“…taxes are not raised to carry on wars, but that wars are raised to carry on taxes”
Every so often I get the urge to read one of those seminal books that have helped shape the world as we know it today. The Rights of Man definitely fits the bill in that respect.
The book is split into two parts, the first detailing the goings on of the French revolution and the second is a treatise on social reforms helping the common people actually live their lives and not just exist due to the whims of big business and politicians.
Having got this book as part of an epic birthday present containing many book related items, I had that certain fear of wondering how impenetrable the language would be, especially as this was by far the most Erudite book I received that year but a quick read reassured me it was all understandable. Like usual and like i suspect most people, I did myself down for a while assuming it would go over my head when, lets face it we are all more intelligent than we give ourselves credit for…ego restored I read on…
Part one is a response to Irish politician Edmund Burke’s pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France – which argued that the French Rev. would fail because it was based on abstract concepts – and explains with a healthy amount of bias – in this readers eyes anyway – how noble the revolutionaries were and how bad the nobility had become. the latter, of course is undoubtedly true whereas the writings on the former make this band of radicals the most justified in history without any hint of atrocities which is really just to difficult to accept.
Part two, which was released a year later is a drier affair talking of social reforms, such as the introduction of social security, the abolition of a maximum wage, democracy and the safeguarding of certain rights that everybody should be entitled to. Paine wanted everyone to be able to understand what he was saying and cause debate, so wrote the both parts in common language and not the needlessly flowery language so beloved by lawyers and politicians. The British government actually tried the author for Treason, for his highly seditious act of wanting the public to have proper rights…
It doesn’t take long to read this book and the first part was fascinating reading, an eye-witness to events that were happening at the time. The rhetoric is gung-ho and no holds barred but nonetheless comes over as highly rational and not as rabid as some of the articles today’s less balanced writers spew out. Part two may be of limited interest to the casual reader but is fascinating as a historical document and to see how governments have built upon, or in some case diluted the rights of working class.
For a man of his times, albeit an influential reformer, Paine doesn’t bother with women’s rights strangely, making his examination of democracy slightly lopsided, the title in this case says it all. This can’t take away from what is a landmark work though, one which should be of interest for anyone wanting to understand the evolution of politics and human rights.