring the whole damn world.

Human progress shall always be harmed, lessened and furthermore undermined as long as we allow misconceptions to not only exist but to go to other people and impact culture in huge ways. This in turn paves the way and fertilizes the ground for future oppression based on misconceptions. Obviously the idea that the world was flat violated no one’s rights and it certainly was not an aggression against anyone yet it still most likely did much damage to the progress of human knowledge insofar as this belief was widespread enough to do so. I have the same issues with bigotry and class superiority, religious superiority and other such ideas for similar reasons.

4. Government and Wars

Again, Paine seems to believe (pp. 18-19) that the amount of wars are a major cause for alarm for the monarchical government. But if that’s so then what does this say about the governments of today? Of the so called “democratic” governments? Democide in the 19th an 20th century is in the multi-millions and that’s probably much more than the kings ever did…though obviously that’s just speculation on my part but due to technological, population-wise and general increases in the world since then it seems like a plausible bare assertion to me to make.

5. Concluding Thoughts on Paine’s Critiques of Monarchy

Overall I think it’s much more efficient when Paine focuses on why monarchies don’t work when he focuses on things like the distance between monarchs and their subjects then on the “nature” or “scripture” arguments. The more mechanical arguments including the modification of KISS Principle, (again) the idea of monarchs not having enough knowledge to be useful, the wars they tend to cause, the way they tend to come about (through violence, maintained through violence, etc.) and the arguments against hereditary are pretty much no-brainers for the most part. So those all work rather well. Most of the arguments on hereditary are in fact more appeals from nature, etc. so that’s why I didn’t respond to them. Otherwise, like I said, I generally found it a no-brainer subject and answer.

Overall, does Paine make a good case? Well since monarchy is so utterly rejected by now in the culture and society of America and pretty much globally (except by maybe some nut-jobs here and there) then I can’t really say Paine needed to do a better job than he did. And even if he doesn’t live up to my standards clearly the Americans of the day largely thought otherwise so I suppose it doesn’t matter either way.

That’s all for now! Next week I’ll be discussing Chapter 3: Thoughts on the Present State of the American Affair!

Responses and Reflections #1: Common Sense, by Thomas Paine (Chapter 1)

Wow so this took me longer to get to then I would’ve liked but what with work, constantly trying to stay on top of my YT feed and other things I haven’t had the drive or time to get around this until now. Hope you enjoy!

I’d also like to point out that I am reading the 1995 Fall River Press version of Common Sense if you’re looking to read along or just know what I’m citing pages the way I am, thanks!

Thomas Paine

Chapter 1: On the Origin and Design of Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution.

Part I: Addressing: On the Origin and Design of Government in General

Right off the back let me say I have a hell of a lot of respect for what Thomas Paine did in his life and what he tried to do. Before I begin my address of some of Paine’s lackluster arguments towards government I don’t want anyone to think I dislike Paine or what he stood for. Back then being what he was (a pretty radical classical liberal) was a huge thing. You were completely in defiance of the prevailing power structures of the monarchy, of the church of a lot of the dominant cultural perceptions of what a just society should look like. Basically, it was Paine and other people who were practically against the world and how it currently looked. Doing what Paine did was not only just an act of heroism but one of a great defiance of the dominant power-relations that were held through violence, deceit, flat out lies, threats of violence and more. So for Paine to write Common Sense itself is worthy of praise for the time he wrote it in.

That being said I do have plenty of critiques right off the back of what Paine is trying to say in this chapter and although this chapter isn’t that long (it’s only 8 pages and only four of them are based on “the origins”) it’s got plenty of stuff for me as an anarchist to object to and at the very least throw into question if not outright try to get people to reject. However it should be of course remembered that I’m more specifically doing this to better my own knowledge and use thereof. If I can’t convince you Paine’s classical liberalism (radical at the time then but not so much anymore I’d posit) then that’s fine. After all Paine’s classical liberalism is a hell of a lot better than what we have now anyways.

To finally begin Paine starts off with something I actually agree with wholeheartedly:

“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 wickenedess; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other createst distinctions. The first is a patron, the last is a punisher.” (p. 1)

Well…ok, I guess it’s not completely fair I agree with all of this and how far he takes it to a degree but I certainly agree with his main premise: the fact that people have confounded society with government is a common argument made by government-supporters. In fact Murray Rothbard, a famous anarcho-capitalist attempted to refute such an argument here. Albert J. Nock’s idea of social power vs. state power is also discussed there which I think is also worth checking out even if it’s a bit lengthy. So there you have it, I don’t think many (if any at all) anarchists would disagree with Paine’s assertion there. From anarcho-communists to the capitalists I doubt there’d be any disagreement that many thinkers have seen government as society even though they are two different entities.

For example society as Rothbard points out is just the general interrelation of individuals in voluntarily associated groups. Now the anatomy of the state could be considered a bit different or perhaps more complex. Either way I typically refer to the weberian definition of the state as:

“…a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”

Now there are reasons to disagree with this and perhaps the genealogy of the state would make us agree or disagree more with that definition especially in the modern day where trans-national state, multi-national corporations and talks of “New World Orders” go on. Nonetheless for the purposes of these responses and reflections I will be using the classic Weberian definition unless anyone can show me a better one.

I shall also be using the terms “government” and “state” interchangeably and to mean the same thing as the Weberian definition outlines. It is from these definitions and clarifications that I hope it has become clear why I think Pain’s premise is valid here and why I agree with it.

Now back to the quote itself, while I agree with the main premise that society and government are different I don’t necessarily agree with Paine goes with this valid premise. For example from there Paine suggests,

“Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickenedess; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other createst distinctions. The first is a patron, the last is a punisher.”

Now I think society and government are bother produced by people’s wants. It’s just, for the anarchist, those wants become distorted under government then with normal society-based actions. When you have a group of people coming together to make collective decisions about what is to be done on something this is obviously produced by commonly held wants. While government is typically a small group of people who also have their own wants. But these wants are produced by the desire for power, control and domination over others. Of course, this is more heavily pronounced in Paine’s time via monarchy and feudalism in some aspects still being around as well as of course the existence of the institution of slavery. Nonetheless I’d say government is produced by our wants in the sense of general human wants of control over our lives. But through the organization of government it becomes distorted through how the power relations are inherently going to come out. So Paine is somewhat right and somewhat wrong here.

The second part about affections and vices is also slightly true but ironically Paine commits the same fallacy he accuses many critics of making. He says government is created through our vices but many people and actions are created by our vices that have nothing to do with government. For instance during the BP spill we can see direct action is key to attaining things like rectifying the vices of others. So I certainly don’t think it’s out of the way of possibility at all for society to be able to create things that are non-governmental. If I didn’t believe anything like that I suppose I’d just be a classical liberal or something like Paine is. But I am an anarchist.

Finally, the “patron and punisher” is also incorrect for the reasons I just cited above so I won’t repeat myself further.

All of that right there eliminates my first 3 points I made out of 11 so let’s continue with whether government is a “necessary evil”. Paine writes,

“Society in every state is a blessing, but goverment, 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 a government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.” (p. 1)

Well this is the big one folks. This is probably the biggest part of this post. Why you may ask? Well basically this makes up the entire classical liberal theory of government in one nice quote.

Let’s break it down:

1. The view that government is an evil generally but a necessary one (check)

2. The idea that people can control the government but it can be apt go go astray (check)

3. The necessary “logical” (implicit here) subsequent idea that anarchism or other ideas like it go against human nature or the way of history. (check)

So this is pretty much the classical liberal’s whole theory of society and government. While governments can be bad, they are necessary top keep society together. Or else perhaps we may think that even the best of societies without governments would not match the society with the worst of governments. This isn’t to say Paine would make this argument (I’d even go so far as to give him the benefit of the doubt that he wouldn’t) but just that the classical liberal could conceivably (and from my experience has if memory serves) make this argument.

But how true are all of these things? Well I’d posit as an anarchist that almost none of this is true. Why almost? Well it’s certainly true that government is an evil but the real question is whether it’s necessary or not. You see, the classical liberal at least in Paine’s case has the intellectual honesty to admit that government is generally an evil but one that must be tolerated. We’ll get into Paine’s reasons of why that is as we continue to go through this section of chapter one. For now however I want to try to rebuke if not flat out convince you to reject Paine’s idea that government is a necessary evil.

First off, how is government an evil to begin with? Government is an evil (that is something that causes much more net harm than health) because of how it begins, how it maintains itself and how it ends. In essence the whole process of government is one of a great evil. To the more general question however, is evil ever tolerable? Why should it be? What evils can you think of that people say are just “necessary”? Sure, things like rape, murder, theft and so on happen in current day society (sadly) all the time but do people say it’s a necessary evil? Do they say that society would be far worse if these things did not exist at all? I don’t believe you’d hear women say if sexism was lessened or made less distinct in society that things would be worse or black people for racism would you? So what gives here for Paine and government? Where’s the disconnect?

For one thing perhaps my analogies are unfair. Obviously government is regarded as an evil by classical liberals like Paine and anarchists such as myself just like racism, sexism, bigotry, rape, theft, murder, etc. are regarded as evils probably by myself and perhaps to some extent Paine as well (Paine did actually speak in favor of women and their rights and against slavery which is briefly mentioned in the introduction of the version of Common Sense I have). Maybe it’s because these things are not as alike as I’d like them to be. After all, rape, theft, sexism, etc. these are all generally more individually based actions that are pretty direct while government is an organization, a community of people.

However, in the end I reject the notion that my analogies are unfair. For one thing, government is by and large questionable even on a basis of how it is special. And furthermore a lot of these things like racism, sexism and more are reinforced by the state/government. Don’t believe me? Check out things like Women vs. The Nation-State by Carol Moore or things like Sheldon Richman’s Libertarianism and Anti-Racism for more info on that.

For me the way the harms of society generally come about is created through unequal power relations between people and if these unequal power relations start being collectivized or institutionalized through things like government how does that make them more tolerable? In actuality it makes it less tolerable then the things that happen on an individual level. How government forms is on the basis of these unequal power relations, through exploitation, theft, violence, threat of violence, use of cultural authoritarianism against weaker individuals who are vulnerable and more. The sociologist Franz Oppenheimer in his great book “The State” spells out a lot of what I just said.

With all of that being said I can’t see how evils in general should be tolerated or done nothing about just because they’ve been institutionalized or monopolized by a certain group. If anything that means more must be done about that group and the individuals who would continue to try to do it even once that institution is gone. I’m sure Paine doesn’t mean to suggest that nothing should be done about evil in general but I don’t see how minimizing government and trying in vain to keep it small is going to somehow keep the evil away. But if government is itself an evil and we’ve determined that what keeps us from abolishing it?

Well that’s where we get into what Paine says next,

“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 thus he is induced to do by the same prudence whuch n every other case 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.” (pp.1-2)

Like all of the classical liberal defenses of why anarchism cannot work (or basically just a flat out non-government based society for Paine here) they deeply misunderstand many of the things going on.

For one thing, why does the conscience of every person need to be clear for no government to exist? Are all consciences clear when government does exist? Clearly this was never the case historically, not even in the case of the original government set up by those so hallowed figures referred to collectively as the “founding fathers”. So what gives? Does government somehow make our conscience more clear? At least in this section Paine doesn’t give the reader a reason to think so nor does he offer reasons why it wouldn’t be so if government didn’t exist.

Second, why must they be “uniform and irresistibly obeyed”? What is the point of having a free society if one cannot freely associate and disassociate into different communities with different ideas of what will work best? So long as those ideas don’t in some way infringe on others then what’s the problem? And again, under government are things completely uniform and are they irresistibly obeyed? To be clear, I don’t think Paine would say that they are. Maybe he’d say it’s more likely for them to be but either way he doesn’t make that clear and even if he had, so what? It’s a moot point to talk about the requirements for one type of society to work if even your own ideal society would never meet those ends. It’s pointless to talk about because no one is going to reach that goal to begin with. Furthermore, social cooperation doesn’t need to be uniform or irresistibly obeyed for it to work. There just needs to be open dialogue and free association involved as well as other things as the main basic principles. In short, Paine’s standards are ludicrous for any society to try to live up to, even his own ideal minimally state-controlled society.

Third, as far as “giving up his property” I find it ironic for a few reasons. First it’s widely credited that Benjamin Franklin said that those who give up a little security for a little freedom desire neither. So if this is the basis for a “truly free society” in Paine’s mind I’m not impressed since it doesn’t seem like this society would deserve much if they’re just going to give up liberty for stability. Another ironic thing to me is that Paine should know better about man “giving up” his property to government. Via the history of the state through Oppenheimer, social power vs. state power of Nock and the anatomy of the state by Rothbard we can discern that there’s no historical, political or sociological proof that men has ever willingly given up his property for a government. In fact according to Oppenheimer’s book “The State” largely states began as roaming gangs who settled down and began to demand payments or tributes to protect less strong communities from other gangs. That doesn’t sound like “giving” to me.

Fourth and finally, how is security the final aim of government? I talked about earlier how government maintains itself and that’s largely through the artificial expansion of markets. The “Role of Monopoly Capitalism in the American Empire” as well theories on monopoly capital (both Austrian and Marxist) reveal the basic fact of the subsidy of history and finally the historical development of the iron fist behind the invisible hand. All of these studies into history, social actions vs. state actions, theories on how they play out and more reveal government to be nothing more than a purveyor and giver and creator of privilege and privileged classes that then go on to exploit the ruled.

So as far as I’m concerned I don’t really think government is much of a protector. If war is the health of the state, if taxation is theft or robbery or slavery and this is how the organization of governments/states maintain themselves then how can it be for security? What’s more likely is that government stands for a more specific security namely its own security and power and stolen plunder that largely makes up its wealth. If government is some sort of security it’s no security I want any part of and I would like people of Thomas Paine’s persuasion to realize that it’s not legitimate to impose it on others.

However what if the imposition is irrelevant? What if government is just inevitable? Pain also makes this argument here,

“After Pain describes a process of men starting to collaborate with one another into a group 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 reach other, but as nothing but heaven is impregnable to vice, it will unavoidably happen, that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigrations, which bound them together in a common cause, they will being to relax in their duty and attachment to each other and this remissness will point out the necessity of establishing some form of government to supply the defect of moral virtue.” (pp. 2-3)

So here Paine basically relies on the fallback of all government apologists from my point of view: “Well ok, fine. Government may not be the most morally virtuous thing in the world and it may not be that practical but it’s still inevitable. So either way your talk of so called “practicality” and morality doesn’t have much to do with the world.”

Now of course I don’t find this very convincing and one of the biggest reasons why is because the argument basically sweeps the ground off its own feet in the process of trying to establish itself (or however that metaphor works…). Basically you can’t try to appeal to the validity of government based on the so called historical “fact” that it inevitably develops. In saying that it’s not very moral or practical if at all you thereby give me very little reason to take your analysis seriously. How could you honestly believe that such an inefficient (both in the way it works and the theories that justify it, etc.) could possibly be an inevitable thing in our lives? Wouldn’t it either become apparent as time goes on that such is the case? Or does one just think humans are too stupid to realize it? I’m unsure of what the exact excuse for the existence of government here outside of “might makes history” and that’s not a very compelling case.

Either way I do feel like it’s worth addressing so to continue with a few more points to further discredit these ideas.

Now again it’s weird to see Paine try to claim that as soon as an injustice occurs we need government. He claims that because only heaven is impregnable to vice/folly/etc. humans will naturally make injustices to each other. Leaving aside the theological debate here (as I am an atheist) I don’t understand why people are somehow incapable of working out disputes among themselves. What prevents this from happening? Why can government (who is entirely made up of people itself) be able to do this but people by themselves can’t? I know it’s not because Paine believes some sort of Hobessian view of humanity (at least I’m pretty sure he doesn’t…) so I don’t understand where Paine is coming from there. Nor does he (once again) explain himself so all I have are assumptions strictly based on the introduction, what I’ve read so far of the book and what little I know of him. Obviously that’s not a good foundation to be making assumptions on…but then I shouldn’t be having to do that to begin with should I?

I just flat out don’t understand why Paine thinks people’s duty to one other will lessen and again he doesn’t offer any evidence why he thinks this is or why the “surmounting of troubles” necessarily produces this. So instead of guessing I guess I’ll just move on.

Next I want to consider Paine’s discussion of the development of a governmentally-controlled society. Paine starts off by saying that this group of people will find a tree to make the state-house and that the community at first will be able to deliberate on affairs and regulations governed by “public disteem” (p. 3). And at this parliament everyone will have a “natural right” to a seat (must…resist…debating…the bad terminology…) but then he continues to fortune tell…because honestly humans are good at that…by saying,

“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, when their number was small, their habitation near, and the public concern few and trifling. 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 who have appointed them, and who will act in the same manner as the whole body if they were present.” (p.3)

The first thing that comes to my mind is…why? Why is this necessarily true? Why wouldn’t the community further split off? Why would the people in office necessarily represent the other people’s views? People typically find it hard to truly represent their own views so how likely is it that other people will be able to do this for them? Why would you leave the legislative duties to a small group of people? Either way the myth of representative government and the benefits of direct/participatory democracy demonstrated at #Occupy Wall St. make me unconvinced (again) that Paine is correct here.

Finally Paine details how the representatives and common man (my words not his) will interact and their interests be better known. I of course, question how that works when, again, people often have trouble telling themselves or explaining to others what they want let alone handling themselves. This is no to say people are incapable of doing it themselves or what have you but just to point out the natural difficulties that this sort of government is going to just build on and not remove or hider in any way. He then points out that this mutual and natural support between the electors and elected. But of course having this support natural or mutual has never to my knowledge happened, so where is Paine’s basis for believing in it? He never provides one.

The last questions and topics I had was:

1. Why does justness need to be determined by the government?

2. What is Paine’s definition of government?

3. Paine’s ideas

4/ Concluding Remarks (on Part 1)

(1.) So first off, why does justness need to be determined by the government? This goes back to questioning how government is so special to begin with. Why does it have the so called “right” to do this when other people can’t? Determining a possible answer to this question means looking at the Weberian definition of the state and particularly the “monopoly on force” part. This allows for a government to establish the right to monopolize certain processes. It’s not necessarily that they do it the best or what have you but that it dominates the political space and starts to control what is justness and how it should be dictated. Obviously this isn’t how Paine envisions government but then how Paine envisions government isn’t historically accurate as I’ve already pointed out via the work of Rothbard, Oppenheimer, Nock, Carson and others. Even if I could admit that somehow Paine’s examples have anything to do with reality they certainly don’t at present. The current government almost constantly gets almost no support from anyone and independent groups usually just use the government for their own power-plays for control of society. Government is then once again better seen as a creator of privileged classes at the expense of less privileged people and thereby creating exploitation where there need not be any.

So once again I don’t see how such an organization should have any say over what is “just” or not.

(2.) Paine’s definition of government is rather vague. He seems to claim it is a third or final arbiter, a market of laws over man and seemingly nothing else. Paine’s talk of the origins and development of governments as he sees them doesn’t really detail anything in this first chapter. It seems to suggest people coming together and the group being siphoned off eventually for smaller groups controlling the larger through “regulations” enforced via social pressures and ills if broken, etc. but it’s all rather vague. At no point does Paine give us a solid definition of government even though he is giving a supposed true account of its history and development. Speaking for myself I don’t know what Paine was thinking with this move. It could be that he thought the definition was widely agreed on enough as it was (has it ever?) or perhaps throughout the chapter it’d become clearer what government was or if all else fails perhaps Paine forgot. No matter what the case is once again I am left assuming based on what I’ve read thus far and my knowledge of classical liberalism that Paine simply sees government as a final arbiter and guaranteer of justness in relations.

Now of course I’ve talked about how the second is faulty but what about the first part? Is it possible to have a “final” arbiter? Roderick Long argues (I think) persuasively in “Market Anarchism as a Constitutionalism” that it is not:

“Minarchists sometimes charge market anarchy with lacking “legal finality” or a “final arbiter.” Let’s consider what such “finality” means. This concept could be interpreted either Platonically or realistically.

Platonically, legal finality would mean an absolute guarantee that disputes are settled beyond any possibility whatsoever of being revived. Realistically, legal finality would mean that in practice disputes do fairly reliably get brought to an end. Platonic legal finality is of course impossible. Neither anarchy nor minarchy can provide it; nor can any other conceivable legal system. What person or institution is the final legal arbiter, for example, under the current U.S. system? Is it Congress? no, the supreme court can declare its laws unconstitutional. The supreme court? no, congress can initiate the process of amending the constitution to get around the Supreme Court. The only system that allows for a final arbiter would be a Hobbesian dictatorship, with all power vested in a single person (for even a small ruling council might have internal disputes, and who then would have the final say in resolving them?). but as La boétie (2003) and Hume pointed out centuries ago, no individual ruler (unless she hails from Krypton) possesses in her own right sufficient power to compel obedience from everybody else; hence any dictator’s power depends on the concurrence of those she rules. Thus a final arbiter in the sense after which the minarchist hankers is an illusion, a Platonic ideal – it cannot be realised on this earth.”

With that said, I don’t think Paine’s reasons for believing in government are just and neither is government. In the future when he makes reference to “legitimate forms of government” I shall either ignore it or only make note of it if I really find it worth talking about.

(3.) So what do I think of Paine’s ideas in general? Well I of course adore them a hell of a lot more than most people’s ideas. Paine’s ideas are a lot better than probably anyone’s in the senate, house or what have you by miles bar none, except maybe by Ron Paul (though either way that’s not saying much…). He certainly laid down some of the core tenants of classical liberalism and their ideas of government and society and no matter how pernicious these falsehoods are and how I wish to see them ultimately rejected I do understand where Paine is coming from largely. We all want to feel like we have our lives under control. Like there can be peace, stability, justice, etc. etc. and most people feel like we need a government to do that. I as an anarchist reject this notion because I think all you need is people in voluntarily formed and enforced associations of polycentric law and common law and competing law as well as cooperating law, etc. to have justice. I don’t think you need government as it stands now or how it’s ever stood to acquire anything that classical liberals aim for. But overall I’d say while I don’t agree with Paine and his justifications by and large I get where he’s coming from (I think anyways) and why he’s saying them and (again) respect them insofar as what he advocates is far superior to most systems…if it could actually work out the way he wanted it to.

(4.). Concluding Thoughts on Part I

So this has been a very long post and I’m not sure who would take the time to read this (and kudos if you did!) but I’d like to say that if I can keep putting out pieces something like this for reflections and responses I may be in good shape. That being said however, I do want to focus on most of the rest of the book less on my disagreements with Paine and more on my own observations, related thoughts, maybe some interesting links, etc. I’ll still have some parts where I’ll disagree with him but I think that’s what this part mostly stood as. This part was just the place to basically grieve most of my disagreements with Paine and then read and reflect on the rest of the book in a more non-nonchalant but still active manner that will hopefully entice the reader and improve my own ability to craft posts and ideas, etc. I hope you enjoyed this part and because part II is so short in comparison to this I suppose I can keep it in this post.

Part II: “…With Concise Remarks on the English Constitution”

First off Paine says something I’d like to take the time to sort of agree and bring up some related ideas to:

“I draw my ideas 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…”

I do like this principle and the fact that it’s a pretty regular occurrence is, I think, pretty well supported. This reminds me of the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) principle which Paine is implementing in the context of politics and governance in general. Now if the problem of government being it’s own worst enemy in terms of simplicity wasn’t the case then maybe this’d work. Either way I do think this is a pretty good principle to go along with from time to time. Sometimes during my life I tend to really overthink things myself so I certainly wish I could apply it myself sometimes.

I think the best “concise remark” in this chapter is this,

“There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of monarchy it first excludes a man from the means of information, yet empowers him to act in cases where the highest judgement 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.”

This is spot on but I’d like to add a few things. First this sort of critique is a general knowledge problem with people like Mises and Hayek talked about via economics and central planners in authoritarianism socialism (though it can be applied to authoritarianism in capitalism as well). Second, this argument can also be applied to corporations and the role of the managers, CEOS, bosses, etc. But in any case this is a general good place and the fact that Paine brings up this quasi-knowledge problem is interesting seeing how Hayek and Mises bring it up many many years later in a more developed form.

Another interesting bit is,

“The prejudice Englishmen, in favor of their own government, by king lords and commons, arisews as much or more from national pride than reason.”

I say this is interesting because governments generally use things like forms of patriotism, nationalism, and other things of that sort to capture the people’s attention so they are more likely to listen to the government. If they don’t they’re liable to be called a “traitor”, perhaps a pejorative term towards a person of another sort of nationality, publicly derided without the law taking into effect and so on. This is especially used during war time where the state gathers up all of the propaganda it can and makes sure the people are put into a patriotic fervor so that any dissidents are either shrugged off, censored, deported or perhaps even killed. All of these things have been done by the US government through it’s history and you don’t have to go far to find it. Look up the “Palmer Raids”, the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror”, the cry of the threat of “national security”, the WWI and WWII propaganda and the list goes on and on. Paine’s mistake is to stop at kings, because it doesn’t stop there and it never has.

I was gonna make some comments on Paine’s thoughts on the checks and balances of the constitution but his one remark on the huge problem of the general composition of monarchy I think suffices. Besides that I doubt many people take monarchy seriously except maybe people like Hans-Herman Hoppe. 😉

Concluding Thoughts on Part II

Obviously there’s a lot less to say here since Paine is basically just digging into the idea of monarchy and revealing how obviously stupid it is. What is interesting to note however is a fact that his critiques of monarchical type power can be easily extended to other power relations. Such examples of big corporations have already been pointed out and of course you can keep going to representative government as well. And though I didn’t talk about it Paine’s critiques of the checks and balances that he doubts will keep the king in line may something also about any sort of government or higher up position as well. But since I haven’t attempted to do much there I suppose I’ll leave that claim at mere speculation and suggestion based on what I’ve already written.

Well that’s it for now! The next chapter will be:

Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession

So expect some more of my own detailed thoughts on monarchy as well as some of Paine’s choice quotes from the chapter and some small mentions of theology here and there.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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