Common Sense by Thomas Paine is the most compelling case for freedom ever made. At it’s core it was a call for independence for Britain. You can learn more about why it was so important here. This article will take you through the highlights and main points of the entire book. It’s not meant to replace the full text which find here, but it will provide an overview.
Common Sense begins with a letter where Thomas Paine acknowledges the difference of opinion on the matter of independence.
He writes, “Not everyone will agree with the principles outlined in this book. That may be because things have been wrong for so long that people have come to accept it as normal. Some people might be reluctant to accept these principles since it defies the “normal.” Eventually, however, the truth always prevails.Eventually every abuse of power is called into question. Sometimes it will cause people to question the whole system that provided the power in the first place. The King of England has united with Parliament to exercise complete control over everything. But the people of this continent who have suffered because of the abuse of this power have a right to question the claim of this power and the right to reject it altogether.”
Then he points out that he is not trying to create further disagreement and he encourages debate on the principles of the matter.
“This book is about principles. Its purpose is not to attack or compliment any person or people.”The first section of the book details the origin and design of government. This section in itself is a magnificent thesis on the origin of government, why it’s needed and what a natural form of government should look like.“Some writers have so completely blended society with government that they seem to make no distinction between the two. However, not only are the two different, but they have different origins. Society is a result of our wants, whereas government is a result of our selfishness. Society allows our happiness in a positive way by uniting us with each other, while government negatively affects us by suppressing our wrongdoings. Society is a protector; government is a punisher.”He then states, “Every society is a blessing, but government, even at its best, is nothing more than a necessary evil.” Which is a theme that’s repeated by many founding fathers. It speaks to the distrust the early framers of our government held for the institution of government in general.He goes on to say, “Government at its worst is intolerable to the point that the misery we suffer by a government is the same misery we would suffer without any government. But the misery we suffer is made worse by the fact that we create our own suffering through the government we create. Government, like clothing, is an indication of the sinfulness of humanity. Every ruler’s power is a result of the people’s own selfishness. If everyone always did what was right and fair, there wouldn’t be any need for laws or government. Since that’s not the case, people find it necessary to surrender part of their freedom to secure a means for protection. It’s a matter of choosing between two evils. For that reason, security of one kind or another is the sole purpose of government. Therefore, government will unquestionably grow, with the promise of providing better benefits, from providing basic security to whatever form it needs to in order to ensure total control.”
He then acknowledges what could be described as the unfortunate need for government.
“Out of necessity, then, people are pulled together to take advantage of each other’s talents and abilities. In the beginning they rely on each other, so there is no need for laws and government. Over time, however, selfishness and laziness settle in. People grow complacent. As a second group of people begins providing a disproportionate amount of work, they begin to see the need to establish some form of government to correct the unfairness.”“In other words, government is a system required by the inability of people to individually cooperate for the fairness of everyone. This is the basic design and downfall of government, that is, freedom and security, and no matter how idealist such a conclusion might seem, basic human nature will eventually prove it true.”
He adds a simple observation, “I draw my idea of the form of government from a natural law: The simpler something is, the less liable it is to be confusing and the easier it is to fix.” It’s especially interesting when you look at governments today.
Using this as the basis for the description of a natural and healthy government he criticizes monarchy. In other words he gives an example of what government at it’s worst looks like.
“Absolute governments, which are the disgrace of human nature, have this advantage: They are simple. If the people suffer, they know that whoever is in charge is causing their suffering. The simplicity also makes it easy to see the remedy. There’s no confusion of what’s causing the problem and what to do about it. But the Constitution of England is so exceedingly complex that the nation could suffer for years without being able to discover where the problem lies. Some people will blame one thing, some people will blame another for the resulting problems and suffering, and every political expert will have different advice.”
What Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense, attacking the issues to bring unity in a time of great division, defining the origins of government and mapping out the case for a proper government was government was profound. And, it remains profound today.
It’s interesting to compare these thoughts and beliefs to what we see today. This too, fighting the popular belief was something Thomas Paine had to address.
“I know it is difficult to get over local or long-standing beliefs, but if we take the time to look at the different components of the English Constitution, we find at its core two ancient tyrannies, with some new Republican elements sprinkled in.”
Today the fight is not against monarchy but perhaps the core issues remain.