Though I tried not to have this post center around disagreements as much as the last one did and more on general observations and remarks there are of course still going to be disagreements in these posts. I’m also trying to see if I can make it easier to determine different sections of these blog posts for easier reading and so I’ll be experimenting with different models until I find the best one.
One last note: These posts will be weekly so this series should end before January and then perhaps some concluding thoughts on “Common Sense” before the next week when I start a new book. But that’s just some ideas, nothing is concrete yet!
Chapter 2: Monarchy and Hereditary Succession
Part I: Monarchy
1. True Equality?
So to start off Paine starts talking about the “equality through creation” that man has. Now of course, I (again) object to this idea of man being created instead of creating themselves (existentialism of course being a philosophy I ascribe to I especially reject this, though I know those are two different ideas of “creating”). But not only that but I’d think that if the equality of man if (for the sake of argument) is universal and natural and can outweigh arguments for certain types of authority why not governments in general? I submit this is likely because this sort of equality (the other liberty) is an unknown ideal both then and unfortunately now. I think that should change personally which is one reason why I am a left-libertarian. Nonetheless the basic point is that if Paine was consistent he would’ve been an anarchist and taken this equality of man under nature much further.
2. Can Riches be made Through Non-Oppressive Means?
Paine says the following,
“…the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance; the distinctions of rich and poor, may in a great measure be accounted for, and that without having recourse to the harsh ill sounding names of avarice and oppression. Oppression is often the consequence, but seldom or never means of riches; and though avarice will preserve a man from being necessitously poor, it generally makes him to timorous to be wealthy.” (p. 9)
But how true is this? Well, when we look at the time Paine was living in it was certainly more true than now I think. Back when Paine was living if you were going to make your riches off of oppression it’d probably be pretty obvious (kingship, slavery, the use of class divides to justify demeaning relations between nobles and peasants and the feudal lords and peasants, etc. and Paine opposed these things…though I wouldn’t say they were “seldom” done…) but in today’s day it’s not so obviously so.
For example the very oft cited example of corporations using the state to get monopolized profits by anarchists is a pretty good example of profits gotten through oppressive (governmental) means in less obvious ways.
But how can you get a lot of money through non-oppressive means?
Well Paine gets it right here when he says it seldom or never happens. The relations between the peasants and the upper class was historically built on demeaning statuses and economic divides that was built on privileges granted by the king just like the corporations are granted privileges through the state. Otherwise how does one get to such a level of corporate status?
On a side note it also seems to me to be highly unlikely that corporations would exist without government privileges, protection, regulations that hurt the little guy more than the big ones and so on. So in present day society and the days in which Paine lived in oppression does seem to come from the most rich having that power but it also seems to have been one of their biggest aids in getting there as well in the case of some of the biggest corporations who use government privilege. So I think Paine is partly right and partly wrong here.
To be fair though I think it’d be pretty hard to get a lot of wealth off of oppressive relations without a government (though it’s obviously still possible and should be protested against through social and economic pressures). I tend to think as a left-libertarian that people with lots of wealth (lots of wealth like Bill Gates, etc.) are certainly de facto worthy of skepticism of how they got so much money. Can you really tell me they got all of that money through their own hard work? Did they use others? Did they use the state? How did they get so much wealth? Shouldn’t competition have made it so they got less than that due the splitting of profits and the costs of increasing productions and development in order to outdo the competition? So while it’s possible in a truly freed society to get a lot of riches without oppression I certainly think a skepticism of people’s means should be more into play than Paine is applying here.
3. Kings and Subjects vs. Rulers and Ruled
Paine instead posits that the key difference is between kings and subjects and this artificial division between man has been a horrible mistake. However, as with the issue of Paine’s idea of equality I think he could have taken this much farther.
How is the whole notion of there being rulers and ruled people a natural notion? It certainly doesn’t seem like a natural notion since most of human recorded history has been in relatively anarchic and egalitarian relations and not authoritarian ones. In fact it’s only when these authoritarian ones are artificially imposed from within or (what tends to happen) from outside is when major artificial class divisions starts happening. On these differences Paine says,
“Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad, the distictions of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth inquiring into, and whether the are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind.” (p.9)
Well it’s debatable how a lot of the distinctions between men and women are actually natural or mostly based on social constructs, the environment, incentive structures and the evolution of man and women as their own genders. This would of course go into a study of gender roles which I’m not too prepared to do and don’t intend to do as of right now but I think it’s worth noting that questions certainly can be raised on how “natural” these divisions actually are.
And of course he could raise these same questions about his idea of “natural legislators”…but he won’t of course.
4. Citing Scripture
A general observation (and one that’s obvious from the get go and even before this chapter but especially in this one) is that Paine constantly cites the bible, makes biblical references, talks about God, heaven, creation, etc. Yet later in his life Paine would be described as an “atheist” and “heretic” for writing “The Age of Reason”. So I just thought it was interesting to note how clear it is that in one of his most famous work that he is clearly a theist (or deist) of some sort.
5. Without Monarchy there’d be no Wars?
Right off the bat Paine makes an odd assertion,
“In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology, there were no kings; the consequences of which was there were no wars; it is the pride of kings which throws mankind into confusion.” (p. 9)
I’m unsure why exactly Paine is only using the history of the world from the scripture to say this. Weren’t there any historians he could’ve sent letters to? I know technology and knowledge in general was very limited compared to what we have now by an infinite amount but still I find it puzzling. Why would Paine just assert it based on this?
And even if we were to take the scripture as true why would this necessarily be the case? Why would people not have wars without kings? I’m fairly certain tribes thorughout history had their skirmishes and battles and perhaps even wars. I’m not an anthropologist so I may as well not even have as good of a response to Paine as Paine had an assertion. But it does seem odd at the very least that Paine seems to treat kings as the only sort of reason for why people would kill or go into wars to begin with in any case. As history tells us, long after Paine is dead, this isn’t the case.
6. Noting Paine’s use of the word “Heathens”
Throughout the first few pages Paine makes reference to the first people who had kings as “heathens”. Now of course if he’s using this to mean uncivilized then that’s just an ad hominem or at best a rude description. But if he means something else it’s not entirely clear what it is. What’s even stranger is that the word heathen is capitalized at first but then returned to a lowercase word. It’s possible (and even pretty likely to me upon further review) he’s referring to some other religion or something I’m just not aware of. He mentions in this chapter that the people who did accept kings were forsaking God and are “impious” so I think he means more of “godless” people then uncivilized people. Then again, for some theists (and even deists perhaps) “godless” people are in some way inferior to people who believe in Gods so either way it could be that Paine means these people are brutes or just plain old inferior.
7. The Authority of Scripture vs. Nature of Man
One thing that bugs me about this whole “nature” argument Paine makes is that if monarchy is the “unnatural” way to go why did it flourish? Paine would say because the pride of kings “confuses people” (as I’ve already pointed out) but why would the pride of kings (it’s more their power than their pride in my opinion anyways) confuse the natural state of man? If it’s so natural why didn’t it hold out? These flaws are probably some of the reasons why I don’t tend to make my case for anarchism on any sort of “natural” case.
Sure, I’ll say that on the whole I think people with the right system of incentive’s, environment, culture, up-bringing and so on will tend to support anarchism but that’s not something “natural”. In fact that’s something that people are trying to create in society, if anything it’s another artificial construction based on structures of thought and action that we as anarchists think will yield the most benefits for the most amount of people. But either way if people want to make their case for anarchism based on “nature” they can I guess (as I said most of recorded history is built on societies and communities that largely incorporated anarchic ideas) but it’s generally not something I do and Paine tends to prove why.
Now the authority of the scripture is really no better for me since I’m an atheist. So what argument should Paine have made instead? I think he would have been better off making consequentialist arguments as well as actually solid deontological ones (which I think do exist, they just tend to be very few in number by my experience if their not flexible and progressive). Paine instead rested on the nonsense of “naturalism” and gods.
8. “Render Unto Caesar”
I suppose in order to make sure that he’s not misinterpreted into saying that the scriptures don’t support any authority at all (which is debatable from what I know) Paine says,
“Render unto Cesar the thing that which are Cesar’s is the scripture doctrine of the courts yet it is no support of monarchical governments…” (p. 10)
But even the courts or government in general being justified under this could be questions through scripture. Take for example the question of whether Jesus (who said that phrase) was an anarchist or not. Some say he was and if so then perhaps “Give Nothing Unto Caesar” would be a better phrase.
Regardless though, I don’t find appealing to scripture or what Jesus is this day of the week or anything like that worthwhile argument to make. For people who can make them, care about them and think they’re compelling (like the natural arguments for anarchism) then cool. If it gets more people into anarchism then why not? But as an atheist I couldn’t care less either way. And for the record the only point of making note about this is just to further undermine Paine’s arguments for justifying governments of any sort.
9. What is a “National Delusion” and If God is so Loving then…
The idea of a “national delusion” is introduced when Paine says,
“Near three thousand years passed away from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews, under a national delusion, requested a king.” (p. 10)
I’m curious exactly what a national delusion is and why it happened? Again, how could the natural state of man (equality) be disrupted by war if it’s…natural? I suppose natural doesn’t mean eternal but rather that it’s the state that man excels best at perhaps? Either way this would make a lot more sense but to have the best state of man overturned by a war, a charismatic general and 100 years before they try to have a king again doesn’t speak well of how well this so called “nature” holds up or how effective it actually is. Either way there’s no talk about how to prevent this only that God will forsake them and they deserved it and so on and so forth.
On the matter of God, God apparently thinks by asking for kings that they have forsaken his rule though…can I say God is being logically fallacious? Well anyways I guess that’s what I’m gonna have to do because why couldn’t the Jews have worshiped both the kings and God? What is so impossible about that? Obviously it’s not likely as to get worship as if God by itself but either way what does it matter? Why does God care if some forsake him and why should that forsake the entire Jewish race? God’s not only logically fallacious but a collectivist!
Ok…but in all seriousness this is some pretty silly stuff and I can’t help but poke fun at the obvious (to me) ridiculousness of this whole scenario. The idea that God would care what people chose as a political system only reveals (in these scriptures) the lack of political choice God is affording people. Some free will! Either worship God and only God or burn!
Now make no mistake about it I am not defending kings or monarchy (of course) but I’m just trying to bring out the absolute silliness of this whole scenario and why it just seems so logically improbable. God literally says to Samuel (allegedly),
“Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected, me, THAT I SHOULD NOT REIGN OVER THEM.” (p. 10)
So apparently God is logically fallacious, a collectivist, very possessive and likes using ALL CAPS (Billy Mays style!). God then mentions that the Jews have also worshiped other Gods besides him (again, who knew God was so possessive?) but never specifies who, why, when or for what.
Furthermore God doesn’t specify whether all Jews did it or just some of them.
So again, it appears as if the Jews are just being collectivized by what is probably only a majority or wealthy minority acting out. It all just seems so very unfair for a God that’s supposedly all loving, caring, etc. Apparently God made people fear him through thunder and rain (wiping out their crops)…so yeah, so much for caring huh? It’s also interesting to note that if kings ever backed up their demands through violence or government in general did or people did Paine would speak out against it but he does nothing of protest here. He just states the obvious that God doesn’t like monarchs or kings.
“Well besides that Mrs. Lincoln how was the play?”
Anyways that’s enough on god for now.
10. Paine…I get what you’re trying to do but…
So it’s obvious Paine is trying to make his case against monarchs not only based on nature (which has for me failed and even if it succeeded it should’ve been taken much farther) and based on scripture (which failed even worse). But unfortunately for Paine in my eyes neither of these assertions or the basis thereof make him look terribly good.
The natural argument makes him look naive’ and the argument from scripture makes him look like strict theist who doesn’t mind if god is violent, tyrannical, backs its threats up with violence and so on but for that same reason protests the kings. So it not only makes Paine look like an authoritarian but a pretty selective one who doesn’t mind if god intervenes in personal affairs. So…I’m unsure that Paine was a deist at all let alone someone who was very much consistent on his belief of liberty.
Don’t get me wrong, again I’ll say a lot of what Paine says it at least attempted to be backed up and sounds a whole of a lot better than what most people seem to favor these days (especially those in congress, etc.) but unfortunately it’s naive to the core. And not only that but Paine’s theism makes him look like a religious authoritarian, someone who relies on a god who is entirely relying on fallacies to make judgements on an entire race on people.
Sorry Paine, but I’m not interested in your governments, arguments here or your god.
Part II: Hereditary Succession
The Origin of Kings seems Familiar…
Paine writes on the origins of kings that,
“…it is more than probable, that could we take off the dark covering of antiquity, and trace them to their first rise, we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose savage manners, or pre-eminence in subtility obtained him the title of chief among plunderers; and who by increasing in power, and extending his depredations, overawe the quiet and defenceless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions.” (p. 15)
Wow, that sounds pretty much word for word what the anarchist historical account of how the state originated. Through the most powerful thieves! So again, it just seems like Paine’s critiques of power are just a few steps back from being the anarchist ones. It’s disappointing, frustrating and of course interesting to see this time and time again.
2. What about the Natives?
I’m unsure it was the wisest thing in the world to bring this up. Why? Well first let’s review what he says,
“A French bastard landing with an armed bandittie, and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original.” (p. 16)
So why isn’t this the wisest thing to do? Well it sort of begs the question of what Paine thinks about America to me and how it was founded. What about landing with steel, germs and a mindset for war against “heathens” and taking over the natives land through direct violence? Forget about overthrowing governments but slaughtering people, upsetting orders, traditions, and not bothering to learn their culture.
Now I’m not saying the natives were angels and obviously the germs part were never intended to kill the natives. But either way that doesn’t justify the seizure of their lands that they were using and occupying. Nonetheless I’m curious about what Paine would think of it. I’m somewhat inclined to (unfortunately) think he’d either brush it off or just diminish the perils of “heathens” as he’s already done before as I’ve noted in part I.
3. You Won’t Disturb Them?
Paine has an odd statement that I was especially puzzled at,
“However, it is needless to spend much time in exposing the folly of hereditary right, if there are any so weak as to believe it, let them promsciously worship the ass and the lion, and welcome. I shall neither copy their humility, nor disturb their devotion.” (p. 16, emphasis mine)
How does this make any sense? Why wouldn’t you disturb them? The idea that there should coercion based authority at all is a dangerous one let alone the idea that we should have kings. So why wouldn’t you say something to these people? Would you just allow them to keep speaking as if they and everyone around them need these horrific controls that you tell us yourself eventually leads to a massive loss of lives? I’d hope not. But in fact you state right after you say that last line that,
“…I should be glad to ask how they suppose kings came at first.”
Well…isn’t this disturbing their devotion? Wouldn’t this impact their devotion or energy they put into the idea of needing kings? Why wouldn’t it? If you can prove kings can only and have only come through illegitimate violence then I don’t see how these two statements go together. Am I missing something here?
The thick libertarian in me especially objects to not wanting to “disturb” people for holding mistaken beliefs.
I’m sorry (not sorry), but I’m not going to let everyone stand around and believe the world is flat while we could be exploring the whole damn world.
Human progress shall always be harmed, lessened and furthermore undermined as long as we allow misconceptions to not only exist but to go to other people and impact culture in huge ways. This in turn paves the way and fertilizes the ground for future oppression based on misconceptions. Obviously the idea that the world was flat violated no one’s rights and it certainly was not an aggression against anyone yet it still most likely did much damage to the progress of human knowledge insofar as this belief was widespread enough to do so. I have the same issues with bigotry and class superiority, religious superiority and other such ideas for similar reasons.
4. Government and Wars
Again, Paine seems to believe (pp. 18-19) that the amount of wars are a major cause for alarm for the monarchical government. But if that’s so then what does this say about the governments of today? Of the so called “democratic” governments? Democide in the 19th an 20th century is in the multi-millions and that’s probably much more than the kings ever did…though obviously that’s just speculation on my part but due to technological, population-wise and general increases in the world since then it seems like a plausible bare assertion to me to make.
5. Concluding Thoughts on Paine’s Critiques of Monarchy
Overall I think it’s much more efficient when Paine focuses on why monarchies don’t work when he focuses on things like the distance between monarchs and their subjects then on the “nature” or “scripture” arguments. The more mechanical arguments including the modification of KISS Principle, (again) the idea of monarchs not having enough knowledge to be useful, the wars they tend to cause, the way they tend to come about (through violence, maintained through violence, etc.) and the arguments against hereditary are pretty much no-brainers for the most part. So those all work rather well. Most of the arguments on hereditary are in fact more appeals from nature, etc. so that’s why I didn’t respond to them. Otherwise, like I said, I generally found it a no-brainer subject and answer.
Overall, does Paine make a good case? Well since monarchy is so utterly rejected by now in the culture and society of America and pretty much globally (except by maybe some nut-jobs here and there) then I can’t really say Paine needed to do a better job than he did. And even if he doesn’t live up to my standards clearly the Americans of the day largely thought otherwise so I suppose it doesn’t matter either way.
That’s all for now! Next week I’ll be discussing Chapter 3: Thoughts on the Present State of the American Affair!