Common Sense

I was on the phone with my friend JP, talking about how extraordinarily successful the United States has been. I believe that part of that success arises from extraordinary luck. Around the time when the US became an independent nation, it had a bunch of amazingly wise people guiding it. As in the case of individuals — what one inherits is a random draw from the lottery of creation — so also for nations: the endowments that a nation is born with is random and exogenous. Among the giants who are called the “founding fathers” (a much abused phrase applied without justification to others in other nations) of the United States was an Englishman named Thomas Paine.

The wiki says:

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was an English-American political activist, author, political theorist and revolutionary. As the author of two highly influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, he inspired the America Patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment era rhetoric of transnational human rights.
. . .

Born in Thetford, England, in the county of Norfolk, Paine emigrated to the British American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin and he arrived in time to participate in the American Revolution. His principal contributions were the powerful, widely read pamphlet Common Sense (1776), the all-time best-selling American book that advocated colonial America’s independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and The American Crisis (1776–83), a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

And here’s a quote from Common Sense that will resonate especially with observers of contemporary India and its dysfunctional government:

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 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.

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 calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.

Indians do pay for the whips that the government uses on them.

[Go read “Common Sense – Addressed to the Inhabitants of America. February 14, 1776.“]

Author: Atanu Dey


5 thoughts on “Common Sense”

  1. “I believe that part of that success arises from extraordinary luck. Around the time when the US became an independent nation, it had a bunch of amazingly wise people guiding it.”

    “His ideas reflected Enlightenment era rhetoric of transnational human rights.”

    I never thought of this before. But, it seems to be extraordinary luck that the enlightenment era in Europe and America matured just about when America was born, which ensured that it was founded on the right principles? Give or take a 100 years and it might not have been so?


  2. Atanu,

    What Thomas Paine wrote is more relevant today. Every time I hear some ruling party spokesperson say – this is to destabilize the country (whereas it is efforts push the bad government)

    At the time of independence (and to a large extent today), what can be expected of us who have been enslaved for centuries & someone comes to them and says – hey you are free, you have a world’s largest democracy!!


  3. USA is succesful because it had/has a world class people(Euro americans) europeans are the most liberal and progressive people,now one may ask why did not europe become america , and the reason is when europeans came to america they had no option but to intgerate and they already were very similar to each other,just for a thought would usa have become a super power if Indians or people of other nations colonised usa,an interesting thought.


  4. Dear Atanu,

    Did you really mean when you wrote luck in this column? (Then it’s all karma, eh?!)

    If you agree that all our minds are connected, then according to the collective demands of the people, supply is provided. This cause and effect is more visible when the desperation and direction of thoughtflow is somewhat similar. How come India produced Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Swami Rama Tirtha, Subramanya Bharatai more or less at the same period of time? How come many revolutionaries and inspiring freedom fighters were produced in early 20th century? But who did we produce in the second half of 20th century? Can we call this luck, destiny or fate? Or does it correspond to the collective state of people’s mind in respective era?



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