it was easy to circumvent this prohibition by lending money to Hie princes at exorbitant interest rates. Since the persons involved were often only penniless adventurers, the money was seldom paid to the creditors. As a result, enormous obligations were contracted in one way or another, which in the long run had to be fulfilled by the native population.
The debts of the Nabob of Arcot were contracted in this way. When the matter was brought to the notice of British Parliament, it ordered the company to institute the investigation. But before this was completed, the British Government changed its mind and closed the whole matter, authorizing the company to have payment in full. It was at this point that Burke condemned the affairs of the Nabob of Arcot. Censuring the company's administration in India, he said : "Fraud, injustice, oppression, peculation, engendered in India, are crimes of the same blood, family, and caste with those that are born and bred in England. . . ." Arguing his point, he further stated .... "the Nabob of Arcot and his creditors are not adversaries, but collusive parties, and that the whole transaction is under a false colour and false names. . . .It is, therefore, not from treasuries and mines, but from the food of your unpaid armies, from the blood withheld from the veins and whipped out of the backs of the most miserable of men, that we are to pamper extortion, usury, and peculation, under false names of debtors and creditors of state."' He finally asked the Parliament to examine into the conduct of those who "have no conduct to account for" and to do all possible things within its power for "the relief of our distressed fellow-citizens in India."4
Burke wt-s appointed a member of select committee in 1781 to investigate the administration of justice in India. He was not at all happy with the state of affairs in India, and it was at his investigation that Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India, was later impeached in 1787. He condemned the administration of Hastings as systematically conducted in defiance of morality and public law. Impeaching Warren Hastings of crimes and misdemeanours he said: "I impeach him in the name of the Commons' House of Parliament, whose trust he has betrayed. . . .1 impeach him in the name of the people of India, whose rights he has trodden under foot, and whose country he has turned into a desert. . . ."' Burke challenged Hastings' claim that it was impossible to apply Western standards of authority and legality to government in the East. He appealed to the concept of the Law of Nature, the moral principles rooted in the
bpcech of the Nabob of Arcot's Debts', quoted from Masters of Politic^ Thought by W. T. Jones, Vol. 2, London, G. G. Harrap & Co. (1964), pp. 342-43.
'Warren Hastings', Works, Vol. VIII.
universal order of things, to which all conditions and races of men were subject. Finally he predicted that the repacious rule of the company and its administrators and the loss of honesty and far-sighted intelligence would result in bitter resentment of the people amounting to the instability of the British Empire.
The impeachment dragged on for more than seven years and ended with Hastings' acquittal (April, 179?) on all charges, ft resulted in an authoritative statement of the principle of responsible rule in imperial affairs and did much to impress all succeeding Indian administrators with a sense of their responsibilities.
Repudiation of Revolutionary Principles
The last great concern of Burke's 'ife was the French Revolution. From the first he had looked upon the Rovolution with the deepest suspicion—a judgment which seemed to him more than confirmed by the execution of the king and queen and by the terror. If the French chose to destroy themselves, that was undoubtedly their own affair. But, as Burke clearly saw, this could not be accomplished without serious repercussions in every country in Europe. And this was the fear which made him criticize vehemently the vejry principles of the French Revolution.
Burke's hostility to the dominant principles of the Revolution was directed against both their general character, and their specific content. As to their general character, he detested and spurned the method of precise mathematical formulation of human rights and social arrangements. The rigor of exact logic has, he maintained, no controlling place in the ultimate explanation of political life. The reduction of governmental science to the brief formulas of a written constitution appeared to Burke supreme foolishness. He observed that "from Magna Charta to the Declaration of Rights, it has been the uniform policy of our Constitution to claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity—as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right...70 He regarded the Declaration of the Rights of Man as "a sort of instituti; and digest of anarchy"—"such a pedantic abuse of elementary principles as would have disgraced boys at school."71 He refuted the claim that man has got any abstract rights and that the institution of society should be subverted by violent methods just for the achievement of tnese rights. Burke had a great respect for the established social and political institutions and world order An attempt to overthrow social and political order will breed confusion and ultimately result in an anarchy. He argued : "The institutions of policy, the goods of fortune, the gifts of Provi-
GREAT POLITICAL THINKERS
dence, are handed down to us, and from us, in the same course and order. Our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world, and with the mode of existence . . . ."72 Burke was a conservative and he, therefore, tried to uphold the inviolability of the civil institutions on the principle upon which Nature teaches us "to revere individual men : on account of their age, on account of those from whom they are descended." And he argued that "All your sophisters cannot produce anything better adapted to preserve a rational and manly freedom than the course we have pursued. . . ."73 He was not against the real rights of man, but he denied the false claims of right. He said: "... .1 do not mean to injure those which are real, and are such as their pretended rights would totally destroy. If civil society be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right. It is an institution of beneficence ; and law itself is only beneficence acting by a rule."74
Burke admitted that "Government is a contrivance of human wis lom to provide for human wants," after the institution of society has superseded man's abstract rights. The provision for their wants is a matter that requires a careful consideration of means, and the organization of such means is the constitution of a state ; but the matter of rights derivable from abstract reasoning about pre-social conditions no longer has importance.75 Burke called the philosophy of the leaders of French Revolution a barbarous philosophy, and refuted their mechanistic theory that state is a purely artificial contrivance deliberately created by some formal contract or convention, which operates and functions like a machine and which -an be arbitrarily reformed or reconstructed at the will of its creators, without any regard to historical law and established traditions of a people. "On the principles of this mechanic philosophy," he said, "our institutions can never be embodied, if I may use the expression, in persons, so as to create in us love, veneration, admiration, or attachment. But that sort of reason which banishes the affections is incapable of filling their place. . . ." He regarded the state as a product of long evolution, which has brought with it experience and wisdom of the past. "The science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or reforming it, is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught a priori."™
13 Jones, W. T., op. cit., pp. 348-49.
The concepts that go by the name of social contract theory figure in Burke's works. He discourses both on the agreement that constitutes civil society and on that which expresses the relation between
monarch and subjects. But in neither case will Burke give such definiteness to the contract as to justify the conclusions drawn from it by the revolutionists. The dangerous clarity with which Hobbes and Rousseau propounded the theory of social contract and set forth its terms, parties and the content of the social pact, had no attraction for Burke. He built up his argument around a vague outline of the contract and placed it with a dazzling rhetoric : "Society is indeed a contract. . , .but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee. ... .It is a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained # in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are dead and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society. . . .according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures each in their appointed place. . .
Burke criticized not only the general character of the French Revolution, but he also opposed the very essence of the fundamental dogmas of the revolutionaries, which were : that sovereignty resides constantly and inalienably in the people; that *he people have a right to change the government at their will; that the will's will is reflected through the majority opinion ; that the assignment of precisely equal weight to every individual's judgment is a requirement of political justice ; that a constitution must be written and accepted by popular vote. Burke, with a vein of a conservative, rejected all these dogmas. Against them, he maintained that political society and government might have found their origin in the agreement of individual men and that the will of the people might be the ultimate source of political authority, but in the actual life and action of a state it would be wrong to regard the individual will as a predominant factor. The individual, once born in an established society, is under obligation to respect the institutions of that society. Duties rest upon men irrespective of their formal consent. They originate and grow from conditions and relations in which volition and choice have no part. The relation of a parent and child is not a voluntary one. So the political and social circumstances amid which a man is born are not his choice ; yet they impose duties upon him. "No man or number of men have a right. . . .to free themselves from that primary engagement. . . .The place of every man determines his duty."76
14 Ibid,, p. 355.
As regards the right of the people to change a government, Burke said that the people undoubtedly enjoy liberty to bring about a change in the government, but the liberty aimed at by the revolu-
GREAT POLITICAL THINKtRS
tionists was only a caricature of real freedom. It was, he thought, only a licence, a kind of anarchy which would degenerate into the vilest of tyrannies. Burke's real thesis against the Revolution was that, however noble their aims, disaster could be the only outcome of a sudden and violent overthrow of existing institutions and of age-old traditions by a group of visionary and impractical idealists without any political experience.
Against the Dogma of Popular Sovereignty
Against the dogma of popular sovereignty, Burke's argument was that in a well-established and well-ordered state the individual will or a number of such wills are not the residence of sovereignty. His real reply may be seen in his doctrine that the state that follows nature is necessarily aristocratic. Nature itself reflects a kind of aristocracy in its order of things. A natural aristocracy is to be seen in every "large body rightly constituted." In a nation, it is seen in "the class of those who by birth, wealth or intellect have a particular fitness for public functions."1'
As to the theory of constitution, Burke had nothing positive to offer beyond the appreciation of the British Constitution. According to him, constitution is not made ; it grows or develops in response to the needs of time, and its evolution reflects the wisdom and experience of the people. Burke regarded the Britsh Constitution, with its checks and balances, as the best. "The whole scheme of our mixed constitution is to prevent any one of its principles from being carried as far as, taken by itself and theoretically, it would go.""
Burke was also against the dogma that to obtain political justice every individual's judgment must be recognized of equal value. According to him, judgments are made by men of superior intelligence after a great thought and deep reflection. To make a government, he thought, requires no great prudence. To give freedom is still more easy. But "to form a. free government, that is, to temper together these opposite elements of liberty and restraint in one consistent work, requires much thought. . . .and combining mind."18 Thus political justice resides in conducting the affairs of the state in a well-balanced manner and in making wise judgments and decisions regarding its policies.
Ibid., pp. 174-75.
Ibid., p. 207.
Jones, W. T., op. cit., p. 35S.
Thus Burke spoke and wrote extensively on the contemporary political issues of his time and while dealing with the concrete problems he expressed his micd piainiy and clearly on the various aspects of politics. Nevertheless, his writings and speeches cannot be read as a coc;pletc statement of his views on politics. Burke never gave a systematic exposition of his fundamental beliefs but appealed
to them always in relation to specific issues. His consistency during his political career has therefore been debated, both in his life time and since. He himself repudiated the charges of inconsistency^ and his writings may be regarded as an integrated whole, in terms of constant principles underlying his practical positions.
Burke's Conception of Human Nature
Burke conceives the life of feeling and the spiritual life of man as a harmony within the larger order of the universe. Natural impulse contains within itself self-restraint and self-criticism ; the moral and spiritual life is continuous with it, generated from it and essentially sympathetic to it. Instinct is ideally rational in the sense of objective and impartial, sustaining self-interest but recognizing its finite place in larger wholes. It follows that society and state make possible the full realization of human potentiality, embody a common good and represent a tacit or explicit agreement on norms and ends. The political community acts ideally as a unity. Its constitutional organization and activities should be designed to elicit, maintain and expand the inherent rationality of its parts and members. Political participation will naturally differ from one part of society to another, and from period to period, but the constant principle is that it should be arranged to exclude aggressive self-interest and to allow expression of rational conciliatory self-interest compatible with the good of the whole. Burke, therefore, does not reject the concept of natural right, but he does not give it any simple or direct political implication. It refers to the whole potentiality of human nature and comprises an acceptance of both the Tightness and wisdom of the life of feeling, the reality of moral obligation and the need for inner or outer restraint on mere appetite.
This interpretation of nature and natural order implies deep respect for the historical process, and the usages and social achievement built up in time. It does not entail an inflexible or uncritical adherence to the inherited order. The natural development is a unitary evolution of social potentialities, a progressive embodiment of its immanent values; individual diversity and common rationality, widening political participation, evolution will be conditioned and particularized within different communities by a multitude of special factors, which must be respected. The hope is not a realization of particular ends, such as the 'liberty' and 'equality' of the French Revolution, but an intensification and reconciliation of the multifarious elements of the good life which community exists to forward. At each level and stage of the human order, the natural harmony is frangible. Its violation creates a disorder ; but such disorder is not the primordial or essential relation of the elements of human experience ; it is the disharmony of the parts of an integrated whole.
Human nature plays a dominant role in determining the character and discipline of a community at its every stage of development.
GREAT POLITICAL THINKERS
Burke had his own conception of human nature from which" various conclusions or inferences about his political views may be drawn. Although the conception of human nature was never stated explicitly by him, it underlies everything he spoke or wrote. It serves as an agent which draws all of his most diverse assertions into significant and intelligible order ; it is the lens that brings everything he wrote into sharp, clear focus.
For Burke, man is complex, like the world he lives in. This world is a vast nexus of interlocking, mutually dependent events. Things may indeed happen everywhere in an orderly fashion ; but, for practical purposes, this is a matter of belief or faith, rather than of knowledge. Thousands upon thousands of factors condition even the simplest causal sequence. Hence the sciences, especially those dealing with human nature and conduct, are only rough approximations, not in the least those mathematically exact disciplines in which Hobbes so fondly believed. There are too many 'latent and intricate' causes, says Burke, for us ever to know with any precision what the final outcome of any act will be, even for the individual agent himself, still less in its impact upon the other members of society.
Man, according to Burke's analysis of human nature, is undoubtedly reasonable, but he is not so reasonable as he believes himself to be. He is not merely, or even chiefly, an intellect. He is also a passion, prejudice and habit. What a man does is not so much the result of a careful, logical plan ; it is rather built up of habits which are themselves determined by the society of which he is a member and into which he was born. There is, in fact, a fundamental disparity between the world as reason reveals it and the world as it really is.
Reason tells us that "everything is what it is and not another thing" ; experience gives lie to this. What anything is, depends on how it stands to other things, so that nothing is just itself absolutely. A thing, for instance, does not own its properties absolutely ; the properties it happens to have depend on the relations in which it stands to other things. An action may be very noble, or prudent, or altruistic in one set of circumstances : and m different circumstances the same action may be cowardly, foolhardy and selfish. We oversimplify and so falsify the real nature of the world and ourselves if we think that the distinct scheme, the fixed and immutable concepts, the well-ordered laws, as revealed by reason, correspond to experience as it really is. His Eulogy of Old Institutions
Burke's criticism of reason and his exaltation of experience go a long way to determine the contours of his political thought. And it is in this context that we can understand his eulogy for and defence of old and established institutions and conventional things. He often
argued that since man is essentially a creature of habit, it is foolish and dangerous to try to abolish his habits. He will act, at best, only erratically and arbitrarily, if we take away the old channels which human nature has gradually fashioned for itself and through which it flows easily and spontaneously. If the old institutions are abolished, nothing will remain to preserve order but the use of force or terror. Burke's theory of expediency, coupled with his thesis of conservatism, implies that it is unavoidably essential to preserve what has been gained in the long struggle and experimentation of centuries, but as human affairs develop only at a slow, gradual and orderly speed, sudden change disintegrates and destroys, and so it may be essential at times to make sacrifices of the old and introduce innovation moderately in order to preserve the general pattern. In fact, Burke was not against a change but, according to him, it must be a change with the utmost moderation. This principle of expediency, he advised, must always be borne in mind by the statesmen in understanding the present and accordingly changing the past.
Burke's Theory of State
Burke's principle of conservatism and pragmatism also serves as the basis of his theory of state. It has already been made clear that Burke was an evolutionary and that he consistently refuted the doctrine of social contract and the dogma of natural, abstract rights. His theory of state is quite different from that of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. According to him, state and society are an organic growth and not an artificial creation. As a believer in empirical method, he turned down the Lockean thesis and called natural rights as national wrongs. In his opinion, the rights of a pre-social and pre-political condition may be true abstractly or metaphysically, but they are false in a political community.
19 Sabine, G. H., op. cit., 1948, p. 317.
Viewed from this angle, Burke's theory of state or political community is of an organic character. A clear distinction between savagery and civilized life lives in the fact that the entire society is the guardian of all that the generations of human race have produced and a man living in it has a natural access to its treasure. Obviously, society is not merely like an unorganized heap of isolated and independent individuals ; "it is not a burden but an open door to human liberation."1' The society and its institutions in which human nature is rooted have a slow and natural growth of their own, which can be interrupted or altered only with peril to the whole structure. It would be undoubtedly better if things were more natural, more logical, less dependent on passion and time, more easily handled with human skiil and foresight. This is the way the political society happens to be ; this is the way the world happens to be. And the lesson we draw from Burke is that we must start with the world as it exists, not as we ought to have it.
THOMAS PAINE ( I 737-1 809)
Influences and Career
Thomac Paine, an English Quaker by birth, represented a remarkable blend of the French and American spirit and ideas. If he represented, on the one hand, the spirit and philosophy that were distinctively French, he, on the other, exhibited the qualifying influence of American ideas. But he was indeed primarily and essentially a political agitator and a pamphleteer rather than a detached and consistent philosopher. However, it cannot be denied that he had a wonderful faculty of both thought and expression, and his keen intellect and vivid phrases caught and fixed the doctrine of the revolutions often much more effectively than "the weightier and deeper analysis of mightier intellects."
Thomas Paine was influenced by two persons, John Wilkes and Benjamin Franklin, who were mainly responsible for his great political career. In 1768, while at Lewes, he joined the Headstrong Club. Paine became a welcome member of the Club almost immediately, not only because he was an excise officer, but because three or four of the men who had known him during his first experience gave excellent reports of him. It was a custom of the Club to discuss important political and economic questions concerning England. The members of the Club were great critics of the aristocrats and the men of wealth who dominated the country. This spirit of criticism and revolt was started by John Wilkes with his famous paper, 77i? North Briton. Paine was very much influenced by Wilkes' writings. From the first issue of Wilkes* paper Tom had been a devoted reader. To his delight he found that all the members of the Headstrong Club were followers of the intrepid politician, and on several occasions he had spoken on articles as they appeared and been listened to intently. Especially Wilkes' efforts for the working population had roused the Club, but Paine felt he meant even more than that to the country.
Through the spring and summer of 1772, Paine gave all his spare time, which was little, to writing his first political pamphlet, about twenty printed pages in length. He used the title of The Case of the Officers of the Excise. His next step was to go to London.
In London, Paine was introduced to Benjamin Franklin by one of the scientific men, with whom he had studied during his first year in the town. Later Franklin had invited Tom to his own home at 36 Craven Street, where he had lived for a number of years.
Franklin's fame as inventor deeply interested Tom. He knew that electricity especially was the hobby to which the famous Colonial was devoted ; also, Paine had read some of Franklin's publications, in particular, The Interest of Great Britain Considered with Regard to Her Colonies, and another pamphlet, Parable against Persecution.
Franklin took to Paine. Here was the kind of man who belonged with the future. After hearing of what had happened since the failure to win the fight for higher salaries and a fairer treatment, he suggested it might be a good thing for his new friend to go to Pennsylvania. Thus on the advice of Benjamin Franklin, the American Agent in London, Paine left for America in 1774.
Paine became an editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine in U.S.A., and remained there for a year and a half in this capacity. He was also associated at that time with the two or three other journals which printed his articles. His radicalism was not liked at all by the owner of the magazine and the latter insisted on some changes, some cuts. The owner of the magazine absolutely refused to publish one article, 'African Slavery in America', which Paine wrote with the intention of having it appear in February, 1775. So Tom took it to the Pennsylvania Journal, which printed it on March 8th. It was received with high praise, and was the best thing written favouring the abolition of slavery that had yet appeared, and had immediate effect, for on April 14th the first anti-slavery society in America was founded in Philadelphia. Remarking on the fact that Americans were complaining against the attempts by Britain to enslave them, Paine asks : "With what consistency or decency can they complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hold so many hundred thousands in slavery ; and annually enslave many thousands more, without any pretence of authority, or claim upon them ?"
On October 18, 1775, Paine wrote a very brief piece, also published in the Pennsylvania Journal, which he named 'A Serious Thought', and signed Humanus. In it he denounces the 'horrid cruelties exercised by Britain in the East Indies', which were indeed terrible at that period, under Lord Clive, and, mentioning that Britain had also brought slaves to America, yearly ravaging the 'hapless shores of Africa' to her profit, he concludes :
"I hesitate not for a moment to believe that the Almighty will finally separate America from Britain. . . .and when the Almighty shall have blessed us, and made us a people dependent only upon Him, then may our first gratitude be shown by an act of continental legislation, which shall put a stop to the importation of Negroes for sale, soften the hard fate of those already here, and in time procure their freedom."77
great political thinkers
The Common Sense and American Revolution
In late October, Paine sat down to write a little book, a pamphlet of some fifty pages, a great book, that spoke the truth in bold and simple language with complete courage. The title of the book was Common Sense. Within a month thousands upon thousands of readers were acclaiming it. It, as is well known, played a great part in the early days of the American Revolution. Throughout this work Paine's facility in denunciation and invective was characteristically prominent. Monarchy, nobility and all such incidents of hereditary government were systematically loaded with scorn and bitter reproach.
By the time Common Sense appeared there had been several articles in different papers written by men of standing, one by John Adams, the member of the Second Continental Congress who had seconded Richard Henry Lee's ever-famous resolution, in which Lee declared : "these Colonies are, and of a right out to be, free and independent states." But nothing that could remotely touch Common Sense in reaching the whole of America and rousing in men's hearts the desire for national freedom. Before Jong close to half a million copies had been published, hardly a paper in the land but printed excerpts, and everywhere it was discussed and quoted.
In his brief foreword to the booklet we can catch the flavour of Paine's style, feel the quality of man. He opens with this paragraph: "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour ; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason. . . ." And closes with this :
"The cause of America in great measure is the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which arc not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected. . . .the laying a country desolate with fire and sword, declaring war against the natural rights of all mankind, and extirpating the defenders thereof from the face of the earth, is the concern of every man to whom nature has given the power of feeling ; of which class, regardless of party censure, is
The first few pages of Common Sense sketch the origin and the growth of the government delightfully. He then passes on to the English Constitution, shows how it has failed and why, and ends, as to the usefulness of kings, in this wise :
"In England a king hath little more to do than to make
war and give away places, which, in plain terms, is to impo-
verish the nation and set it together by the ears. A pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred thousand pounds sterling a year for, and worshipped into the bargain." Speaking next of America he writes in Common Sense that "no man was a warmer wisher for a reconcilation than myself, before the fatal 19th of April, 1775, but the moment the event of that day was known, I rejected the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England for ever."
There was considerable fear that in case of separation between the two countries, America would face ruin, but Paine proved clearly that losing the British market would open the rest of Europe for trade, now forbidden to America. She must confine her trade to the mother country, and at such prices as could be gained from her—and Britain the one to decide. Also, he called his readers to remember that once America was independent she would be free from all the "European conflicts into which she was constantly being drawn by her connections with the British Empire." These two points appealed forcefully to many Americans of the upper classes who had not realized them. The little book indeed won over many who, until they had read it, saw no advantages in breaking away, and who nowjoined Washington in declaring that they were ready to shake off all connection with Britain, "a state so unjust and so unnatural".
Paine looked into the future. "The only King the Colonies would know was God. He reigns above, and does not make havoc of mankind like the toyal brute of Great Britain. He demands that members of the Assemblies, the Conventions, Congress, shall be chosen whose business it will be to frame a Continental Charter. . . . always remembering that our strength is continental, not provincial."
Common Sense is worth reading today, including as it does much that links up with present conditions. Read by the Americans of Paine's day it was like a sunrise. But its light men clearly saw what they had only dimly sensed. This pamphlet was the spoken beginning of the Revolution. It passed from hand to hand, until tens of thousands had read it, and became revolutionalists, knowing what it meant, wanting what it showed them. The common man read and reread those parts that upheld its rights, as an intelligent human being, to have his share in government as a free elector ; he rejoiced at the contempt for hereditary monarchy taken as a God-given right, and for the tyranny over the poor and lowly by the ruling classes of England, exercising a t^wer given to them merely because of their station in society, not because of worth or wisdom.
Thus Common Sense swept through Colonies, made its deep impress on the American mind, and drove public opinion towards the final break with Britain. The Continental Congress called for volunteers, appointed George Washington, commander-in-chief of the first American army, and empowered a committee headed by Thomas Jefferson to draft a declaration of independence. Paine himself rode
GREAT POLITICAL THINKERS
the full crest of the tide rushing toward the war of liberation. His first leap from obscurity had come as the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine. As the author of Common Sense, he catapulated into the front ranks of the leaders of the movement he had helped arouse.
Also, on December 19, 1776, the first of Tom Paine's series of sixteen articles, known as The American Crisis Papers, was published in the Pennsylvania Journal. It opened with the words, "These are the times that try men's soul," a famous line that few realize was his. A great deal happened to make that line true for America since Common Sense had rocked the country with enthusiasm. Paine was mixed up in all of it.
At the same time, Paine was busy with other affairs. In August, the Declaration was safely adopted. He and Franklin worked together with other leaders, to gain the assistance of the entire population of their state in the creation of a liberal constitution. The farmers of the west, the shopkeepers and artificers of Philadelphia, the workers as well as head men in the trades, all these as well as the gentry, laboured to construct it ready for passage a little later in the year. It guaranteed universal male suffrage, democratic representation, complete religious freedom and a one-chamber legislature to be elected annually, and it was greatly in advance of any other state constitution adopted before the end of the Revolution. Paine played an important part in all this.
As an important leader of the liberation movement, Paine insisted that their cause itself was a conqueror. He reminded them that Joan of Arc, with a few broken forces, drove back the British armies that had been harassing France, and he asserted, "God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction. . . .who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war by every decent method which wisdom could invent." The confident, stirring words rang out through the darkness, and the hearts and spirits of the men rose in response. The darkest hour had changed to rising light and America had passed successfully her worst crisis.
In 1787, after the Americans had gained their independence, Paine returned to England. In 1789 came the French Revolution, followed by Edmund Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution, which represented the reaction of a conservative and aristocratic mind against mobocracy. Paine, an ardent republican and an uncompromising foe of monarchy and aristocracy, hailed the Revolution with eagerness and joy. He set to himself the task of writing a rejoinder to Burke's Reflections to "demonstrate the falsity of the political philosophy of monarchical conservatism by an exposition of the American Constitution." Hence came The Rights of Man—a plea for democratic republicanism—witten in 1791-92.
The Rights of Man
In The Rights of Man Paine attacked Burke's reliance on the past.
He repudiated the claim that the Constitution of 1788 was law in England for all time. He summed up relations between past and present in one of his powerful sentences : "If the present generation, or any other, are disposed to be slaves, it does not lessen the rights of the succeeding generation to be free: wrongs cannot have legal descent."
A basic right of man was the right to be judged on his own merits and not on the accident of birth. Paine let loose a heavy barrage against one of his pet peeves—the titled aristocracy. After blasting away at earls, dukes and kings in general, he got around to France in particular : "It is, properly, from. . . .France that the folly of titles has been abolished. It has outgrown the baby-clothes of count and duke, and breeched itself in manhood."8 This section of The Rights of Man, more than any other, outraged the authorities in England and caused them to look on Paine as a dangerous man, concerned not only with Colonial independence but with undermining the British system itself.
As for Burke's second argument, the excess of the Revolution, Paine had some sharp comments on this, too. If brutalities were committed by the people, he said, it was the fault of the Bourbon regime under which they had lived and by which they had been oppressed for centuries. Their masters had taught them no better, another reason for throwing out rulers who had not improved the character of their subjects. And why, asked Paine, did Burke shed so many tears over the possible fate to Marie Antoinette but had none to spare for the millions of wretched Frenchmen under her rule and her husband's ? So one-sided a sympathy cast doubt on the fairness of Burke's observations. Moreover, his prophesies on the course the Revolution would take, Paine continued, were so much guesswork, and one man's guess was as good as another's. (In these prophesies, Burke was proven right, Paine wrong). But even should they all come to pass, Paine concluded, the French were justified in revolting against oppression.
2 Gurko, Leo : Tom Paine : Freedom's Apostle (Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York, 1957), pp. 122-23.
In his earlier association with Burke, Paine had learned of the annual pension of fifteen hundred pounds which the Irish Orator had for some years been secretly receiving from the Crown, and of his ambition to have this pension increased. He, therefore, looked upon Burke's Reflections as dishonest from the start, as corrupted by self-interest and the desire for personal gain, and as a crude attempt to win the favour of the British king. To Paine's usual confident tone was added a note of righteousness that made The Rights of Man sound a bit like the Ten Commandments. Paine was never more sure of himself, of the soundness of i is ideas, of the world being his oyster, and of the French Revolution as the second instalment of his convic-
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tion that all countries will soon be republican. However, it must be admitted that Paine, in spite of his immeasurable popularity in both England and France and his utmost sincerity to the cause of human liberty, had to flee from these countries. The part II of The Rights of Man offended the British government. Prime Minister William Pitt induced the killg to issue a royal proclamation against seditious writings. Paine was given a summons to appear in court on June 8th. He was told in the court that his trial for sedition could begin on December 18, 1792. But that day never came. He received an invitation from three districts to sit in the new National Convention in France as their representative. He made plans for a return to France and he actually left England for France before he could be arrested and tried for sedition. It was before December 18.
As such, Paine's radical writings could not appeal at all to the traditional conservatism of the British Government in England. Likewise, his politics, which were against ruthless Jacobin propaganda in spite of all his radicalism and his love for violence were not liked by the Jacobins. Paine was drawn to the side of Girondians in the new National Convention, whose leaders, Lafayette, Mirabeau, Brissot, and for a while Danton, were his personal friends. He was in favour of violence if violence was necessary, but needless violence appalled him, and the ruthless Jacobin propaganda among the brutalized elements of the Parisian population seemed to him a dangerous political weapon. It appealed to the passions of man and not to his reason, and the road to the new world, Paine was convinced, lay only through reason. He opposed the Jacobins when they wanted to execute the deposed king, Louis XVI. Paine pleaded that Louis had come to the aid of the American Revolution at critical times, and if he were beheaded, the reaction in America would be very bad. But on January 21, 1793, Louis was led to the guillotine. Paine witnessed this event with growing dread and now. for the first time in life, a small doubt entered his mind. Perhaps men were not altogether reasonable animals and history was not marching strictly according to plan. The events that followed in 1793 confirmed this doubt and shock Paine's confidence in his life mission as violently as his experiences in 1792 had brought his confidence to a high pitch.
The Age of Reason : Attack on Monarchy and Organized Churches
With friends and associates being guillotined right and left, Paine retired more and more from public life and worked on his new book, called The Age of Reason. Dealing with religion, it was a book that would arouse a storm of enemies, and give him the mistaken and inaccurate reputation of an atheist while he was still alive and for more than a century after his death. He, like other eighteenth-century deists, believed strongly in Creation or Nature. The world of Nature was harmonious and orderly. It had its definite laws. It was beautiful. And all these qualities could be perceived at once by
every observer. If Nature existed—and who could doubt that it did —God existed, too, as its Creator.
"The Creation. . . .is an ever-existing original, which every man can read. It cannot be forged ; it cannot be counterfeited ; it cannot be lost; it cannot be altered ; it cannot be suppressed. It does not depend upon the will of man whether it shall be published or not; it publishes itself from one end of the earth to the other. It preaches to all nations and to all worlds."8 As a deist, Paine looked upon the organized churches in England and France as the allies of the royalist governments of those countries. He had attacked the governments and it was logical that it should come to examine the religious institutions which supported them. Since these institutions derived their authority from the sanctity of the scriptures, Paine in due course inspected the claims of this sanctity, and rejected them, not from the point of view of an atheist or even an agnostic, but as a deist who inferred the existence of God from the direct evidence of senses and reason. He further argued that if the church had no valid supernatural claim, it had no right to be an official state religion, and the citizenry ought to be free to embrace it or not as they chose. The ferocious assaults on priests and church during the French Revolution had been preceded by the peaceful constitutional separation. of church and state in America. It was the American example that Paine applauded and pointed to as ideal.
The Age of Reason, which was written by Paine in France, started trouble in America. Few things arouse men more than an attack on their religious convictions. He was accused as a bb'^hemer and anti-Christ. The great reputation, the immense store of goodwill Paine had left behind him in America began to melt under the charges of blasphemy. The popular press used violent language to lampoon him, and printed abusive cartoons showing Paine, bis face distorted in a snarl, setting fire to a church. No reputation could long survive such treatment. Paine left America in 1787 as a hero. He was to return in 1802 as something of a villain.
3 Gurko, Leo : op. cit., pp. 153-54.
When Paine returned to America in 1802, many sneering and harshly critical articles were published about him in New Yofx, Philadelphia and Baltimore newspapers. He was also opposed by the Federalist Party. They described him as a "lying, drunken, brutal infidel", "the loathsome Thomas Paine", "a drunken atheist", "let Jefferson and his blasphemous crony dangle from the same gallows". But President Jefferson was a great friend of his. While Jefferson ignored the criticism, Paine was roused to counter-attack. He was never one for taking things lying down, and even now in his old age, he found the energy to strike back at his vilifiers. He began issuing a
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series of essays called Z,e«e« to the Citizens of the United States in which he hacked away at the charges against him, ridiculed the Federalists, and reasserted his own principles. But his energy and fortune sank steadily and he died on June 8, 1809, at the age of seventy-two.
Paine on Society and Government
The above story of Tom Paine's life should not make us conclude that he was only a great agitator and an uncompromising enemy of monarchy, nobility and a hereditary government. He also presented from time to time in forceful terms the elementary principles of a constructive political philosophy. Like 18th century philosophers, Paine was also conscious of the distinction between state and society. He said that the state and society were not only different but had different origins, the former being artificial, the latter natural in growth. The opening passage of Common Sense is a classic in this respect;
"Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them ; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness ; the former promotes our happiness positively, by uniting our affections, the latter negatively, by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher."* Paine held that "all men are of one degree and consequently that all men are bora equal and with equal natural right."' The state was held together more by identity of interests than legal coercion. His thinking on this was mostly derived from the philosophy transmitted by Locke Paine ilso exhibited the influence of the laissez-faire dogma that pervaded his time when he pleaded for restricting the functions of government to a narrow and subsidiary limit. The rights of man, according to him, suggest limitation of government. The creation of law and the administration of law should be, to Paine, the only two functions of government. On the contrary, be magnified the importance of society by saying that society was not only natural but essential because of the diversity of human needs.