The Anarchist Township

Fight the war, fuck the norm!

Month: January 2012

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

The TRUE Rodney Dangerfield

Well it’s been a long winding and I’ll definitely say an interesting road but we now reach the end of Paine’s Common Sense…so what’s the final word? Well it’s mixed to say the least. For one thing if you’re looking for Paine’s thoughts himself then this might not be the best place to go. This is before he got more into deism and science and before he really laid out his ideas of what is just and just in Rights of Man. Instead what you get here (and most likely The American Crisis as well) is a lot of the same. It’s a lot of pandering to nationalistic ideas about what America could be an ought to be and the fact that people must relegate themselves to these roles as citizens and people above them as government (as burdensome as it can be at times) must persist. I, as an anarchist still cannot agree with this.

However I’ve learned the vale of historical context while reading this book and while that’s not necessarily everyone will get it’s something I did. One from either the anarchist side of things and certainly the less radical sections of politics must to some extent I’d say appreciate Paine’s work here. Sure, some of it is past it’s time, clearly written for the time and for some (such as myself) not radical enough. But even after all of that is said it doesn’t change the fact that for the historical age in which Paine wrote this it was considered treasonous by the British crown and even somewhat dangerous in more “liberal” places like America or French. Paine was saying something outright and with a sort of blunt honesty that simply needs to be more prevalent today more than ever.

Besides for history buffs or people researching the basics of why the American Revolutionary War happened I don’t actually think there’s much to be gained from reading Common Sense. The principles in chapter one and two are laid out (and heavily revised for chapter 2) in further writings while three and four show their age. I can’t say that there’s much to be learned either from reading it that couldn’t be better and more in depth learned from some of Paine’s other writings and the “arguments” for why America will win or wouldn’t I’d think would only be interesting to historical scholars and not necessarily to even the most voracious of casual readers. Even then however it’s not that the book was boring and it certainly had it’s interesting moments and ideas as well as (for me) some heavily contentious ones in chapter one and two which I’m sure would even be more so (at least for the first chapter).

Paine’s writing and style for the most part is pretty clear and concise and easily understood. For a man who wrote almost 300 years ago the writing has come off incredibly well and so even if you do want to read this it wouldn’t be hard. And of course at only a little over 50 pages or so it’s not like it’d take you much time to read the thing out either. So in essence even if you do still want to read this book it’s not like it’d use up a whole lot of your time. You could probably finish this well before a day is over if you wanted to. That said, even with the style, brevity and some good substance (and especially for the time period) that doesn’t save Common Sense from ultimately having half of it more thoroughly worked out elsewhere and the other half showing how much this pamphlet is a product of its time.

Now that’s not necessarily a deal breaker (neither is) but if you’re coming for either Paine’s politics or religious views then it’s not much of a use due to the fact that his religious views went under much change and his politics isn’t the central theme here. For myself I was just generally interested in reading it and seeing what I could find and learn and even in that sense the book wasn’t a great success.

Again, I could only see it being a great success for historical scholars or people who want to know what led people to start valuing revolution over subordination to the crown. In that sense Paine’s arguments were (for the most part) pretty top notch. Most arguments (even the ones I may have a few problems with) are rather good and I get a feel almost instantly why people would buy them. The fact that he wrote in the common language had almost no use of huge words or difficult concepts and mostly avoided any sort of “lingo” that may make it unreadable helps. As does Paine’s style in general, he very much wrote in line with the audience in mind for this pamphlet and it shows throughout it. This is not only the trait of a smart writer but a smart man as well.

Overall I’m happy I read this. It taught me bits and pieces about history, I learned to take other people’s ideas with the context in mind more than I used to and also develop more of a concrete appreciation for Paine. Though honestly I think that appreciation for people like say, Voltairine de Cleyre were mostly due to his religious views than his political ones i some ways but you could also say those same political views can sometimes lead to anarchism as well. And I suppose that’s one of the best things you can get from Paine when you read him. Whether it be his politics or his religious views it seems like they can be great openings to even more radical ways forward in a world that is increasingly becoming less and less son.

Thanks to anyone who gave this series even a bit of their time and I’ll pretty much be away from the computer for the majority of the next week so expect a return blog not next Monday but the one following!

Reflections and Responses #1: Common Sense, by Thomas Paine (Chapter 4 and Appendix)

I meant to post this much earlier but I’ve been…er…hard at work…playing Skyward Sword…but I’m taking a break from it for a few days to catch up on actual work I’ve been meaning to get to and this is first on my list! With that said let’s wrap up the last chapter and concluding remarks (the Appendix I mean) from Common Sense. My concluding thoughts on Common Sense are likely to be posted either sometime this week (to make up for the delay in posts) or early next week so stay posted!

Chapter 4: Of the Present Ability of America: With some Miscellaneous Remarks

Preemptive Remarks

Full disclosure here: This isn’t a very exciting chapter to really read. What I mean by that (and perhaps this is one of the main things lacking about reading this book now) is that it’s painfully obvious that it was meant for its time and not especially for any other. What I mean by this is that Paine basically lays out throughout the chapter why American can win if they revolt but debating or discussing his points in any depth seem like a waste of time to me. It’s obvious either way that whatever advantages the US had it was enough in the end to win and to defeat the British. Furthermore the Appendix isn’t much better. It’s just lot of repeated remarks from the book itself with some name calling and dismissal of the idea of kings and princes (which again Paine has already done).

Now I understand for that time these were ideas that Paine needed to reinforce constantly but that just proves my point, it was made for that time. For Americans this whole debate is a point of historical mootness (I made that word up probably but you know what I mean). This is because the whole topic of having kings or not is a ridiculous debate in the modern context. This doesn’t mean (nor am I suggesting) that these appeals to basic reason (ya know…Common Sense) aren’t a good reminder or that they’d serve no purpose in modern discourse but I think almost anyone would agree with me that it’s certainly not as useful as it used to be which again just makes my point.

Overall the whole idea of saying why American can actually win is a great idea on Paine’s part (even if it’s an obvious one for a conclusion) and none of this is to say he did it poorly. I read over the chapter twice and never saw any big problems or holes with it which just gives me even less of a good reason to really squabble over this or that or really analyze it. Now of course I could still make some sort of analysis about it anyways about what I liked and disliked the most and least and in between and so on and then explain why but I feel as if most of his points were fine enough and don’t really need elaboration on it. And besides all of that while I may love history (which is one big reason I’m even reading this to begin with) I’m not a big history nerd either who’d know whether how much of what Paine said was right or not but as I’ve pointed out already, it doesn’t matter since the US won. If you’re trying to make some larger point about Paine’s style of argumentation or some of his basic assumptions then I could see it working but I for one have no problems with a lot of those things, thus I have little if any quarrel with much of this chapter and the Appendix thus giving me much less to talk about.

However I would like to conclude these preemptive remarks by saying that I do have two things I’d like to comment on.

2. Debt as a “glorious memento”

One of these things is probably the weirdest things I think Paine has said in Common Sense,

“Debts we have none: and whatever we may contract on this [war for independence] will serve as a glorious memento of our virtue. … The debt we may contract doth not deserve our regard, if the work be but accomplished. A national debt is a national bond; and when it bears no interest, is in no case a grievance.” (pp. 44-45)

This quote stuck out to me for obvious reasons but to explicitly say them I’m just confused how owing people things in large debt shows some sort of great memory. Is that because it was for the sake of liberty that it is a “glorious memento”? But even then debt shouldn’t be heralded as something to strive towards and if there was a way for the costs to be dispersed, decentralized or more evenly distributed, etc. then I think Paine would probably take it and not assert such odd notions of what debt should mean. Why is it odd? Well it just seems odd that Paine would be so hyper-nationalistic here, to the point of saying debt is a good student loan debt in particular here and the scam that college largely is).

It’s interesting Paine says that a national debt is a sort of bond because that’s exactly what debts are on such a scale: bondage. They’re more specifically economic bondage usually propagated by the privileged and use it to specifically reel in the oppressed to try and convince them their less so and actually have great opportunities and without them where would they be? But of course this is just what Harry Browne talked about when he said,

“Government is good at one thing: It knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch, and say, “See, if it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk.”‘

Of course I doubt Browne understood that this is how government operates at all levels (including minarchistic ones) and it’s precisely because it must. But then I suppose Paine wouldn’t either.

3. Concluding Thoughts on Chapter 4 and Appendix

The two other major sections of this chapter aren’t worth talking about at any great length. They mainly concern the idea of the US having a navy and ideas that Paine has already talked about that I’ve contested (his ideals for government. Unfortunately the Appendix is more or less that same thing: Paine repeating his case for American independence with no real new arguments or things of substance at all. He just rehashes the same framework to chalk out different arguments. So there’s not much of note going on here.

As for the rest, there’s not much to say about it. I didn’t get much out of it and anything I did was (again) just rehashed from before. So there’s not much left to really talk about I’ll cut this short and just let you guys know that I’ve enjoyed this series thus far and the last part to this (I guess what turned out to be) five part kick off will be finished sometime soon hopefully!

See you then!

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