Paine begins not from the immediacy of the conflict between America and
Britain, but rather from a set of universal claims and assumptions about natural
rights, as he argues, “The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all
mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but
universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected,
and in the event of which their affections are interested. The laying a country
desolate with fire and sword, declaring war against the natural rights of mankind,
and extirpating the defenders thereof from the face of the earth, is the concern of
every man,” (2).
Paine first distinguishes between society (the natural and positive result of human
life) and government (the negative mechanism of control demanded by human
wickedness) (3). Paine argues, “Society in every state is a blessing, but
government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an
intolerable one,” (3). This is a common Enlightenment argument, but one that
particularly reverberates with the liberal tradition of Locke and Rousseau.
A minimal form of government is desirable to Paine, and that government
(however perfect in form) is legitimate only when it secures the rights and
liberties of the people, as Paine holds, “
security being the true design
and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever
appears most likely to ensure it to us all, with the least expense and greatest
benefit, is preferable to all others,” (3). Government is thus only necessary
because ‘moral virtue’ is insufficient to govern the world.
Government is meant to correct the lax sense of duty, concern with personal
interest and waning interpersonal connections that arise naturally as society and
the economy grow (4). As this growth continues, direct democracy will become
impossible and ineffective, and a representative system will grow in its place (5).
Frequent elections and strong bonds between the representative and the
, “And this frequent interchange will establish a
common interest with every part of the community, they will mutually and
naturally support each other, and on this (not in the unmeaning name of king)
strength of government and the happiness of the governed,
Think about the kind of state and citizen this would shape.
For Paine, the simpler the mechanism, the less it is prone to disorder. For Paine,
the English government is outmoded, overly complicated and unable to properly
secure the rights, security and freedom of its people. As he notes, “the constitution
of England is so exceedingly complex that the nation may suffer for years
together without being able to discover in which part the fault lies; some will say
in one and some in another, and every political physician will advise a different
medicine,” (5). Paine sees the English system as the remains of two ancient