Thursday, January 10, 2008

Uncommon Sense

On this day in 1776, Thomas Paine published the pamphlet, "Common Sense." He published it anonymously, because to attach his name to his political ideas was to invite a hanging.

For all the screeching in our presidential campaigns, it's been a long time since ideas were that important in American politics.

In case you haven't read this work since high school--or in case you only read what a textbook allowed you to see--or in case you've never read it at all, here it is.

If you never quite got the idea of the social contract, or why we believe in government by consent of the governed, here it is, plain as day:
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; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer! Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others....Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz., freedom and security.

This is why the Bill of Rights outlines--and limits--what government can do to us, not what we can do. So hello, you so-called conservatives--a right to privacy (for one example) doesn't have to be in the Constitution for us to have it. As long as that document doesn't grant our government a right to limit or stop it, it's ours. You guys are allegedly supposed to know that stuff.

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