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on 5 July 1999
The Rights of Man is a riposte to Edmund Burke's criticism of the French Revolution. Its message is the superiority of reason, in the form of Republican government armed with the Declaration of the Rights of Man, over despotism which holds populations in ignorance. With the American and French revolutions fresh in his mind, Paine was writing in a world on the threshold of freedom and that comes through in his forceful and forthright style. That said, and most important for the reader to appreciate, much of what he has to say still applies today. Paine in scathing in his critique of hereditary monarchy and privilege. He says "the idea of hereditary legislation absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man." He rejects the notion of government laws being justified by tradition and therefore irrevocable. His argument against Burke's defence of the 1688 revolution in England is perhaps the best in the book. Paine argues that the only thing that is truly hereditary is the Rights of Man : "The Rights of men in society, are neither devisable, nor transferrable, nor annihilable, but descendable only." The book is a superb polemic when both understood in its historical context and applied to world politics today. His arguments for reform of the House of Lords strike a particularly pertinent note. He expresses liberal doctrines that many people take for granted but in our own genocidal times Paine reminds us that many of the topics that impassioned him should continue to impassion everyone with an interest in humanity. The style of the writing may put off a few as many themes disappear and reappear throughout the book instead of being dealt with in a coherant whole. The fact that it was written in two parts and that he is one of the greatest pamphleteers of modern times should compensate for this minor irritation.
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on 7 April 2015
Democracy, independence, economic growth, people's revolution and taxation as a means of redistributing wealth — all these are commonly accepted by 'the left' and it is interesting to read the thoughts of an Cl8th radical and see how these ideas were being thought afresh.

The Quaker belief in egalitarianism, in man who does not need priests to mediate and who has the inner light of conscience contribute to his thought.

That he wasn't formerly educated means he can think freely without the crippling weight of tradition behind him. His writings are original and do not cite large bibliographies and think the thoughts of other men after them. ‘I scarcely ever quote; the reason is I always think.'

His analytical treatment of political affairs shows indebtedness to an Enlightenment view of the natural order of the world. It anticipates a Hegelian view of history and Marx's class—war idea.

It is encouraging that he accepts, unlike most socialists, the right to have private property, provided that it has been gained by one's own labour and not inherited.

His acceptance of war as a means to gain justice for the poor but not as a means of dynastic extension anticipates much later thinking; he is strongly influenced by the French and American Revolutions.

Marx is clearly anticipated when Paine regards work as the one thing that the peasant is able to sell as a commodity.

Interestingly, those who oppose Paine are from the same classes as those who vote Tory today — the merchants and manufacturers whose rights are threatened, rind those who believe in a mystical church—state relationship.

Parliament must represent taxpayers and not be hereditary; a man does not inherit ability from his father. Hereditary government is an extension of the Norman Conquest.

Where laws are bad, it is better to obey them and struggle to have them changed than to flagrantly break them.

He reckons than the monarchy will disappear within seven years because the American constitution is abundantly, obviously better. He regards America as an example, as was Athens, of the ideal polis. Sadly we still have a House of Lords and an emasculated but expensive monarchy and America is probably a bad example of democracy in that large interests such as multinational companies manipulate the politics of that country so that it does not represent the interests of ordinary people and its world dominance is a theat to peace and to life itself.

He saw state intervention as something that should be kept to a minimum - men are able to organise their affairs by themselves. In this he anticipates the 'withering away of the state' idea and is opposed to the increasing intervention by the state which has become a feature of both socialism and capitalism. Maybe his view of man, based on Genesis, was too optimistic.
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on 15 February 2015
I downloaded this book out of curiosity, but I'm glad I did: it was an eye-opener. It was a vigorous response to Edmond Burke's attack on the French revolution.

Paine tears apart monarchies and traditional social institutions. His arguments are cogent. Selling around a million copies it had a sensational impact: Paine was chased out of Britain. England, Paine says, missed an opportunity at the restoration of the monarchy in 1688. He is particularly critical of our lack of a constitution, which he says plays into the hands of traditional hierarchies.

Interestingly, Paine says little about women. Also, his commitment to individual freedom and moral equality may lean towards utopianism. That said, he influenced both the French and American revolutions where his values found important practical outcomes.

One feels that a voice as clear as Paine's might be welcome today, not least because our politicians are currently in very low public esteem. You don't have to sympathise with Paine's ideas to get something out of this book: in fact the opposite may be the case.
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on 23 January 2001
I bought this book over a year ago and it is a joy to read. The introduction by Michael Foot is informative and concise and helps set up the book in the correct historical context. Common Sense is one of the most important and under-rated tracts in history, influencing as it did the American revolution and therefore the French revolution and The Rights of Man is an eloquent argument against authoritarian rule and a call for democracy which was way ahead of its time and still extremely relevent. I urge you to buy it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 December 2011
Tom Paine's Rights of Man, written in two parts (1791 & 1792), was a response to Edmund Burke's criticisms of the French Revolution. It's an optimistic work, looking forward to the ongoing development, both moral and political, of mankind, and the eradication of 'ignorance'. A combination of idealism and something more prosaic, it calls for democratic government by and for the people, for the greater good, one which limits itself to the support and defence of man's natural rights of liberty, equality, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.

More or less self-educated, Paine's writing is powerful, passionate and accessible, making it no surprise that he was a best-selling pamphlet author in his time. Today, he is hailed as the originator of the idea of human rights - but his understanding of what this means is a far cry from our contemporary usage where, seemingly, everything is a 'right' from decent school dinners to designer shoes and handbags. Paine, importantly, explores not just rights, but also the duties and responsibilities of the citizen.

It is noticeable that Paine is completely uninterested in the idea of women's suffrage and the gendering of rights, a marked absence in his texts which serves to slightly delimit his democratic ideal.

The Penguin edition has a good introduction by Eric Foner, one of the great Paine scholars.
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on 28 May 2012
Who is this book useful for? Just about anyone with any interest in politics, history or philosophy. Rights of Man is a brilliant insight into the real ideas of the French Revolution, and therein the American Revolution; the flowing style of Paine gets right at the heart of the issue, and his one-line quips often shed a whole new light on things we take for granted today.

Slating monarchy, a religious state (or 'church state'), anything over than Reason, conservatism and building a fortress around the ideas of the French Revolution, Paine - even now over 200 years later - gives a sturdy defence to the ideals that most people protect today. Furthermore, he does it in such a way it makes the case seem irrefutable.

We are still very much in the Enlightenment phase of ideas, those posed (as Paine says) by Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu. What Paine offers is still important because it reminds us what those ideas were, and how we have veered off from them. It would do no government or people any harm to try and revert back to the ideals posed by Paine and the French Revolutionaries.
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on 22 November 2013
this book is full of important statements on the rights of man which have founded the strength's of modern Western civilized society. It can be read in parts and pick out the most relevant to your interest.
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on 20 November 2013
This primary source is a must read for history student. Have done an assignment based on this source in radical cultures, the intro proved v useful
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on 21 April 2010
I cant recomend this book highly enough, it may be hundreds of years old but its right on the money, even today. Thomas paine was said to be the first whisleblower and it was john pilger who said it, all books by paine and pilger must be read by all. Thomas paine was years ahead of his time, a brilliant common sense mind.
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on 5 September 2014
I purchased this as I was studying a Jurisprudence module at my University (Northumbria), and it was also useful for the Trials of dissenters module taught there too.

From the non-academic perspective, it is an interesting read, and very well written (especially considering that Tom never went to school).
It is an easy to understand and thought provoking read that still has importance today.
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