If I’ve ever read Paine’s famous pamphlet before now, I don’t remember it. Likely it was assigned to me in high school, and like most rational high school students faced with such a notion, I ignored the fuck out of it. Nowadays I like to read all kinds of grown up stuff like, so I figured I’d give ol Tom Paine a whirl. Also it was my book club’s selection (which is how I’ve been introduced to most of the new authors I’ve read in the past 8 years, for better or worse [mostly better]), and it’s only 70 odd pages so what the hell.
What I discovered were 70 densely packed pages of political philosophy, not at all unpleasant to read, outlining bold ideas about democracy and society; at the time these ideas may have been astounding in their novelty, but now, to me, Mr 21 Century Schizoid Man of the Future, they read like…well, like the radical concepts our country was founded upon. Obviously hereditary monarchy is bad, and obviously a representative republican government is the way to go. Checks and balances: no duh! Am I right? Apparently to most of the sot-weed farmers and other moneyed bigwigs of late 18th century America, this stuff wasn’t so obvious, which makes the success of this book all the more impressive (it proved quite effective in galvanizing support for revolution in lieu of mere “reconciliation,” which word Paine pronounces throughout as though it were laced with arsenic).
Near the midway point Paine’s tone shifts, and becomes less that of a rational professor expounding on political history, and more that of a shit-stirring preacher, passionate in urging a dangerous but necessary course of action. While I myself am certainly no political philosopher, I found the earlier portions of the book more persuasive in their reasoned tone; by the end Paine is basically saying “OMG OMG you guys we have to revolt but it’s gotta be right now! SRSLY GUYS!”
One of the most interesting things about this world-shattering little essay, is that its author Mr. Thomas Paine was an Englishman, having been in America for something like 14 months at the time of its publication. And he really gives the King of England a hard time, too!
My overall impression of Common Sense, without having any deep knowledge of the history of the era, or the circumstances of the pamphlet’s publication or distribution, literacy rates among the colonies, etc. (I’m a bad citizen, I know); is that Paine knew exactly what message he wanted to get across, and wrote it in a very forthright and engaging manner. Was he preaching to a choir of like-minded people, who just needed a nudge to be brought to action? Did Common Sense really change enough minds to induce revolt, or was the revolution inevitable (which inevitability Paine himself asserts was the case)? The answer is: I don’t know; but I bet there have been at least a dozen real academic type papers written about it in the past 230 years, so maybe if my curiosity gets piqued I’ll read one of those for S&Gs.