So Thomas Paine
Was a Crypto-Marxist.
|Thomas Paine c. 1806|
[The following essay, truncated and edited with emphasis added by FT, was published anonymously, and appears largely to be a rationalization of the author whose belief in Marxian ideology is patently obvious, yet it provides interesting, little-known information on some of the more curious and eccentric ideas of Thomas Paine, who was disavowed and disowned by George Washington and other Founders after the success of our revolution.]
Thomas Paine’s Take on Social Justice
I recently read Thomas Paine’s essay “Agrarian Justice”, and I think it’s important that we bring it up in today’s climate.
Every day, it seems, I hear or read people say things that imply that they believe that liberalism originated with The New Deal, that any government social justice programs are inherently derived from Communism or Socialism ... that our country was founded as a Capitalist, Christian nation, and that liberalism is somehow ... a rejection of, the foundational ideals of our government.
Even many “liberals” seem to accept the assumption that the founding fathers laid a foundation of Capitalism and Christianity. Hence the seeming need of some to denigrate and defile their memories.
My position, after reading many of the original works of these men, and other great Americans ... is that they knew they were laying a foundation. They knew there was only so much work they could do, and that other work would be the task of future generations.
For instance, they proudly proclaimed that each and every man should be his own master, though some of them owned slaves because they recognized that dismantling in international economy built on human trafficking was the work of many generations.
They correctly assessed that their time was the time to undermine the assumption of the Divine right of Kings, and to elevate Natural Philosophy above superstition as the means of lighting the path for future innovations. That is a great enough task for any generation, I would say.
The Founding Fathers were liberals. Most of them used the word “liberal” to describe themselves, and at least three of the greatest minds and eloquent spokesmen for the American Revolution were not Christians, but were deists (Men who, though they believed in God, cast aside the mental shackles of religious superstition to embrace the idea of natural laws as being the supreme expression of God). One was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. Another was James Madison, primary author of the United States Constitution, and a third was Thomas Paine, author of “Common Sense” and the “American Crisis” series of essays (among others) that galvanized and propelled the American Revolution (as well as the French Revolution) with his ... sheer virtuosity with the English language.
To be liberal is to be American, but lets take a moment to define liberal. Conservative pundits would have you believe that “Liberal” means taking drugs, having meaningless kinky sex with many anonymous partners, destroying families, having many abortions, and loving trees and animals more than human beings.
Some people who call themselves liberals might do some of these things, but none of these are “liberal values”.
“Liberals”, in the traditional American sense, are people who believe in the principles of the Enlightenment. Liberals believe that reality is the ultimate test of any ideology. They rely on the basic premise that natural laws and natural philosophy (exploring natural law with the tools of reason and logic) should be the foundation of human effort.
One idea that came about through this thought process is the idea that in a natural state, every man belongs to himself. Where there is no government or religion to tell him what to do, he is free to do as he chooses. Whether he lives or dies, lives in prosperity or wretchedness, in health or sickness; it is on his merits and his alone that he achieves of fails. If he dies, he dies as a man. If he lives, he lives as a man. If he is moral or immoral, noble or brutish; he is so of his own power. It is a state neither superior nor inferior to a state of civilization, it is merely the natural state of man. It is not an ideal state. Though man is in control of himself, he controls nothing else. He cannot control the world around him, other men, or his destiny outside of what he can do of himself and his own power. But he does control himself, completely. ...
In “Agrarian Justice”, Thomas Paine described that natural state as one that entitled every man equally to the fruits of the earth, and to existence on the earth. Though some were better suited to survive than others, all had equal inheritance to strive. No one “owned” land, in the sense that one’s ability to exploit the benefits of land was only equal to your ability to hold it and make use of it on your own or at most in a family unit.
This is, of course, a thought experiment, as we can have no idea what life was actually like before any kind of civilization. It is up to [us] to decide if the picture painted is useful or enlightening.
Civilization changed that with the cultivation of land. Once land was improved, such that it could yield many times more food than it could before, it became essential that one person be able to “own” a given piece of land. Nobody would cultivate land that could be taken away. Instead of cultivating it, they merely moved on when they had used what bounty it yielded on its own. They would hold it and chase others away only as long as it was worth the effort.
Civilization, land ownership, and land improvement evolved in an interconnected way. You could not have one without the other…and once those conditions arose, it became impossible to reverse. Land, once cleared of forest, cultivated, and owned, where that ownership was supported by a government, and the government supported by land owners, would forever be property.
But Thomas Paine argued that it was still not the land that was “owned”, but the labor to improve it, which was irreversible (for all practical purposes) and inseparable from the land. Civilization provided the means by which an individual or family could hold onto the land they cultivated. Cultivation provided the means by which soldiers and laborers and craftsmen could be fed ...
Paine goes on to point out, however, that though most people benefited from this innovation, there were many who suffered by it. ... Poverty, Paine asserts, is an artifact of civilization. There are people that society simply has no place for.
And though society has no place or use for them, they are unable to live in the natural state, as land must be owned. Therefore, society owes them such consideration as to at least give them a means to avoid wretchedness.
In other words, a social safety net. People who cannot work to maintain a place in civilization, whether it be because they are too young, too old, too sick, or ... disabled, should be provided for by those who benefit from civilization, at the expense of others. (I would add, n modern times, people who require re-training due to outmoded skills sets) He did not propose this as charity. He did not view it as beneficence, but as justice. As society paying these people back for the loss of their inheritance of the bounty of the world that they would have equal share of in the natural state.
Paine [proposed the idea] that [while] civilization certainly benefited everyone to different degrees ... [no one] should be worse off under civilization than he would be in a natural state.
He had very specific proposals as to how it would be executed, and I’m sure they made sense in sparsely populated post-colonial America where most of the wealth was in land. ... [O]ur modern Social Security System is a very good analogue for his proposal. There are some ... differences, but what stands out as the same is the sense of social justice.
Liberals believe that people are entitled to dignity, and to the ability to meet their basic needs. In a natural state, most people would die. Because of civilization, there are more people alive who would have died in the natural state. Civilization cannot, will not, and should not dispose of them ... [instead[ it must maintain them, or help them maintain themselves ... They should be able to get food, clothing, shelter, health care and education. They should have decent jobs if they can work, and their basic needs provided for if they cannot. And certainly, society should not turn it’s power against them to keep them wretched for the benefit others.
This cannot be done unless the people who benefit from civilization give some of their wealth back to the society to pay for it.
The conservative model of “faith-based initiatives” seems to be centered on the idea that charity should be the prerogative of the giver. The giver should be able to choose who he thinks is worthy. That people should have to supplicate themselves to churches and “sing for their supper”. There is a meanness and pettiness to this that is unworthy of the wealthiest nation on Earth. And somehow, a lot of people think that this is the American Way. That it is a foundational value of our society.
Well, I have at least one founding father on record that says it isn’t so. I prefer the idea that a just nation will have little need for charity.
~ § ~
[NOTE: Undoubtedly, it would be a good idea to read "Agrarian Justice" the essay by Thomas Paine that supposedly inspired this article. It may be found at the following link:
The complete essay that constitutes this article, may be found,as originally written, at the following link:
Another article of interest on the ultimate fate of Thomas Paine may be found here:]
Many thanks to Les Carpenter of Rational Nation for prompting us to examine this topic. ~ FT