The Rights of Man | Study Guide

Thomas Paine

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The Rights of Man | Part 2, Chapter 2 : Of the Origin of the Present Old Governments | Summary



It is no coincidence many governments throughout history have become obsolete, for they were built on violating the moral and sacred principles of man. Even when one monarchy replaces another, its successors merely assume new appearances under the old regime.


Paine delves further into his investigation of the origins of society, civilization, and governments. He finds it suspect old governments were able to continue their corruption "as time obliterated the history of their beginning, their successors assumed new appearances ... but their principles and objects remained the same." This idea supports Paine's opinion nations should cut out old government styles "at the root" in order to plant something entirely new and different. His argument here rebuts those who might claim old governments can simply refresh themselves by taking on a different appearance or leader. Paine argues the despotic principles of those governments are often so embedded and far-reaching they are otherwise impossible to get rid of because too many aristocrats benefit from them.

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