On Bastille Day

“When the people fear the government, you have tyranny. When the government fears the people, you have freedom.”

Bastille Day can not pass without remembering the role Thomas Paine had in the French revolution. From Part II of Thomas Paine’s series of essays The Rights of Man, Paine wrote this in 1792, three years after the storming of the Bastille marking the beginning of the French revolution.

Fear remains the tool of the despot, the terrorist, the tyrant, and the oppressor.

Resisting fear is at once difficult and the first step toward freedom, for individuals and societies alike.

On Convictions, Messianic Missions, Delusions, and Accepting Reality in Iraq

“It is not our belief or disbelief that can make or unmake the fact.”
-Thomas Paine, Age of Reason

When a belief defies readily available facts, it becomes a delusion. I may believe I have lots of money in the bank, but to hold onto that belief given the fact of my bank balance would prescribe me as delusional.

When a delusion precipitates and exacerbates an ongoing human tragedy, when the delusion is defended as messianic mission whereby no one can dare question it, when a country is left in ruins, then the delusion must end.

George Bush has been hailed by some as a man of right conviction. That is as what some would like to believe. Given the facts of the past seven years, continuing such belief is in itself a delusion.

No conviction, no belief, will ever unmake that fact.  




On Celebrating Thomas Paine and the Spirit of ’76

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
-Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

Thomas PaineOn the Fourth of July it is good to remember that all we take so very much for granted was not always so. Freedom from political tyranny was very much a matter of the day-to-day world in which Thomas Paine lived and a radical idea indeed. A hard-won freedom that we must guard against losing, lest it slip quietly away from our distracted gaze.

It has been one year since I started this project, first under the auspices of World History.com with ThomasPaineBlogging.com (the site is still there, sometimes, if you’re lucky) and then here ThomasPaineBlog.org. It all started with an essay written on an idea I didn’t come up with, but one that interested me nonetheless, when considering Thomas Paine’s contribution to the American Revolution. That of Paine as the “first American blogger”, and the power of words in the fight for national independence, individual freedom, and human progress.

Thanks for being a part of the Thomas Paine Blog and the History Blog Project.

Here, once again, is that first essay:
Thomas Paine – The First American Blogger

On Tough Love

“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”
-Thomas Paine

Honesty requires a willingness to communicate things that others may not wish to hear, nor that we relish saying.

From the true patriot rejecting a failed leader’s policies to pointing out an annoying trait or destructive behavior in someone close to us, sometimes what is required is “tough love” to show that we are forthright and truly care.

On the True Source of Political Power

“All power exercised over a Nation must have some beginning. It must either be delegated or assumed. There are no other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either.”
-Thomas Paine, Rights of Man

The United States is built upon a framework of ideals defined by law. The foundation of that law is the Constitution of the United States. All political power therefore must derive at its core from the Constitution.

To claim power not clearly defined in the Constitution or not previously declared as a constitutional power by the judiciary branch – in other words to assume power, even if claiming that it is constitutional when not clearly delegated as such – compromises the checks and balances of our democracy and degrades the Constitution, and is therefore anti-American by its very definition.

There can be no excuse for willful and flagrant disregard for the rule of law or an ongoing and persistent grasp for political power when it is not delegated or defined by the Constitution.

Not even – and especially – if you’re the president (or vice-president) of the United States.





On the Forthright and the Deceiver

“How nearly is human cunning allied to folly! The animals to whom nature has given the faculty we call cunning, know always when to use it, and use it wisely; but when man descends to cunning, he blunders and betrays.”
-Thomas Paine

It is the cunning that will, without a second thought, betray a human trust, a common decency, the truth. A forthright man might at times be considered a knave or a fool, falling prey to the deceitful and cunning.

But as each one draws their last breath, the forthright will have nothing to hide from his God, and go to his rest knowing that if there is to be a heaven, he will find it.

The cunning will struggle for one more breath, one more chance to deceive what, to his horror, he knows finally, in his heart, cannot be deceived.

As the darkness descends, he will wish for the life of the forthright. But it is too late. The predator at last becomes the prey as eternal death overtakes the deceiver.

On Meaningless Titles and Knowing That the Emperor Has No Clothes

“When I reflect on the pompous titles bestowed on unworthy men, I feel an indignity that instructs me to despise the absurdity.”
-Thomas Paine

Every age has their class of men that presume wisdom and authority for which they do not possess and for which they are not worthy.

Even, unfortunately, those in the highest reaches of human society.


On Beauty, Being Without Words, and Chills Going Up the Spine

“We sometimes experience sensations to which language is not equal. The conception is too bulky to be born alive, and in the torture of thinking, we stand dumb. Our feelings, imprisoned by their magnitude, find no way out — and, in the struggle of expression, every finger tries to be a tongue. The machinery of the body seems too little for the mind, and we look about for helps to show our thoughts by.”
-Thomas Paine

It is a Beethoven symphony or a Van Gogh painting; a rain-soaked forest or the star-choked heavens hurtling toward forever on a clear summer night. 

People will write tomes on the symphonies of Beethoven and the tortured artistry of Van Gogh; they will wax poetic of the wonders of nature and the connectedness it engenders.

But words are not the music, the painting, nor the poetry of nature. There is beauty in words, but it is not beauty itself; nor is music, painting, or even nature. It is the window through which we might find a glimpse.  

The true expression of beauty is always just a little beyond our firm grasp, but in our speechless awe we feel the chill up the spine, the hair standing on end, feeling the power of it; expressed simply by being.


On Learning to Sit Quietly and Listen

“There are cases in which silence is a loud language.”
-Thomas Paine

It is a world of constant chatter, most of it signifying nothing.

The trick then, is to turn off all the devices and contrivances of the modern world and listen to the sound of silence. The spaces in our existence that are buried beneath the ruble of email, text messages, cell phones, and television. The real part.

It may be difficult at first, for we’re so used to noise being pushed at us from all directions. But silence leads to things we’d never know and places we’d never discover in the cacophony of mindless babble.

Turn off your computer and go sit for a spell…

On Defining Victory in Iraq

There is something in a war carried on by invasion which makes it differ in circumstances from any other mode of war, because he who conducts it cannot tell whether the ground he gains, be for him, or against him, when he first makes it.”
-Thomas Paine, The Crisis

News Item: “US Forces Face Bloody Start to June in Iraq”

Whatever idea there was of what victory would look like when the United States military rolled across the desert toward Baghdad in the spring of 2003, it bears little resemblance to what it could ever look like today – if any sort of “victory” is even a possibility.

The question becomes what ground we have gained as a nation in seizing Iraq. We now hold onto a tragedy that continues to unfold with each passing day.