OMNI ESSE DEO DVBITANDVM
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The United States should be recognized as a republic which is the sublime exemplar of pluralist cosmopolitanism without appeals to the sectarian and tribal. After all, our republic is by definition not founded on any ethnic or cultural paradigm but is instead founded on a written Constitution and Bill of Rights. Even though the religious of this country still try to pathetically assert our republic as a christian nation, they can never and will never be able to elide our secular and godless founding which is based on seventeenth century English philosophy, the democracy of Classical Athens along with the legacy of the Roman Republic and not the bible, Jewish or Christian. Even if theists try to ignore the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, a quick glance at our republic’s first treaty (the treaty of Tripoli) instantly evaporates any christian claim to this county’s parturition. But this kind of feeble attempt at historical revision causes me little worry or anger. It is more the revisionism put forth by academic historians and cynical politicians which causes me such incensement. Perhaps I should instead say historic excision and not revision as it is the purposeful devaluing or flat out elision of the achievements of our most under appreciated founding father, Thomas Paine, which I am so incredulous about. Of course though, there are some rather conspicuous reasons for this jaundiced view of Paine and his ideas.
The first thing that has to be acceded when one is studying Paine’s life and work is his pronounced liberal radicalism. Well into the twentieth century, that was Paine’s legacy—being the great luminary of both English and American radicals. This fact is what also has guaranteed Paine historic derision from the forces of reaction. It was not until the Great Communicating Liar Ronald Reagan that reactionaries began to perfidiously use Paine’s words for their own cynical purposes. This usually entailed hijacking Paine’s libertarian views for their own populist claims of being anti-big government. I have always found this attempted revisionism laughable as Paine’s libertarianism always centered around the freedoms of the individual and the negating of the State’s power to dictate on those freedoms, something reactionaries and conservatives can only claim in mal foi.
To this very day one can always depend on the conservatives to tout their support for anti-big government legislation. Yet what they more reliably support is the drug prohibition and death penalty, just to name two of the more conspicuous examples. If there actually are defining and irrefragable aspects to big government and the overarching State then surely two examples would have to be dictating to the citizen what they can and can not put into themselves as well as maintaining the power to utilize the citizen in human sacrifice, wouldn’t you agree? And on the issue of human sacrifice or what is euphemistically called capital punishment, Paine was quite explicit in admonishing this act as detrimental to any free and democratic society. So the reactionaries claiming of Paine as one of their own is not only disgustingly opprobrious but also just plain ridiculous.
The other crime committed by reactionaries and even by some on the Left is the lack of appreciation of Paine’s singular efforts on igniting our republic’s revolution with his pamphlets Common Sense and The Crisis. If you are a regular watcher of C-span’s Book TV or an ardent reader of historical biography, then you are well aware of the glut of books written every year on the founding of this republic and the men involved with that founding. Yet with all of the writing on this subject there is still lamentably very little comparatively written on Paine who it can be said without hyperbole was the man who single handedly goaded the colonial leadership towards revolution and the breaking of ties with England. Look at all that is written on grossly overrated George Washington for example, and we as a society and nation can not even properly pay homage to Thomas Paine? There is not even one monument to this man anywhere in the Capitol, a man for without whom there would definitely be no United States to argue about. Ultimately, and perhaps most importantly all that is left is Paine’s words and maybe that is how it should be for such an exceptional thinker, revolutionary, and human being. Because if there is anything that showcases Paine’s still resonate and regnant influence it is his words and the ideas which they continue to announce and promulgate.
If one finds themselves being a writer with some kind of oppositional quality and aspiration, then there is no greater polemical maven to study than Thomas Paine. His clear and concise writing style and direct and biting wit has allowed Paine to become the touchstone for and be invoked by all free thinkers and revolutionaries ever since his death in 1809. Paine’s ideations on the moral necessity of freedom is best exemplified in his brilliant book The Age of Reason, partly written while he was imprisoned in Luxembourg during the French Revolution. Not only is this the first book to use textual analysis for the purpose of religious criticism but it is also a powerful plea for free speech and inquiry. In an earlier essay on this blog where I examine the value of John Milton’s Areopagitica (The Moral Necessity for Free Inquiry), I close my essay with the introduction of The Age of Reason which unambiguously illustrates concomitance with Milton’s notions on free speech.
Paine clearly understood that the criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism, this being the fundamental of all freedoms. And with the flagrant plutocratic decay of our republic and its founding documents being so disgustingly palpable today, there is no better time to reflect and carry on the effulgent torch of Thomas Paine’s sagacity. Armed with his powerful prose, one is always able to defend one’s mind against the indolence, ignorance, and fear which and at all times threatens the tenuous existence of our freedom and liberty.
…I leave the ideas that are suggested in the conclusion of the work to rest on the mind of the reader; certain as I am that when opinions are free, either in matters of government or religion, truth will finally and powerfully prevail.
—The Age of Reason