Common Sense by Thomas Paine In his book, Common Sense, Thomas Paine provides a very clear objective: to persuade American colonists to fight against the British Empire and become an independent nation. He begins on this pre-revolutionary pamphlet with general comments about the current state of the government and that people have a strong habit of confusing government with society.
Paine clearly argues that society is always something to strive for, whereas government is a “necessary evil. ” As Paine had hoped, Common Sense was one of the most significant factors in turning American opinion against Britain and ultimately enabled them to engage in what is now known as the American Revolution. Thomas Paine uses his work as a persuasion to allow Americans to understand the real purpose of fighting against the British.
He organizes this common theme into four sections: Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession, Thoughts on the Present State of Affairs in America, and On the Present Ability of America, with some Miscellaneous Reflections. In the first section, Paine begins with general comments aine presents government as an institution whose sole function is to restrain the evil in man. Furthermore, he presents society as the force that “promotes our happiness positively”.
Government, then, is conceived of as simply a preventative force, while any positive or creative acts are up to society. Many Western democratic governments appropriate large sums of money toward positive projects that are intended to improve public life, and it is worth considering whether Paine would have objected to the modern state in which government “promotes our happiness…” The argument could also be made that, given the affection Paine expresses for society, he might be very fond of modern governments.
After all, Paine lauds society because of what it accomplishes, and if a government could accomplish the same thing, Paine’s view of government might change. Paine claims to be using a parable to introduce his general reflections about government, although his intention is clearly to comment on the situation in America. In his parable, America is the land secluded from the rest of society, since it is separated from Europe by an ocean, and the few people placed there are the original settlers.
An obvious problem with Paine’s story in relation to the situation in America, however, is that America was not quite cut off from the rest of society, as many European powers controlled various territories in America. Furthermore, Paine intends to examine how government originates out of nature, but the settlers who first crossed over from England arrived with English notions of government, rather than creating the government from scratch.