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Thomas Paine

Link: Thomas Paine.

Occasionally, I am criticised for using Tom Paine as my "nom de blog." Leftists, in particular, object. They see good old Tom, once known as "the most dangerous man alive" as one of their own. They base this on his early promotion of income tax, social security, and old age pensions. They have no patent on those ideas. Nor do I think Tom would have approved the outrageous extremes to which they have taken them. I agree with almost all he wrote on the subject.

I draw the line at his idea that - as Man was a hunter-gatherer in his state of nature and needed to range freely to survive - private ownership of land should be subject to a kind of "ground rent" payable to the non-landowning would-be hunters who had lost their right to range. Private property - as Tom accepted - was essential to civilisation. Since civilisation benefits us all, so do its prerequisites.

Besides, land is not now as economically important as it was in Tom's day. Its special status in law, as compared to other forms of property is now faintly absurd, as are the special protections for users of land which hail back to the feudal relationship of landlord and tenant. If the "landlord" is a pension fund representing the savings of thousands of ordinary Joes, and the "tenant" is Microsoft, why does the tenant need special legal protection? Tom's views were inevitably coloured by the immense power of the landed gentry of his time. Their relicts are no more useful than their ancestors, but they are more comical than threatening.

As a justification for a tax, Tom's "ground rent" idea was at least elegantly argued and intelligently reasoned. We can enjoy the mere fact that he felt the need to justify a tax by the positive benefits he thought it would confer. Our modern tyrants feel no such need. They are content to use it as (a) a punishment for success and (b) to slake their own greed and desire for glory.

Leftists are not alone in objecting, however. My own daughter thinks me arrogant to have borrowed the name of such a great man. I can only say to her that I mean it respectfully. I don't claim to be a remotely worthy successor to a man who shaped three modern democracies. As a frustrated citizen, I am just an humble and somewhat envious admirer. If I could have one millionth part of the influence Tom had on the world on just one nation - my own - I would be content.

Sadly, I have none at all. My nation is dying, and I am a helpless family member at the bedside. Tom would never accept such a position. He would find a way to cure her. As long as my fellow-citizens won't even acknowledge the patient is sick, I honestly don't see how to do it. I know I am no Tom.

I have admired Tom since first I read his works as an A Level student of History. They weren't on the curriculum, you understand (A Levels haven't dumbed down quite that much in 30 years), but how else - pray - was I to understand the American Revolution? I found then, and I still find, that both his views and his tone suit my taste. What sums up the views expressed here better than his statement that

"Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one?"
Nor, with apologies to my more conventionally conservative readers, do I demur from his views on royalty. The Queen's a good person and does her job with dignity, but it's not a job that needs to be done. More, it's a job that needs not to be done.

As my readers already know, I share Tom's scepticism of organised religion, but have more sympathy than him for those who find it a comfort. Having known glory in the American Revolution, and having been a citizen of, and served in the Senate of, Revolutionary France, Tom died in poverty and disgrace in the USA, because he was believed to be what I am; an atheist. In fact, like Voltaire, Tom was a Deist. He believed in God. He just didn't believe God was interested in the day-to-day affairs of His creation.

Such a God, in my view, is not worth believing in. He is no more than what might be called a "deomorphism" of physics. Tom fell at that radical hurdle; perhaps because no man could function, in those days of belief, as an open unbeliever.

I commend my illustrious namesake's works to my readers. I apologise publicly to his shade, for any offence given by use of his name. None was intended. The world is a better place for the life and works of the greatest corset-maker (if not the maker of the greatest corsets) that Norfolk ever produced.


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Tom Paine

A gentle reader has pointed out that I misattributed the "tree of liberty" quote to Paine, when it was actually said by Jefferson. Sorry. I have edited the post accordingly.


My copy of the Rights of Man sits next to my copy of the Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, they are my New and Old Testaments.

james higham

If I could have one millionth part of the influence Tom had on the world on just one nation - my own - I would be content.

Sadly, I have none at all. My nation is dying, and I am a helpless family member at the bedside.

I must take issue with this. I know your view of the incestuous blogosphere which natters on to itself but I also know that things can be made to happen - one is going on right now with the Wren Chapel.

Besides, you are indeed a man of influence and I have seen you linked to on influential blogs over the past few days. I know for sure from some e-mail comments that you're highly thought of for your analysis.

One last thing - I was, coincidentally, reading the esteemed Tom Paine I today and your comments in the post rounded that out.


As you may have surmised, I am not an admirer of your namesake. In the old days, you and I might even have been enemies (in a gentlemanly manner, of course). It says something about these times, however, that we are allies. I therefore doff my peacock-feathered hat towards your good self.

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