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Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

Rights of Man (1791)

by Thomas Paine

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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  OberlinSWAP | Jul 21, 2015 |
  OberlinSWAP | Jul 21, 2015 |
Written during the era of the French Revolution, this book was one of the first to introduce the concept of human rights from the standpoint of democracy. The Rights of Man was actually published as a direct response to a piece written by Edmund Burke attacking the French Revolution. Paine’s book focuses on the positives of that revolution and why it was necessary.

I think it’s important to learn more about the conversation that was happening when our nation was being developed. We were building something from scratch, but we were being influenced by everything that was happening in the countries around us.

“If there is a country in the world where concord, according to common calculation, would be least expected, it is America. Made up as it is of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits of government, speaking different languages, and more different in their modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people was impracticable; but by the simple operation of constructing government on the principles of society and the rights of man, every difficulty retires, and all the parts are brought into cordial unison. There the poor are not oppressed, the rich are not privileged. Industry is not mortified by the splendid extravagance of a court rioting at its expense. Their taxes are few, because their government is just: and as there is nothing to render them wretched, there is nothing to engender riots and tumults.”

The core argument in the book rings true. A government’s job should be to protect the rights of its people. It’s not the government’s job to create those rights, only to protect them. Paine argues that the more power a government has the more it takes away the rights of its people, the opposite of what it’s supposed to do. He argues that because man is inherently evil, he will default to evil when given too much power.

BOTTOM LINE: Not a book I’d reread for fun, but one that I think it is important to read. Understanding the decisions that were made when your nation was created helps you understand many of the conversations currently happening in our country.

“Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” ( )
  bookworm12 | Jul 5, 2013 |
Thomas Paine's the Rights of Man is a classic political treatise that defends natural rights in plain, clear, and occasionally funny English. The first part of Rights of Man is a classical liberal defence of the French Revolution and a determined rebuke of Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France." The second part of Rights of Man is a manifesto of political radicalism, split 1/3 of Paine's objection to hereditary government and 2/3 his scheme for a prototypical social welfare state. While I found myself agreeing with Paine more than I disagreed, I think readers should keep in mind that whether we agree with him or not his republican visions have helped to shape modern democratic government. In terms of relevance, to understand the foundations of the modern state we must look back at its genesis with Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, J. S. Mill, and Thomas Paine.
1 vote GYKM | Oct 7, 2012 |
I know that this is a classic, and I should be waxing lyrical about it, particularly as my politics tend to the socialist, BUT, the thing that strikes me most with this book is the naivety. We twenty-first century beings are too World weary to accept that ANY system of government is going to lead to the promised land, let alone this dated set of pie in the sky doctrines.
Paine's main tenet is that less is best on the government front and, whilst I do anguish about some of the nanny knows best mentality of the UK at the moment, it is also painfully true that a sort yourselves out approach only leads to the fittest crushing the minnows.
I also found the constant sniping at Mr. Burke tedious: Paine does not need to decry an alternative viewpoint, just give us his own.
I really expected to be uplifted by this work but failed to learn much of anything from its pages (I leave others to decide if this was due to my stupidity or the more streetwise attitudes of the present day). ( )
  the.ken.petersen | Jan 6, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (22 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paine, Thomasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Collins, HenryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foner, EricIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seldon, ArthurIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, LyndIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To GEORGE WASHINGTON, President of the United States of America
Sir, I present you a small Treatise in defence of those Principles of Freedom which your exemplary Virtue hath so eminently contributed to establish. - That the Rights of Man may become as universal as your Benevolence can wish, and that you may enjoy the Happiness of seeing the New World regenerate the Old, is the prayer of
Sir, Your much obliged, and Obedient humble Servant, THOMAS PAINE
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Among the incivilities by which nations or individuals provoke and irritate each other, Mr Burke's pamphlet on the French Revolution is an extraordinary instance.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140390154, Paperback)

One of the great classics on democracy, "Rights of Man" was published in England in 1791 as a vindication of the French Revolution and a critique of the British system of government. In direct, forceful prose, Paine defends popular rights, national independence, revolutionary war, and economic growth - all considered dangerous and even seditious issues. In his introduction Eric Foner presents an overview of Paine's career as political theorist and pamphleteer, and supplies essential background material to "Rights of Man". He discusses how Paine created a language of modern politics that brought important issues to the common man and the working classes and assesses the debt owed to Paine by the American and British radical traditions.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:18 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

[This work has been] considered a classic statement of faith in democracy and egalitarianism. The first part of the document, dedicated to George Washington, appeared in 1791. Defending the early events of the French Revolution, it spoke on behalf of democracy, equality and a new European order. Part Two, which appeared the following year, is perhaps [the author's] finest example of political pamphleteering and an exemplary work that supported social security for workers, public employment for those in need of work, abolition of laws limiting wages, and other social reforms.-Back cover.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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