I’m currently in the process of reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine as a follow-up to his other book, Rights of Man. Both of these titles were decisive in what would become American independence (and the fundamental rights of people). But despite his literary brilliance, I have some comments to make 300 years later about American democracy and what we would eventually forget and embarrass.
That which stands out most to me is the almost hilarious return to centralized power; namely a quasi-monarch named Donald Trump. Paine’s greatest distain had he with King George III of England, and I wish he could see Trump’s full circle rise to support by the American people. Fear has driven people straight into that against which Paine so intensely protested. The American people no longer wish law their king, but instead another king of laws. So is the result of impatience, fear, and increasing poverty. But anways…
Why does Paine so often repeat that a politician’s (citing Dragonetti) highest role is to fulfill the happiness of the people whom he represents? How should it be possible that happiness be maintained on a long-term basis? Could not the happiness of one people mean immorality to another?
The nature of human emotion has been seemingly neglected in this presumption; the polarity of feeling must be accounted if we are, as a society, to agree on a common pursuit that generates an ultimately better functionality. I would suggest applying Plato’s ancient advice- the greatest pursuit is simply the gathering of wisdom in order to better cope with the challenges of life.
A politician’s highest priority should be creating the most capable society. A society capable of navigating the highs and lows of development is the best suited society for progress. Such a society can adapt to change and even utilize it for their momentarily best interest. That society can better tolerate newcomers of a different skin color, belief system, or cultural attitude.
This might mean we need to reassess our relationship to our politicians. No longer should we expect from our representatives a tacit approval of everything we do. In a well-functioning democracy, our leaders cannot be simple mirrors of our actions.
This could be a proper response to Thomas Paine’s revolutionary flamboyance that established an almost 250 year old (naive) country; the acceptance that our leaders- appointed wisely- have also the right to teach us what is best.
After making such a claim, it is necessary to establish appropriate tolerances. What can a person in power tell the people, and what can the people tell the person in power?
Firstly, to protect the legitimacy of our politicans, we must ensure their right to honesty with their representees. A strategically compromised version of the truth from our leaders is, in the end, damaging to both sides. Secondly, the powers that be must prove themselves as the best people in our society. In this case, best means well educated (academically and socially), internationally cultured, and wise. Third, and at the other end of this relational spectrum, the people would remain protected from unfair taxes and someone working outside of the law. Thus is their freedom still secured. (Even though the question remains how they learn the important definition of freedom!)
This concludes my current comments on Thomas Paine’s works. Thanks to his words, I have a more understanding appreciation of the American society and my own heritage. Maybe a few more of us could review his ideas and see the rise of Trump and mechanics of democracy in a new light!