Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and Age of Reason were written to the broadest possible public in the rebellious colonies, in France, and in Great Britain. Paine’s pamphlets made him the most popular writer in the era of the American and French Revolutions. An international radical, he played central roles in both. The forgotten founder he may be, but the one well worth recovering as if a contemporary guide to an unsettled, undefined, transitional and possibly revolutionary time again. “We have it in our power to start the world over again,” he exhorted with republican virtues of the common good and reason pushing the grubby grab of mad monarchs and power hungry priests, prelates, and popes from their commanding heights. [n.b. this is me trying to write like Paine does of the “crowned ruffians.”
I attended a presentation at the annual Left Forum gathering in early June in New York City (the largest ever, with 3000 attendees over the fours days) considered Tom Paine: Our Contemporary. Chris Hedges, Cornell West, and Richard Wolff joined moderator Laura Flanders and an overflow crowd for this discussion.
Several recent biographies of Paine (Harvey Kaye, Craig Nelson) are out. I’ll be teaching Paine and Common Sense this Fall and plan to refresh my thoughts by going back to Eric Foner’s (1976) Tom Paine and Revolutionary America.