Thomas Paine was a radical thinker for his eighteenth-century time period and argues forcefully for the same ideas in both Common Sense and The Rights of Man. He argues, for example, in favor of governments based on democratic principles and social justice, and he strongly favors republicanism over monarchy. Both democracy and republicanism are "bottom-up" forms of government in which the common people choose their leaders. These leaders are then expected to represent the people's interests and look after their welfare.
A problem with reading Paine today is that we are the "choir," so to speak: his ideas of governance are how we are governed and seem as natural as the rising and setting of the sun. It helps, therefore, to remember that these ideas were terrifying to the ruling classes in Europe at the time, who believed their power was given to them, top-down, by God. They rightly feared that democracy and republicanism would diminish their power and wealth, though in the end, unleashing the force of the people's energy and creativity in fact increased everyone's wealth.
Paine is convincing in terms of logos, or logical argument, when, borrowing from John Locke, he talks about the rights of men (humans) in both texts as given to the common people, who should be able to choose how they are governed. For example, he writes in The Rights of Man that:
individuals … entered into a contract with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.
In both Common Sense and The Rights of Man, Paine uses convincing and effective images, allusions, similes, and metaphors to attack the idea of aristocracy as outmoded and childish. For example, he uses an allusion to the loss of the Garden of Eden when he states in Common Sense that:
the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise.
He also uses an unpleasant and violent image when he pictures aristocrats trying
to cram hereditary right down the throats of the vulgar
This implies that this system of governance is not what people want.
Similar, and perhaps even more effective, language attacks aristocracy in The Rights of Man. In the following passage, Paine uses metaphor when he likens aristocratic titles to childish things such as nicknames, ribbons, and baby clothes:
Titles are but nicknames …. It [the aristocracy] talks about its fine blue ribbon like a girl, and shows its new garter like a child. A certain writer, of some antiquity, says: “When I was a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” It is from the elevated mind of France that the folly of titles has fallen. It has outgrown the baby clothes of Count and Duke, and breeched itself in manhood.
Paine also alludes in the passage above to the apostle Paul in the Bible, likening France's conversion to a republic to Paul's conversion to Christianity. Both are positive events in Paine's argument.
Paine is convincing, too, when he argues that the money spent on war could be spent on the poor and paints a utopic picture of what England could be in The Rights of Man:
When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy, my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness: then may that country boast its constitution and its government.
This passage above uses imagery to create a picture of a beautiful world.
The grandeur of the imagery Paine uses to rouse the American colonists to fight for independence in Common Sense is also convincing. It emphasizes the stirring importance of the American struggle for freedom, pictured as an epic cause:
The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. ‘Tis not the affair of a city, a country, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent- of at least one eighth part of the habitable globe
Much of what Paine has to say in relevant to today. While we do not have a king or an aristocrat class, we suffer from great income inequality. If we do not need a revolution, we probably need some significant reforms that may seem unsettling. Excessive and wasteful military spending is also an issue with which we continue to struggle.