Friday, 12 June 2009
The Death of Democracy
Great article in The Guardian about the revolutionary libertarian Thomas Paine.
Thomas Paine was the incarnation of the Blakean archetype of Orc, the revolutionary fire brand whose words ignited the peoples uprising.
Orc is the 'Lover of Wild Rebellion, and transgressor of God's Law', which fits the temprement of Thomas paine perfectly.
In the early months of the war Paine published The Crisis pamphlet series, to inspire the colonists in their resistance to the British army. To inspire the enlisted men, General George Washington had The American Crisis read aloud to them. The first Crisis pamphlet begins:
“ These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."
Thomas Paine, The Crisis.
Article here ;
Life and death of democracyWhere is the man for our time who would terrify Westminster and the world in the way Tom Paine did?
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 9 June 2009 21.30 BST Article history
In the build-up to the 1832 Reform Bill, radical critics of sinecures and rotten boroughs condemned old corruption by tapping political inspiration from figures such as John Milton, the radical Puritans, John Locke and John Wilkes. Faced with our own deepening political recession, a new corruption fuelled by public disaffection with party politics, parliamentary fiddles and rudderless government, where can we turn for inspiration?
Considering what he contributed to visionary democratic ideals, it makes sense to remember Tom Paine, who died in New York City 200 years ago this week. A literary lion who penned the three best-selling books of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Paine was a citizen extraordinary, perhaps the greatest English champion of clean, open, humble government. Truly remarkable was the way he managed to survive the revolutionary upheavals of his time. It has often been said that his lifelong devotion to the cause of liberty for all, his brave and unshrinking advocacy of truth in politics, his deepseated dislike of kingship and priestly tyranny, even his willingness to attack the hubris of the American and French revolutionaries, all guaranteed that he would be forever remembered. That understates his scandalous treatment, especially by political and religious bigots who either tried to nail him to the cross of public opinion or dreamed of dangling him from a gibbet.
The rough injustice he suffered hammers home the point that legends are made, not born. Tradition never just happens; memory is far from automatic. The dead cannot speak for themselves – they always need help from their latterday friends. Paine's foes, a motley bunch of supporters of mentally ill King George III, Jacobin terroristes, boorish Christian sectarians, knew this well. That is why they tried to damn and disappear him; to accuse him of seditious libel, to condemn him as a "filthy little atheist" (Teddy Roosevelt's infamous words), even to accuse him of bad grammar and confabulation (George Chalmers, his first biographer, howled that he had added an e to his surname to disguise his Norfolk background).
The aim in every case was to push Paine into a rat's alley, where not even his bones would survive. His bones were indeed lost. But even though Paine found no final resting place, memories of his brilliant achievements survived, beginning with the first glimpse we have of him, a daunting epitaph for a pet crow. "Here lies the body of John Crow," he wrote, "Who once was high but now is low/Ye brother Crows take warning all/For as you rise, so must you fall."
As you rise, so must you fall: with these words, written when he was just eight, Paine signalled his lifelong contempt for hubris and dislike of grovelling; in an age of corrupting government oiled by sinecures, he was brave enough to call George III "king or Madjesty", even to conclude a letter to the home secretary: "I am, Mr Dundas, Not your obedient humble servant." In snorting style, Paine satirised corruption caused by unaccountable power. He hurled his quill at the indignity of poverty, the pity of war, unrestrained markets and greedy banks. He did everything he could to prevent the abuse of citizens' rights by governments. He disliked parochialism ("where liberty is not, there is my country", he reportedly told Benjamin Franklin); and he drew from the principle that the earth is common property the conclusion that the most vulnerable in society – especially the young and the old – ought to be guaranteed as of right their fair share of its wealth.
Most compelling of all was Paine's burning desire to meet the arguments of his foes, not with gunpowder or the sword, or haughty bitterness, but with words from Isaiah: "Let us reason the matter together." Both that command and its egalitarian sentiments are badly needed in a Britain bruised by new corruption. The public debate about parliamentary reform must continue and intensify, informed by the understanding that history matters, that these are times when the living must speak freely of the dead, so granting them voices and votes. The connection between memory and politics should be made clear to all. Fond memories of Tom Paine must be kept green in our souls, according to the principle he so powerfully helped to fashion: democracy among the living demands democracy among the dead.