Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations (2006) Craig Nelson

Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern NationsLot’s of attention to Paine these days! Nelson’s book is a great read both for people new to Paine or for those who already have some ideas about his work, character, importance. Some revisionist conclusions will lead to more research. For example the common view of his hard drinking and dying penniless is questioned. Nelson claims Paine had a million dollar estate. Most interesting for political philosophy and history is Nelson’s answer to the question “Why has such an important figure, the best selling writer of the 18th century; an inspiration and participant in the American and French Revolutions become the silent ghost figure among the Founders?” The standard answer is that after _Common Sense_ and _The American Crisis_ his worked turned too radical– _Rights of Man_ and _Age of Reason_. Nelson argues that these works were not too radical, they were right in the bounds of what Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Adam Smith, Joseph Priestly, Rousseau, Godwin, Wollstonecraft, et al (The Republic of Letters) were quite comfortable with. No, Paine’s radicalism did not come from any original ideas but from his immensely plain spoken popular ability to communicate these elite ideas of enlightenment and governance to the international working class artisan mechanics in the cities among whom he came.

 

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