I Led Three Lives

November 2001
PERSONAL SNAPSHOTS
Forecasts & Strategies

by Mark Skousen

“It was a time for every man to stir.” — Thomas Paine

Westchester County, New York, where I now reside, is full of American heroes. Two are buried in Sleepy Hollow cemetery — Carnegie, the steel magnate (highlighted last month) and Samuel Gompers, the great labor leader. Another hero is Thomas Paine (1737-1809), the revolutionary writer, who owned a farm in New Rochelle. Paine is famous for writing Common Sense, the anonymous pamphlet that galvanized Americans into revolution in 1776. I read it as a teenager one summer and was overwhelmed by the candid, powerful case he made for separation from England. But there were actually three revolutions in 1776 — political revolution declared on July 4 by Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence; an economic revolution propelled by Adam Smith’s magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations (published on March 9,1776); and a cultural/religious revolution as expressed in Edward Gibbon’s best-seller, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (the first volume published on February 23,1776). Thus, 1776 was a year of wonders.

The Age of Paine: A Supporter of Free Enterprise and a Hater of Taxation

Even more amazing, Tom Paine spoke out in favor of all three revolutions. In Common Sense, published on January 9,1776, he made the greatest case for political independence ever penned. “Government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one …Nothing can settle so expeditiously as an open and determined declaration of independence.” He coined the name, “United States of America.” He hated the King and the privileged aristocracy that went with it. He referred to the idle nobility as “no-ability.” What mattered most to Paine was a man’s productivity, not his pedigree. Paine was also an unrepented follower of Adam Smith and laissez faire capitalism.

In The Rights of Man (1791) he defended individualism, property, business enterprise and Jeffersonian democracy. He favored a world in which political and social place would be determined by talent, merit and hard work — reliant individuals. He defended the rich and the businessman. His one villain: government. The invisible hand of merchants, manufacturers and bankers create a wholesome civil society; but the “greedy hand of government” oppressed and taxed citizens at home and waged war abroad. He was obsessed with taxation, a symbol of tyranny and corruption. Finally, Paine’s social and religious philosophy was in keeping with Gibbon’s. He favored free thought and freedom of religion, and was opposed to a state religion. He was an outspoken critic of slavery. He was cursed as an atheist and an infidel based on his sharp criticisms of the Bible in The Age of Reason (1794),but he was in fact a deist who strongly believed that “the hand of providence has …accomplished the independence of America.”

The Spirit of Paine Lives On

Some of the stirring words of Tom Paine seem modern to me. After the war on terrorism began, I thought of his words: “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.” Long live the spirit of Tom Paine. That spirit lives on at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). I urge you to subscribe to our monthly publication, Ideas on Liberty.The cost is only $30 a year for 12 issues. To subscribe, call 914/591-7230. Ideas on Liberty would also make a great holiday or birthday gift.

UPDATE

Foreign Affairs, the premier establishment journal, loves AND hates my new history, just as it goes into a second printing! The October/September issue of Foreign Affairs calls The Making of Modern Economics “both fascinating and infuriating.” On the positive side, the book is “engaging, readable, colorful and entertaining,” on the negative side, it’s “credulous, disingenuous and tendentious.” My kind of review! Love it and hate it! I ’m also happy to report that the first printing is sold out and a second printing is now available from M.E. Sharpe Publishing, 800/541-6563. Be sure to mention you are a subscriber to Forecasts &Strategies, and you pay only $49.95 for the hardback and $24.95 for the paperback, plus S&H, a considerable bargain over the retail prices.

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