I meant to post this much earlier but I’ve been…er…hard at work…playing Skyward Sword…but I’m taking a break from it for a few days to catch up on actual work I’ve been meaning to get to and this is first on my list! With that said let’s wrap up the last chapter and concluding remarks (the Appendix I mean) from Common Sense. My concluding thoughts on Common Sense are likely to be posted either sometime this week (to make up for the delay in posts) or early next week so stay posted!
Chapter 4: Of the Present Ability of America: With some Miscellaneous Remarks
Full disclosure here: This isn’t a very exciting chapter to really read. What I mean by that (and perhaps this is one of the main things lacking about reading this book now) is that it’s painfully obvious that it was meant for its time and not especially for any other. What I mean by this is that Paine basically lays out throughout the chapter why American can win if they revolt but debating or discussing his points in any depth seem like a waste of time to me. It’s obvious either way that whatever advantages the US had it was enough in the end to win and to defeat the British. Furthermore the Appendix isn’t much better. It’s just lot of repeated remarks from the book itself with some name calling and dismissal of the idea of kings and princes (which again Paine has already done).
Now I understand for that time these were ideas that Paine needed to reinforce constantly but that just proves my point, it was made for that time. For Americans this whole debate is a point of historical mootness (I made that word up probably but you know what I mean). This is because the whole topic of having kings or not is a ridiculous debate in the modern context. This doesn’t mean (nor am I suggesting) that these appeals to basic reason (ya know…Common Sense) aren’t a good reminder or that they’d serve no purpose in modern discourse but I think almost anyone would agree with me that it’s certainly not as useful as it used to be which again just makes my point.
Overall the whole idea of saying why American can actually win is a great idea on Paine’s part (even if it’s an obvious one for a conclusion) and none of this is to say he did it poorly. I read over the chapter twice and never saw any big problems or holes with it which just gives me even less of a good reason to really squabble over this or that or really analyze it. Now of course I could still make some sort of analysis about it anyways about what I liked and disliked the most and least and in between and so on and then explain why but I feel as if most of his points were fine enough and don’t really need elaboration on it. And besides all of that while I may love history (which is one big reason I’m even reading this to begin with) I’m not a big history nerd either who’d know whether how much of what Paine said was right or not but as I’ve pointed out already, it doesn’t matter since the US won. If you’re trying to make some larger point about Paine’s style of argumentation or some of his basic assumptions then I could see it working but I for one have no problems with a lot of those things, thus I have little if any quarrel with much of this chapter and the Appendix thus giving me much less to talk about.
However I would like to conclude these preemptive remarks by saying that I do have two things I’d like to comment on.
2. Debt as a “glorious memento”
One of these things is probably the weirdest things I think Paine has said in Common Sense,
“Debts we have none: and whatever we may contract on this [war for independence] will serve as a glorious memento of our virtue. … The debt we may contract doth not deserve our regard, if the work be but accomplished. A national debt is a national bond; and when it bears no interest, is in no case a grievance.” (pp. 44-45)
This quote stuck out to me for obvious reasons but to explicitly say them I’m just confused how owing people things in large debt shows some sort of great memory. Is that because it was for the sake of liberty that it is a “glorious memento”? But even then debt shouldn’t be heralded as something to strive towards and if there was a way for the costs to be dispersed, decentralized or more evenly distributed, etc. then I think Paine would probably take it and not assert such odd notions of what debt should mean. Why is it odd? Well it just seems odd that Paine would be so hyper-nationalistic here, to the point of saying debt is a good student loan debt in particular here and the scam that college largely is).
It’s interesting Paine says that a national debt is a sort of bond because that’s exactly what debts are on such a scale: bondage. They’re more specifically economic bondage usually propagated by the privileged and use it to specifically reel in the oppressed to try and convince them their less so and actually have great opportunities and without them where would they be? But of course this is just what Harry Browne talked about when he said,
“Government is good at one thing: It knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch, and say, “See, if it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk.”‘
Of course I doubt Browne understood that this is how government operates at all levels (including minarchistic ones) and it’s precisely because it must. But then I suppose Paine wouldn’t either.
3. Concluding Thoughts on Chapter 4 and Appendix
The two other major sections of this chapter aren’t worth talking about at any great length. They mainly concern the idea of the US having a navy and ideas that Paine has already talked about that I’ve contested (his ideals for government. Unfortunately the Appendix is more or less that same thing: Paine repeating his case for American independence with no real new arguments or things of substance at all. He just rehashes the same framework to chalk out different arguments. So there’s not much of note going on here.
As for the rest, there’s not much to say about it. I didn’t get much out of it and anything I did was (again) just rehashed from before. So there’s not much left to really talk about I’ll cut this short and just let you guys know that I’ve enjoyed this series thus far and the last part to this (I guess what turned out to be) five part kick off will be finished sometime soon hopefully!
See you then!