To what extent does Paine's characterization of America hold true today?

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The degree to which the United States “lives up” to Paine’s description in “The Rights of Man” is a matter of perspective. Take, for instance, Paine’s distinction between “natural rights,” or freedom of thought and the freedom to act in one’s self interests, and “civil rights,” or rights that are part of belonging to a society. Paine has it that “every civil right” grows from a natural right, and that civil rights themselves are those natural rights which are “defective in the individual in point of power” (Paine’s example is the natural right of an individual to “judge his own cause” — while this may be so, it is only through the civil institution of the court that one can find a remedy). Does America live up to this model?

The dispute between the personal and collective good continues to shape our political landscape, so in that sense we are still grappling with the ideas Paine articulated. On the one hand, it can be argued that “the American...

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