Thomas Paine: In Search of the Common Good
The American Revolution was, perhaps, the single most influential event in modern political history. Spawning the democracies which have since spread around the globe, the revolution gave renewed impetus, credence and theoretical argument to the concepts of representative government, the separation of political powers, liberty, freedom and natural rights. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and James Madison, have all been immortalised by their deeds and words in that period. Yet one man, argued those who met at a United Nations colloquium in 1987, is unjustly absent from those so fondly and admirably remembered. Indeed, he was the first to call the United States of America by its now familiar name.
Thomas Paine, writes Leo Zonneveld, in the introduction to a new book bringing together the reflections of those at the colloquium, was a ‘brilliant activator and humble participant in the process of pointing out the reality of human brotherhood and true democracy.’ In the ensuing twelve short chapters, a diverse group of Paine enthusiasts, including former Labour Party leader Michael Foot, UN assistant secretary-general Robert Muller and professor of American history Eric Foner, debate Paine’s legacy, put forward their interpretations of Paine’s work and talk about how he has influenced their lives. For Foot it is Paine’s unshakeable belief in the power of freedom which is most admirable; Foner offers Paine’s detest for hereditary privilege as one of his great characteristics; while Muller asks what would Paine of said about today’s world.