What persuasive elements in Paine's Common Sense and The Rights of Man resonate with you, and do any remain relevant today's political climate?

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Paine's Common Sense and The Rights of Man are both persuasive today in asserting a democratic republic as the best form of government. His imagery, allusions, metaphors, and similes are all compelling in persuading readers that monarchial and aristocratic forms of government are childish and outdated. He remains relevant in arguing for social justice, lower military spending, and a more equal distribution of wealth, as these are issues we still struggle with today.

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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.

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How do you react to reading Paine's Common Sense and The Rights of Man? What words, examples, or reasons persuade you to listen to his arguments? What "turns of phrase," figurative language such as metaphors and similes, impress you as an intellectual (his audience) and persuade you to see his point of view?

Thomas Paine's writings are, taken as a whole, an iconic expression of not only the specific arguments in favor of American independence and democracy, but of the key elements of Enlightenment thinking that have in some senses become permanent, still affecting the world today.

Common Sense makes the point first that monarchical forms of government are obsolete, and second, that there is no reason the American colonies should continue to be ruled by Great Britain. The majority of the world's population today would probably agree reflexively with the first point. Great Britain itself has evolved into a state today in which the monarch is a mere figurehead, unlike in the eighteenth century when the King, though even at that time not an absolute monarch as in other countries, did have genuine, but restricted, power. What is particularly convincing in Common Sense is Paine's outline of the history of England, in which monarchy did not create stability but instead resulted in long, bloody conflicts such as the Wars of the Roses. Paine discredits the whole line of English monarchs going back to the Norman Conquest, describing William the Conqueror as a usurper with no legitimate claim to ruling England, landing there and taking over the country by force with an armed "banditti." Moreover the idea of hereditary succession, he says, is absurd given that even if a given monarch is just, there is no guarantee that his offspring will be the same way. It also makes no sense for succession to occur when the heir to the throne is a child and a Regency is established where the regent can do all sorts of mischief; nor is their any logic in a monarch who is only a youth of twenty-one to rule over a country made up largely of people much older and wiser than he's likely to be.

Paine's reasoning in favor of breaking with the Crown is persuasive. He correctly states that Britain only defended the Colonies in the recent Seven Years's War because it was in Britain's interest to weaken its own enemy, France. He points out that as long as Britain controls America, the constant wars among the European countries themselves, which had been going on for centuries, would be a detriment to America and would end up harming Americans rather than aiding them.

Of particular interest is the point he makes about the ethnic composition of the colonies. At this time (1776), he states, a majority of the population of Pennsylvania, for instance, is not of English descent, but has its ancestry in other European countries. Therefore, he says, all Europe, not England, is the "parent" of America. Unfortunately Paine does not mention the Native Americans or African Americans, though elsewhere he wrote forcefully against slavery and about the enormous injustice done to the enslaved people of African descent.

Rights of Man is a kind of extension of the more general principles against monarchy and any non-representative government Paine put forward in Common Sense. It is also largely a response, or rebuttal, to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Though Burke does make some valid points in his famous and seminal work, Paine correctly skewers Burke's assertion that the English people had explicitly rejected the right to choose their own form of government when Parliament declared its loyalty to William and Mary at the time of the Glorious Revolution. Paine forcefully states that there never has been, nor will there ever be, any Parliament or group of legislators or any "description of men" who have the right to decide how the world will be governed for all time.

In Right of Man Paine also, and perhaps even more significantly, writes about the general state of poverty in which most of the European population at that time was forced to live. In every major European city, he states, there is a group of people known as "the mob," an underclass who are the victims of the huge gap between rich and poor and the unfair, undemocratic governmental systems of Europe. In writing of the Gordon Riots in London in 1780, Paine states that "even the people who commit such acts should have some claim on our consideration." Paine was ahead of his time in recognizing the unfairness and dysfunction of the political and economic establishment, whether in the Colonies as still governed by Britain, or in Britain itself, or even Europe as a whole.

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