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!