Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

Around twenty years ago, I first read ‘The Rights of Man.’

The ’80s were as casually political as the Noughties are “ironically” apathetic. Hell, we even had a pop band called The Communards in the charts. At that time, I was trying to read as much revolutionary writing as possible, vainly trying to catch up with my far-better educated comrades in the Militant. They’d casually toss around references to ‘Leviathan,’ Kollontai and Connolly and I’d sagely nod along, pretending I knew what the hell they were on about.

Chronic ignorance is suckled by embarrassment.

But, eventually, I cracked out the books. Paine, Rousseau, Trotsky and the other usual suspects. Then, I moved onto less orthodox texts: Proudhon, Reich, Fanon, Dworkin.

Tonight, I started re-reading ‘The Rights of Man’ and I remembered why I enjoyed it so much the first time round. Though it was written 215 years ago, it’s still current, still shockingly contemporary. And it’s not turgid and worthy: it’s light and dynamic, raising smiles as well as furrowing your brow.

I thought the following quote was particularly apt for the current political situation:

That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of Nations, is as shocking as it is true; but when those who are concerned in the government of a country, make it their study to sow discord and cultivate prejudices between Nations, it becomes the more unpardonable.
(Source: The Rights Of Man)

Hmmm…sound familiar?