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Exploration of Thomas Paine’s theory Essay

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Updated: Dec 13th, 2019


Several theories have been advanced by a significant number of theorists, who seek to use these theories to explain the functionality of institutions within political realms of the society. One such theorist is Thomas Paine, who coined the theory of ‘common sense’. Paine is one of the ancient theorists in history.

He developed this theory back in 1776. The theory seeks to criticize the actions of individuals and authorities. Paine’s theory has a number of empirical justifications that can help in inspiring the actions by governments and individuals concerning issues of governance (Larkin 88). This paper explores Paine’s theory of ‘common sense’.

The paper expands on the subject of equality of people in governance as poised by Paine’s theory. The paper also carries a critical evaluation and the worthiness of the arguments that are postulated by Paine.

Understanding the theory of ‘common sense’

As observed in the introductory notes, the concept of ‘common sense’ was developed in the latter years of the 18th century. During this period, the accolades of British imperialism were still prevalent in the United States.

A substantial number of modern political theorists have argued that this concept by Paine posed the first major challenge to Britain’s Authority in the United States by critiquing the actions of the British administrators in the United States. The theory is strongly founded in the development of governance in the society and the implications for which it has on the interaction of people and the government.

Common sense as brought out by Paine entails passages that appertain to natural rights; human rights made humans equal and should, thus, be treated equally. The main argument of the theory, which is the abuse of power by the political authority, is often easily justified. However, the main concern is whether the justification of such abuses warrants to be given attention by the society.

The society is built by the common demands of the citizenry, while governments are often built on the grounds of exploitative thoughts. Therefore, Paine argues that the foundations of the society promote the equality of human beings through the aspect of common needs, while the foundations of governance kill the recognition of human equality through cultivation of wickedness for gains (Paine and Philp n.p.).

In his exploration of the origin and existence of government in the society, Paine argued that the government is often the source of miseries that befalls man. He makes a comparison of government with the existence of a society in the earth, which does not have any attributes of governance.

He notes that such a population would be quite united and respectful of the rights of each other since human beings are united by their needs under what is known as ‘society’. He made reference to how power is molded in governance, where he noted that people fear power because of its negative attributes. Therefore, the fact that the government is molded along power makes it harder for people to trust the government.

The issue of power and its subsequent exercise is a complex issue altogether and increases the difficulty of embracing the state of equality. Power is molded by both the subjects and the rulers.

While it is claimed that the subjects have a role to play in shaping the exercise of power, the rulers take advantage of the loyalty and the respect accorded to them to abuse the power vested on them. What ought to be asked is whether power can be guarded and utilized for the benefit of enhancing natural equality of human beings (Paine para. 2).

The state of equality of mankind and the government

It is critical to note that the subject of equality is one of the most debatable subjects in the philosophy of governance. One thing that comes into the minds of people concerning the argument of the ‘common sense’ theory is whether the argument provides rational ideas about the issue of equality in governance. Can equality of human beings exist in the political setup?

A number of people argue that some of the arguments that are advanced in the theory of common sense can be justified because of the nature and structure of the society. However, other people find the argument to be logical by citing instances that denote the importance of the embrace of human beings by governments (Aldridge 47).

The society is wide and the question of rights and equality of human beings in the society cannot be easily explicated. This is a pointer to the fact that the passages in the common sense that appertain to natural rights are not certain, thus they are subjected to a lot of critics.

To begin with, the publication of the theory of ‘common sense’ elicited a debate about the black population in the United States and the status or the level at which the black population had rights over the black population. It comes out that the blacks were considered to be lesser human beings than the whites. This can be blamed on the government (Paine para. 6).

What comes out here is that the issue of equality begins with the manner in which people look at each other and treat each other within the society. Racial discrimination existed in America long before independence and has continued to reign. The only difference today is that it is not done openly as was done before.

The cases of racial discrimination are still rampant and widely reported in a substantial number of states in the United States and other regions of the world. Therefore, it is quite irrational to blame the government for failing to respect the equality of human beings, while the society itself, which is considered to be a neutral entity, does not respect the equality of human beings.

However, what should be asked here is whether the government can shape the society and make it embrace human equality. Based on the foundations on which the government is built, it is doubtful to trust that the government can help the society to embrace equality of human beings (Paine para. 6-7).

Paine sought to understand the most critical thing between independence and reconciliation in the development of a nation. He noted that reconciliation is quite complex and difficult to attain, yet it is most critical in the embrace of the equality of mankind in nations. According to Paine, most nations prefer independence over exercising of independence and reconciliation.

The pursuance of independence by governments is argued to be the leading factor to the growth of dependency of nations. In the pursuance of independence, man remains to be a victim of the channels and steps that are put in place in order to attain the most sought for status by nations in the world. It makes more sense to put this argument in the contemporary political economy.

The question that needs to be asked is whether countries in the contemporary political economy pursue the doctrine of independence of the doctrine of reconciliation, and how each course promotes the equality of human beings.

Most analysts seem to be of the opinion that both doctrines are being practiced by countries, though on totally varying scales. Each country prefers to pursue dependency, which is the reason why there is a lot of competition between nations in the world today.

Under such intense competition, the respect of equality of all human beings is often ignored. Reconciliation often comes out as an alternative doctrine after the interests to attain dependence have resulted in actions that raise an alarm on the respect of the rights of human beings (Paine 57-60).

The other thing that comes out in Paine’s theory is the issue of absolutism in governments. Paine opines that governments lack moral virtue. This resonates from the manner in which governments are formed. The lack of moral virtue in governments is a hindrance to the respect of human nature and the equality of human beings.

Pain applauds absolute governments by arguing that the citizens in these countries are often aware of the source of disgrace to human equality. The implication of this statement is that even the governments that claim to embrace the rights and equality of human beings are found committing atrocities, which questions their commitment to enhance the doctrine of human equality (Paine 11).


According to the argument in this paper, the theory of common sense by Paine has been subjected to criticisms by a substantial number of people. As postulated in the paper, it is quite daunting for governments to embrace natural equality because of the foundations on which government is built. The exercise of power by governments is cited as the main impediment to the embrace of natural equality.

Works Cited

Aldridge, Alfred O. Thomas Paine’s American Ideology. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1984. Print.

Larkin, Edward. Thomas Paine and the literature of revolution. Cambridge University Press: New York, 2005. Print.

Paine, Thomas, and Philp Mark. Rights of Man, Common Sense, and other Political Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.

Paine, Thomas, Common Sense: Introduction. n.d. Web.

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