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Mr. Ulmschneider's Forums > AP Government: Madison, Paine, and Politics

Paine and Modern Politics

posted Dec 17, 2012 05:08:39 by rjones122
In "Thomas Paine, America's First Public Intellectual," Woods puts forth the thesis that the primary distinguishing factor that separated Thomas Paine from the other founding fathers was a sense of not belonging--even though most of the founding fathers considered themselves to be American as much as citizens of the world, Paine was "a man without a home, without a country, truly a citizen of the world"; even though the other founding fathers assimilated into a gentry class through their educations, Paine was never able to shake off his common roots. This was both an advantage and a disadvantage to Paine: he was able to relate well to the common man and wrote in down-to-earth language ("There was something direct and earthly about Paine. He wore no masks over his fiery black eyes" as opposed to Franklin, who despite sharing the same background as Paine, did.) This helped to make his "Common Sense" immensely popular, and his detachment from America allowed him to comment neutrally on politics (or so he claimed). However, he was looked down upon by his peers for being "without connections." This dichotomy of disconnectedness from the gentry producing both the benefits of honest criticism and reliability to the masses but also the negatives of isolation from politics is reflected in modern times by the emphasis many politicians place on being "one of the people:" Because they are politicians, they are able to retain their political influence but they emulate Paine's techniques of writing to a low reading level and exposing their emotions to spread their message across the people.
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4 replies
Anneshasengupta said Dec 17, 2012 05:25:19
I agree that Paine was an outcast, but it seemed to me that he never really belonged with the so-called "common-people" either. He seemed to be a man haunted by a disjointedness. In England he meddled with the burnt scrapings of social standing, despite wanting something more. In America he succeeded in convincing John Addams that he was begot of wild hogs, while at the same time alienating those people he was trying so hard to reach with his scathing criticisms of Christianity. In France...well, he wasn't crazy or vampiric enough to be French during the revolution. But for a brief, shining period of time, before it all went to pieces and the scornful hand of the public cast him down into painful oblivion, he was flying, a symbol of the common people. And that kind of influence, that kind of connection is something that every modern politician, activist, writer, even artist dreams of.
14alaroche said Dec 17, 2012 05:42:39
Perhaps Paine would be more widely successful in today's society, with "belonging to the common people" being an important aspect of our political leaders. They have to have felt and experienced the same hardships the general public has in order to understand how to properly address their needs. And Paine lived at poverty level for a long time. He declared bankruptcy and was given a brand new start by Franklin. His radical ideas might sit better with those nowadays who thought he understood them. However, with this in mind, I have not actually read Common Sense, and Wood makes Paine's ideas seem fiercely radical and outrageous. If this is true, he might still be outcast for straying to far from the safe center of the political spectrum (my reservation for my argument).
rjones122 said Dec 17, 2012 08:19:04
It seems like in today's politics actually belonging to the common people is less important than being able to access them by seeming to belong to them and by using the appropriate writing style. Paine wanted to "make those that can scarcely read understand," indicating that he does not see himself as a member of that common people he is trying to reach, but rather as someone who must intentionally modify his writing to be comprehended by the masses. His honesty (concerning his opinions on religion, for example) and unwillingness to "wear masks" would probably not make him fit well with today's political environment; I would concur with your statement that he would be outcast for being "too far from the safe center". I was rather arguing that modern politicians use the same strategies as Paine.
MadelineWyatt said Dec 17, 2012 22:35:58
Did anyone find his policies very modern in thought and almost Communist from an economic standpoint? He was very concerned with the common masses of the people, in mobilizing them and asserting their rights. I found him to be much ahead of his time when it comes to seeing the potential of the masses and their role in government. The concept that made the American Revolution unique was the "consent of the governed" but he went so much further than that. He believed people were ingerently good while government "creats distinctions... promotes our happiness negatively by restraining our vices." It seems he didn't see himself at all as a part of the government or wanted to be, but was purely ideological. His points are very idealistic when it pertains to the people because he never really tries to mobilize them or receive their support, and had he been trying to win a vote I believe his opinions would have been far less radical.
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