Truthdig May 26 2014
“Paine created a new political language. He wrote in crystalline prose. “Common Sense” was read by hundreds of thousands. It was the first political essay in Enlightenment Europe to call for a separation between ‘civil society’ and the ‘state,’ terms that many writers had considered interchangeable. Civil society, Paine argued, must always act as a counterweight against the state in a democracy. Power, he warned, even in a democracy, carries within it the seeds of tyranny.” ~ C. Hedges
Cornel West, Richard D. Wolff and I, along with moderator Laura Flanders, next Sunday will inaugurate “The Anatomy of Revolution,” a series of panel discussions focusing on modern revolutionary theorists. This first event will be part of a two-day conference in New York City sponsored by the Left Forum, and nine other discussions by West, Wolff and me will follow in other venues later this year.
Sunday’s event will be about Thomas Paine, the author of “Common Sense,” “The Rights of Man” and “The Age of Reason”—the most widely read political essays of the 18th century, works that established the standards by which rebellion is morally and legally permissible. We will ask whether the conditions for revolt set by Paine have been met with the rise of the corporate state. Should Paine’s call for the overthrow of British tyranny inspire our own call for revolution? And if it should, to echo Vladimir Lenin, what must be done?
Thomas Paine is America’s one great revolutionary theorist. We have produced a slew of admirable anarchists—Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Dorothy Day and Noam Chomsky—and radical leaders have arisen out of oppressed groups—Sitting Bull, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Cornel West and bell hooks—but we don’t have a tradition of revolutionists. This makes Paine unique.
Paine’s brilliance as a writer—his essay “Common Sense” is one of the finest pieces of rhetorical writing in the English language—is matched by his clear and unsentimental understanding of British imperial power. No revolutionist can challenge power if he or she does not grasp how power works. This makes Sheldon Wolin’s book “Democracy Incorporated” and his concept of “inverted totalitarianism” as important to us today as Paine’s writings on the nature of the British monarchy were in 1776. Continue reading