Friday, January 11, 2008

Thomas Paine, fascist?

The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine is one of the greatest democratic polemics ever written and is considered one of the definitive arguments in favor of the American style of democratic experiment.

Lesser known, however, is that within that text Paine sketches out a plan for a welfare system in Britain. So, according to Neal Boortz, the man who convinced the colonies to declare their independence, coined the phrase "United States of America", and risked his life in three countries across two continents in order to defend the principles of liberty upon which this nation was founded was a fascist.

And what's more, since Paine was poor most of his adult life despite being the best selling author of his day* and believed in a system of social security he would not have been a full citizen under Boortz's conception of how America should run.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Paine had anticipated brutes such as Boortz, and offered a response in "Dissertation on the first principles of government" (1795): "It is always to be taken for granted, that those who oppose an equality of rights never mean the exclusion should take place on themselves."

Or more specifically:

The true and only true basis of representative government is equality of rights. Every man has a right to one vote, and no more in the choice of representatives. The rich have no more right to exclude the poor from the right of voting, or of electing and being elected, than the poor have to exclude the rich; and wherever it is attempted, or proposed, on either side, it is a question of force and not of right. Who is he that would exclude another? That other has a right to exclude him.
And regarding granting voting rights on the basis of wealth:

In any view of the case it is dangerous and impolitic, sometimes ridiculous, and always unjust to make property the criterion of the right of voting. If the sum or value of the property upon which the right is to take place be considerable it will exclude a majority of the people and unite them in a common interest against the government and against those who support it; and as the power is always with the majority, they can overturn such a government and its supporters whenever they please.

If, in order to avoid this danger, a small quantity of property be fixed, as the criterion of the right, it exhibits liberty in disgrace, by putting it in competition with accident and insignificance. When a broodmare shall fortunately produce a foal or a mule that, by being worth the sum in question, shall convey to its owner the right of voting, or by its death take it from him, in whom does the origin of such a right exist? Is it in the man, or in the mule? When we consider how many ways property may be acquired without merit, and lost without crime, we ought to spurn the idea of making it a criterion of rights.

But the offensive part of the case is that this exclusion from the right of voting implies a stigma on the moral character of the persons excluded; and this is what no part of the community has a right to pronounce upon another part. No external circumstance can justify it: wealth is no proof of moral character; nor poverty of the want of it.

On the contrary, wealth is often the presumptive evidence of dishonesty; and poverty the negative evidence of innocence. If therefore property, whether little or much, be made a criterion, the means by which that property has been acquired ought to be made a criterion also.
Are the any circumstances in which someone should lose their right to vote?

The only ground upon which exclusion from the right of voting is consistent with justice would be to inflict it as a punishment for a certain time upon those who should propose to take away that right from others. The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected.

To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case. The proposal therefore to disfranchise any class of men is as criminal as the proposal to take away property.

When we speak of right we ought always to unite with it the idea of duties; rights become duties by reciprocity. The right which I enjoy becomes my duty to guarantee it to another, and he to me; and those who violate the duty justly incur a forfeiture of the right.

In a political view of the case, the strength and permanent security of government is in proportion to the number of people interested in supporting it. The true policy therefore is to interest the whole by an equality of rights, for the danger arises from exclusions. It is possible to exclude men from the right of voting, but it is impossible to exclude them from the right of rebelling against that exclusion; and when all other rights are taken away the right of rebellion is made perfect.
*Paine sacrificed personal profit in order to ensure his work would reach a wide audience at the lowest cost possible.

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