Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319

Rights of Man by Thomas Paine is a discussion of whether or not the French Revolution was prompted by reason, where the powers of government come from, and how a government might best function for its people. Themes include the causes of the French Revolution, the basis for government power, and the rights of men.

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Paine argues in the first half of the work that the roots of the French Revolution are not violent or irrational. Rather, it was caused by years of abuses of power from many monarchs that couldn't be reversed. Edmund Burke had argued that the French Revolution was unreasonable and incorrect. He believed the revolutionaries were guided by violent desires. Paine believes otherwise. He writes that they were guided by democratic principles and the desire to create a government for themselves.

The basis for government power is another theme. Many countries had monarchies where power was passed down from family to family, but Paine argues that a democratic republic better represents the will of the people. Since the people elect their own candidates to represent them, the actions of the government are mandated by the citizens of the country. That's one of the reasons why the second half of the work is dedicated to Lafayette, who fought for the right of people to govern themselves.

The rights of men is another point that Paine discusses. He says that rights are given by simply being alive and cannot be taken away by the government. For that reason, the whole point of the government is to make sure that no one's rights are taken away or put in danger. He believes that men aren't naturally weak or immoral. Instead, he believes that people are able to and should govern themselves. He doesn't think that the wisdom to govern can be passed on through blood either, which is one of the reasons why he is opposed to monarchies.

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