The irony of Common Sense

Our favorite FOX News personality, Glenn Beck, has a new book out. In tribute to Thomas Paine’s brilliant pamphlet of the same name, it’s called “Common Sense.” Or, to be more specific, it’s called “Glenn Beck’s Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine.” Which, I guess, from a marketing perspective, is pretty cool, as it will no doubt get self-professed patriots to hand over their ammo money by the sweaty, white fist-full. Of course, it has little or nothing to do with what Paine actually believed. In fact, for the most part, it’s the opposite. At least that’s the opinion of this Amazon reviewer:

Well, I just finished Glenn Beck’s “Common Sense,” which, according to Beck, was “Inspired by Thomas Paine.” Beck has clearly never truly read Thomas Paine and knows very little about him, his history, or his beliefs. For many readers, pages one to seven seem to make a lot of sense. There are some general and specific criticisms about government spending and corruption in Congress I agree with. Who wouldn’t? But Beck’s attempt to connect his neo-conservative positions with Founding Father Thomas Paine is shockingly ignorant of both Paine and American history.

Beck uses this book – and Paine’s name – to criticize “Progressivism,” blaming it for much of what ails the country. Sadly, this is a complete distortion of Paine’s legacy. While the extent of most Americans’ knowledge of Paine is “he wrote Common Sense, I teach his work in class every year. I use “The Crisis” and selections from “The Rights of Man” and “Age of Reason.” If you want to understand Paine and his vision for America, you should read them. Beck doesn’t understand Paine, but he does want to use the credibility of “The Founding Fathers” to promote an anti-government message.

Far from opposing “progressivism,” Thomas Paine is one of the original “Progressives,” though at the time he was called a radical for his liberal views. He is commonly associated with the origins of American liberalism. “Common Sense” was one small piece of his work – it was a pamphlet simply designed to encourage revolution against Britain. Paine later clearly outlined his vision of what he thought American government should look like. This is where Beck falls off the apple cart.

Beck uses this book to openly criticize progressive taxation, public education, social security, and “the progressive agenda.” But readers should know something – Thomas Paine was one of the earliest advocates of progressive taxation, even drawing up tables and rates.

He was also the first proponent of the estate tax. And in Agrarian Justice he proposed a democratic ideal to combat poverty and income inequality by taxing the wealthy to give jobs and “grants” to young people. He also proposed using this system to provide government-sponsored pensions for the elderly. Historians cite Paine’s Agrarian Justice as the earliest call for a national old-age pension – ie. Social Security. He wanted to tax the rich and give money to the poor….

I know it’s difficult to plan for such things, but, tonight, I hope I dream of Paine meeting Beck in heaven and really giving him something to cry about.

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9 Comments

  1. Max
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I don’t know that the reviewer’s take on Payne is completely right, but it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is that most of Beck’s readers haven’t read Common Sense, let alone the other works of Payne, and Beck’s publishers know that. They used “Common Sense” because the phrase resonated with Beck’s viewers, who feel as though they don’t need to know the facts in order to be right on an issue. They feel as though everything can be decided based on good, old “common sense.” That’s nonsense of course, but they don’t care. The publisher just wants to sell books, and it’s a perfect title to attract a certain kind of reader. If I were Tom Payne, I’d be pissed.

  2. Mike
    Posted August 19, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to comment off topic, but I can’t find your e-mail address. I really think somebody ought to fire off a little note to the proprietor of the new “Korey’s Krispy Krunchy Chicken”. Something along the lines of:

    To whom it may koncern:

    I have recently become kognizant of a new restaurant kalled “Korey’s Krispy Krunchy Chicken” at the korner of Pearl and Washington streets in Ypsilanti’s kommercial district. While klearly you have konceived of a klever, katchy name for your kompany, I would kontend that it may konstitute kause for koncern. I do not kare to kreate a kontroversy or a kommotion; I only kovet your kautious konsideration, as a kollection of three “K”s konnotes a kontempible klub of kreepy kriminals, konnate to the Konfederacy. Your klientele will more kontentedly konsume your klassic kajun chicken if you kontemplate the kancellation the “K” in “Korey”, or on the kontrary, koncatenate another word komparable to “Krazee” to kogently kommunicate to the kommunity. If you komply, I am konfident that kustomers will kluster at your door and klamor for great kuantities of your kuality komestibles. Konsequently, you will be kongratulated and kommended and you will karry on a kolossal kareer.

    Kordially,
    A koncerned kitizen

  3. Posted August 19, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    The correct place for it is probably one of last year’s fried chicken threads. Like this one. But, thank you. It’s good to know there’s more chicken in town.

    And I can’t believe that no one has run in to Beck’s defense on this one. I thought for sure that EOS, or someone else, would jump in to say that Payne, had he lived today, would have been a birther, screaming at a town hall meeting about Nazis.

  4. James Madison
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    I have read the works of Thomas Paine, and I knew him too; and although I found him to be a irksome person, he was one of the creators of the idea that the people are themselves sovereign, and it’s plain that this Beck character has no idea what Paine stood for. His appropriation of the title of the most influential political book in the history of the world — yes, I make that claim and mean it — shows Beck to be an intellectually dishonest. Paine was for government being constituted to advance the well being of humanity.

  5. James Madison
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    Thomas Paine was a true radical revolutionary, far more so than me. Interesting tidbit: he died in a tavern in Greenwich Village, in 1809 I think. it’s near where the gay rights Stonewall rebellion of 1969 took place, and the tavern became a gay bar in the late 20th century. Tom embraces gay rights, in death, but as a living person it was not then a political issue

  6. Carl
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    I have two serious questions… Where would Thomas Payne stand on human-puppet marriages? And, would he approve of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne (Wednesdays at 8:00 on TBS)?

    http://www.tbs.com/shows/houseofpayne.jsp

  7. Kevin
    Posted August 21, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I would love to travel through time, get Thomas Payne, and bring him back to 2009 with me, so that he could see House of Payne being filmed. It would make a great documentary.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRjTpLEenrE

  8. Mark H.
    Posted August 22, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Paine’s “Common Sense”, published in early 1776, was nearly universally read by literate Americans in the 13 colonies, in the next 6 months, and it laid out the first broadly argued attacks on British rule, not just for violating “the rights of British subjects”, but more fundamentally for “monarchy” in all its forms being a violation of “common sense”. Hence, said Paine, it was absurd for Americans to be subject of any King and the colonies should be free, a new and independent country. His plain spoken powerful analysis won the day, and turned opinion toward Independence. Later, Paine — who’d been an immigrant from England just a few years before the Revolution began – advocated the unicameral legislature, price controls, and equality of the vote for adult males, issues on which his stands were far more radical than that of most of the Founding Fathers. He had little respect for the rights of property compared “The Rights of Man” — title of another one of his great pamphlets. Glen Beck no more resembles the values or methods of Tom Paine than does a kitchen table represent the passion and intelligence of Barney Frank.

  9. Me
    Posted August 23, 2009 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    “And I can’t believe that no one has run in to Beck’s defense on this one. I thought for sure that EOS, or someone else, would jump in to say that Payne, had he lived today, would have been a birther, screaming at a town hall meeting about Nazis.”
    Mark, you really are begging for someone to channel Thomas Paine on your own blog. We already have one docent. I am just warning you.

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