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The Spirit of Thomas Paine, Today

(Photos by Robin Holland)

In this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with historians Harvey J. Kaye and Richard Brookhiser about the complex legacy of Thomas Paine, perhaps the most controversial of America’s founding revolutionaries. (For more about Paine, author of COMMON SENSE, please visit our resources page here.)

Kaye argued that Paine imbued America with a fundamentally progressive “democratic impulse” that continues in today’s liberal politics:

“Here’s this guy, essentially off the boat, who picks up on the spirit of America quickly, and he takes that pen of his and figures out how he’s gonna grab hold of that American spirit and turn it in a radical, democratic direction to make a new nation... he took what he recognized in American life, and he inscribes it into the meaning of America, that the democratic impulse would be a model to the world... In terms of the democratic impulse – which never ceased in America – [is that] in every generation progressive movements, from radical to liberal, reached back to the American Revolution... The words they reclaimed were Thomas Paine’s... He did very much look ahead to the idea of economic opportunity, but in a social democratic way, I think.”

Brookhiser suggested that Paine’s positions on various issues of his time were often impractical, and that his core priorities do not hew to any single political philosophy.

“[Paine] saw a lot of things that came to be, and he also saw some things that didn’t come to be, and maybe never could come to be... As we see in Paine’s own life, there are problems on this path. In the second revolution he’s involved in, I think he misunderstands what’s going on on the ground in France... Jefferson stuck with the revolution until Napoleon appeared. But then Paine stuck with it after Napoleon appeared... Paine’s visionary quality is both intoxicating and, Paine hopes, transformative... [If Paine were around today and asked about his priorities] I think he would say liberty. I think he would say opportunity and economic opportunity. I think those are the things he would hammer at.”

What do you think?

In your view, what is the significance of Tom Paine for today?


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I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

So, this should say it all about Mr. Paine...for any who have questions, that is...

gwen williams: Follow the advice of Robert MacNamara and answer the question you wished you'd been asked.

Framing of the questions in a leading way suborns us to the mindset of the interrogator. (Moyers assumes we all think alike, and in "safe" ways.)

As Ossie Davis advised in Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing": Always gwen, do the right thing (according to your values).

Tom Paine -- the game

Let's play Tom Paine,
restored again!
What would he say
alive today?
I'm Tom Paine II
and so are you.

An Ode to Soap

Wall Street’s bigger better bubbles
Long and lightly lift the Troubles.
Why blame Wall Street when they burst
Compounded on the poor accurst?

Christendom in gold kept glowing,
Short the night and long the blowing.
Better let a bigger bubble
Better bear more trying Trouble.

ab Usura

Usura long lay 'gainst the law,
until nine numbskulls said "no more."
To loan sharks "bail" spelt "out of jail,"
before it spelt "bank fraud can't fail."

Usura now so lies with law,
you can't tell which one is the whore.
Usura I shall chase again,
your humble servant, Thomas Paine

I'm new at this. Are our comments supposed to concern the question posted by the Journal? On this one - What do you think the significance of Paine is today? My comments went to what I believe would be the alarm and awe that Paine (and Franklin and Jefferson) would experience if they could know the current makeup behind the Supreme Law of the U.S., namely six Catholics, two Jews and one other. Not very representative of the population of our Republic or is that not of any importance? My impression has always been that the founding of this country was in great part to escape the infallibility of a Pope and the oppressive power of monarchy.
Gwen Williams, Dallas

Gwen Williams: Been Franklin, Too-much Jefferson and Too-much Pain had their say 250- years ago. Why should they comment now on "bad times" they have not experienced? We (the living) had no input at the nation's founding, and 99% of us, none now. The question should be: "Which of their shortcomings of design have led to the messes we are suffering?"

As for the Supremes: What are they but a blocking mechanism to collective need and public will? The very nature of their origin/appointments selects for insulation and privilege (or an origin in deprivation and insecurity that makes them cling to "Massa" like a life vest). Roosevelt's solution was to "pack the court." (Obama seems to appreciate corporate ladderism above democracy, so would not risk a similar move.)

Say, what if we kept the same structures but appointed the currently disadvantaged to administer justice? Corporate capitalism would fade away in two sessions. And would that be a good thing? Would that ever!!!

The equivalent of Paine today would be Bono, sucking up to George Bush over Africa. The equivalent of T. Jefferson; Teddy Turner, selling ads on Time Warner info-tainment, and making burgers from buffaloes. The equivalent of Franklin: Katherine Weymouth, and Moyers has explained that situation.

Celebrity worship, even when historical, is emergent religion. (Can you believe in Archangel Michael Jackson? You profess a belief in the corporate history book three stooges: Paine, Jefferson and Franklin: de Sade related the story of those French sex tours: read "Justine&Juliette"
wiki:In modern culture his works are simultaneously viewed as masterful analysis of how power and economics work, and as erotica. Sade's sexually explicit works were a medium for the articulation of the corrupt and hypocritical values of the elite in his society, which caused him to become imprisoned. Underclass pimp Larry Flynt once attempted to become a modern Compte de Sade, but was not so lucky as the gun did not misfire in his case.)

Caution: This society suffers an undercurrent of Sadism and power worship Mr. Moyers ignores.

Anna D Glad you thought I had a good question. I thought so too and can't believe no one took an interest in an answer. In return I will recommend The Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy.

Our great country was hijacked in 1913 by Woodrow Wilson and the Federal Reserve.
The federal reserve act was passed in Dec 1913 while most of the senate was on Christmas Vacation.
It passed and today the Federal Reserve is printing there fiat money that is worth four cents.
The Federal Reserve started WWI and WWII for profit. We the country of the United States were never paid back for all the weapons we delivered to England and Russia.
Our middle class is being eliminated so we will become a dictatorship without the middle class.
Kiss the United States good-by, it was free entill somehow we became a democracy which never lasts but burns itself out.

Thomas Paine and Thomas Jerrerson did not form a Democracy but a Republic.
Our country did not state anything about a Democracy in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States.
Our founding fathers did not have much respect for Democracy which they thought would kill itself sooner than later.
Democracy is rule by the MOB Indeed Article IV, Section 4 of the constitution guarantees to every state in the union a Republican form of government.

Borrowing the line from a Paul McCartney song:

"Inside each one of us is love. And we know how it feels."

So much "charity" without "love", and there's bound to be confusion. Let's start with the difference between lust and love - that's pretty easy :-)

If love is selfless, generous acts that emanate from profound genuine feelings...

Name me some "forbidden lovers" (devotees of taboo human traits) who are alive and active today. Their names will not appear in the news, usually.

Why can't the "forbidden lovers" speak for themselves on the Journal? Why must they be sanitized by the retainers of oligarchy? The vitality is lost in translation, and only the notoriety remains. Viewers marinate in celebrity rather than adding their hearts to the cause.

Mr. Jack Martin,

How many convolutions of "christianity" went on in 2000 years? Many, no? Whatever "truth" is left about how Joshua ben Joseph actually lived is probably only contained among the verbal truths that support "culture". The pen has been mightier than the sword.

Not sure what is so damn "constricting" about REAL freedom - the ability to love and be loved in return?

When we select our beliefs do we mimic those of celebrities with whom media has intrigued us or do we reason for our own experience and circumstance? Deism is a way of saying Creationism is real but that the clockmaker lost interest. Subsequent questioning has taken us beyond cruel Cartesianism, or has it? Obama seems to regard needy voters as homomonucleaic machines for corporatist consumption. (They only seem to feel pain, but that is a trick of the "heart.") Only higher forms like AIG and Citibank really feel pain. (Feel Paine?: whose expression of the social contract puts prior obligation on the institutional side of the equation: "You have taken my freedom of thought and self-sufficiency, but what are you going to replace it with?"

An Evangelist in my town of Stanley uttered this week from the pulpit, "Don't worry about being unemployed; God has a job waiting for you in Heaven." (I'd like to see the work rules under THAT asymmetrical arrangement.) So you see how Deism might have been an improvement over raw mythology way back in Paine's time. (The corset-maker tested Christianity and found it a little too constricting.)

Good question, Gwen.

I recommend reading the book "Crazy for God".

Whole point of keeping church and state separate was to keep the church from becoming a temple harlot.

What do you think Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin would each have to say about our country being on the brink of having the Supreme Law of the Land adjudicated by six Roman Catholics, two Jews and one other which I know not. A Deist I hope but I highly doubt it.

In terms of violence, wars, the taking of other people's lands and prooerty, embezzlement, fraud, larceny, hypocrisy, intentional obfuscation, domination, arrogance, self-righteousness - man's inhumanity to man - the most important things to know about persons are as follows:

1. Religion and/or religious ideology
2. Source of income
3. Political affiliation and ideology

in that order.

in that order.

I did not mean to impune or detract value from the registered commercial trademark "Thomas Paine," (as regards Kenny Burchell's website enterprise). I would think Mr. Moyers, having already secured the promotional services of Kaye and Brookhiser, would have little need of an 800 page self published book or a $100 membership for the Journal.

These posts are not about "The spirit of Thomas Paine, Today" but illustrate strategic historicism: the uses of Thomas Paine. This is a name within inches of appearing on the label of a fortified lager (micro brewed near Boston) or the catalog of a mail order outerwear haberdasher (Paine of the Hamptons).

My comments were intended to convey both the rootlessness and timelessness of the fragmentary figure Tom Paine. Let me also reassert my observation that tradition serves as a counterweight to urgently needed change in any new crisis. Paine, being so faded and so contradictory, is now useful in opposing ideals he once advocated in life. Who's to say what positions the same person would take were he to have been born in 1960 and be active today. I don't think that is ascertainable or really matters much.

The fact remains that about 7 billion people are breathing and talking today. All of them have needs and opinions just about as valid as Tom Paine's in 1780. Some are willing to speak up and act for human justice and freedom. Unfortunately, it is not these activists Bill Moyers is able to consult, but as an alternative, intellectuals vetted by agents of the oligarchies that keep one fourth of us hungry and thirsty and nine-tenths in bondage or wage slavery.

As the Journal checks its rear view mirror for navigation notice the fine print: "250 year old ideas may be farther away than they appear." (I hope you read me. No charge.)

ill... I am stunned. As a historian you know well that the 2nd Amendment is not about hunting or gun sports.. You are fond of quoting history and the founders..
"Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence ... (George Washington)

"Americans have the right and advantage of being armed - unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." (James Madison, The Federalist Papers #46 at 243-244)

"the ultimate authority ... resides in the people alone," (James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, in Federalist Paper #46.)

"The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them." (Zachariah Johnson, 3 Elliot, Debates at 646)

It is about Freedom and staying free against tyrannical rule.
You make a deal about the 30,000 gun deaths... But fail to mention the 33,000 suicides, of which 57% are gun related... Not to mention the gangbangers...

I am STUNNED that you are trying to convey this into a legitimate argument for gun confiscation or regulation...
Motor vehicles cost 45000 deaths a yr. Poison?? 37000 a yr...

Sir, I dare say it is the LEGAL OWNERSHIP of guns that keep American free and that will remain forever, as it should be.

Jack Martin made a number of assertions about Thomas Paine in his comments here that are simple ahistoric and false. Paine did take up arms, he was aide-de-camp to General Nathaniel Greene, he was found innocent and reinstated to his excise employment in England, and he was employed NOT by Ben Franklin but by Robert Aiken at the PENNSYLVANIA MAGAZINE (Franklin's paper was THE PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE, later renamed THE SATURDAY EVENING POST). The remainder of Martin's "historical" account is similarly specious. People, Thomas Paine was a great benefactor and friend of mankind. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise and if you want assistance of any kind on the history side of things, you're welcome to contact through the website linked to my name. Cordially.

Bill, in your introduction to this program you said that (paraphrase) Paine died impoverished and abandoned by his friends. Please fact-check before spreading these hoary old lies promulgated by Paine's enemies WAY back in 1800 and repeated by the incautious (probably the case here) and ungracious (certainly not your style) ever since. Paine was rather well off when he died. If you want the documentation, I can provide it, but his estate was worth at LEAST $8,000.00 when he died, a not inconsiderable sum worth around $140,000.00 according one calculation. As for dying alone that's how people died in those days -- there WERE no hospitals or hospices unless you were Catholic -- and
he wasn't "abandoned" any more than any other elderly person
when they die; we all die alone to some extent, Bill. With all due respect, before you repeat the lies of Paine's enemies, please take time to fact-check historical claims. You had at least one fine Paine historian present for the panel and you're more than welcome to get in touch with me. Best regards and thanks for the fine work that you have produced over the years.

I've spent a fair amount of time reading Madison and the development of our nation. Paine's words represent what I view as a means to stir men's passions though empty in reality. In 1765, 50,000 British Sterling Pounds left the colony of Virginia because of the "Stamp Act." The County of Kentucky sought to leave the foot print of Virginia based on Virginia breaking ranks with England (Virginia Charter of 1609 with England establishing her land boundries). Virgina had tax collectors taking their fair share of money from Kentuckians. In 1773, based on statistics from Colonial to Pre-Federal period (Census Br) 790,000 lbs of tea was dumped into the colonies; ironic that Sam Adams (et-al) dumped tea into the harbor. Simple economics says qauntity supplied drove the prices of tea to rock bottom; no one was making money. It is difficult to believe rhetoric about anyone and what they stood for unless we're attemtping to re-create or sustain our sense of nationalism.

Thomas Paine and his father made corsets for a living.
(master stay-makers)

Thomas Paine was a career bureaucrat employed in trade regulation, fired several times for failure to inspect goods and dereliction of duty.

Thomas Paine had a consultancy job with Napoleon, advising him on the best ways to invade England.

Thomas Paine was a protogee' of Bejamin Franklin, employed as a columnist in one of his enterprises.

Thomas Paine helped the seceding colonies (with John Laurens) obtain a loan from Louis XVI (Paine demanded an origination commission which Laurens vetoed.), and later recommended clemency for the French royal family.

Thomas Paine had acceptance problems because he was openly Deist, and refuted Biblical mythology. Only 6 people came to his funeral. His bones were misplaced in England, so he has no grave.

Thomas Paine's premier idea was a "guaranteed minimum income' in compensation for the governmental enforcement of capitalist private property, in violation of the commons and the idea of a universal inheritance of land and resources. Social Security and other income maintenance programs originate in these doctrines. Paine believed in a highly progressive system of taxation, where those with the most property and highest incomes pay extremely high rates. This would have balanced his "maintenance income" budget. Those who use and benefit from state institutions should pay the price of assured success.

Paine expected to be compensated as a "writer" and not as a soldier or diplomat. The Continental Congress rewarded him with a small estate (seized Tory holding)in New York, after extensive demands and lobbying on his part.

Though he wrote about the "sunshine patriot and the fairweather friend" during "times that try men's souls" he never bore arms or joined a military.

We hardly know Paine apart from his writings because he is 200 years removed. He was a contemporary of Mary Wollenscraft who wrote "Frankenstein", a familiar in her circle. Think about how out of date that really is.

Maybe we are playing with a mythology of character Paine would have despised. He knew his own frailties and failings made him a typical flawed human. Let's focus upon fortitudinous contemporaries rather than honor a myth. It is too safe to reach back so far in time, and unfair to ignore the defiant dissidents alive today.

Words are empty without specific context, but this is not to say they can't be revived. But let it be understood that they will not be revived by speculation but only by an active struggle for universal freedom and egalitarianism. Rosa Luxemborg, only 100 years removed, and a defiant and courageous revolutionary who was executed by counter insurgency wrote:

"Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of a party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter. Not because of the fanaticism of "justice", but rather because all that is instructive, wholesome, and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effects cease to work when "freedom" becomes a privilege."

So the concept of "privilege versus freedom" and the irrelevance of hierarchical loyalty in hope of favor is the critical issue now. Only those who question authority at their own peril advance human rights in times of repression like these. Defending the freedom of the critic is the root of all political freedom. Thomas Paine appreciated such basic solidarity.

In reading about Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams, I found they were all inspired and motivated by the writing of Thomas Paine. I also read that after the revolution their enthusiasm was tempered by the actions of those same inspired masses.

I see Thomas Paine as a comet, the light in the sky, that moved the common man to action. Shaping those radical values into a governing body became a nightmare for the founding fathers. Thomas Paine was a beautiful comet whose light birthed a nation. For that gift, he should never be forgotten. The government he envisioned went beyond the abilities of the common man and the aristocrats. It still is today!

That said, the man deserves his monument and would have it but for "Age Of Reason."

Thanks Bill Moyers for another great show!

Ft Worth, Texas

Dear Sir,

I find it ironic that you would have a segment of your program dedicated to discussing a great American patriot, and then summarize with a monologue endorsing gun control.

If you read "Common Sense", you'll see that there are repeated reference to a call to arms. In a historical context, Paine's document is also seen as a major factor in drumming up support for the American Revolution, in which many firearms were used in the cause of liberty.

Your anecdotes suggest a belief that firearms (inanimate objects as they are) are some sort of evil psychotic force in our society. In reality, they are most often the tool of the law abiding and the instruments of the oppressed.

Please take a moment to review your bogus statistics about shootings of family members vs. criminals. I think you'll find that your numbers include both suicides and cases of justified shootings, e.g. of an abusive spouse. You also ignore the millions of cases of crime deterrence in which the mere presence of a weapon prevents a crime without a shot being fired.

Based on your previous programs, I gather that you are concerned about civil liberties such as privacy, freedom of the press and free speech. Don't be so quick to willingly sacrifice your other liberties.

P.S. I misspelled to prove my point...

Who cares about Thomas Payne when Madonna is adopting again and Kate and Jon are in the midst of drama? Come on people, don't you know what's truly important?!

Mr. Moyers:

Thank you for airing the discussion of Thomas Paine and the important role he played in the formation of our unique democratic republic. It is a testament to your sense of fairness that you had the current Conservative and Progressive views of his contribution represented. As the comments herein reflect, there are far too few of our people either familiar with his work and historical significance, or willing to rise to his defense if they are. His quest to awaken (enlighten) people to the power of human reason by explaining the hypocrisy of such theocratic follies as the divine rights of kings is as important today as it was in his time. We would be much further along in our collective quest to form a more perfect union, were we to heed this wise man's words.

I very much enjoyed the segment on Thomas Paine. Of course I liked hearing about the life of this great thinker, but what struck me most about the segment was that these two guests with diametrically opposed beliefs could sit down at your always civil table and disagree without the slightest hint of that ugliness which passes for debate on cable news. Talk about refreshing!

What do you think?
"He did very much look ahead to the idea of economic opportunity, social
democratic way ...” and
"I think he would say liberty. I think he would say opportunity and economic opportunity."
Very impressive debate.
If the "vision ahead and the Spirit of Thomas Paine" was "for social democracy and the
economic opportunity" for everyone, then the country is and has been on the wrong track.
The media fail to inform the people of the directions.
True "Social democratic, economic opportunity and liberty" is when the people are
empowered to express their "WIIL on ALL ISSUES." This can be achieved only by
"Amending the Constitution."
As long as we have oligarchy rulers, trigger happy terrorist, that dictate their will and
power with the help of a gun, I do not expect any changes for the better!
I do believe that many gun owners miss the point of view of "the tragedies" that has
been taking place in the country, as well as of the social and economic injustice!

Dear Bill,

I believe that Americans have the right to bare arms as well as legs and that Charlton Heston was Moses and split the sea. I also think there should be a single simple test required that must be passed before acquiring a gun so as to keep them out of the hands of insane people. The test would be this: Any person is allowed to pick any gun of any size or type he wants if he can show proof he can pay for it; can show he can properly load and handle the gun, and finally must aim and shoot himself with it to show he understands the full capability and deadly potential of the gun of his choice. By passing this simple test, the gun purchaser would demonstrate he understands the full responsibility that is required of having such a gun. This one test would keep guns out of the hands of many frightened dangerous people and make a safer world for all.
Guns for All,
God Bless America,


RE: Gun Control
Thank you, Bill. I'm only one voice, but do believe we are "the silent majority" in this, too busy living our personal lives to take the time to try to be heard over the strident voices of those who would like us to believe that gun control would prohibit collectors and hobbyists' activities.
Those who fear gun control should focus on developing a workable solution, not rail against ALL suggestions. No one needs an AK47, and as far as "protection" goes, THE answer for that is a DOG - ANY dog.

As interesting as it may be to jump into the fray of gun ownership in America, I was hoping to hear about more about Citizen Paine.

And though the guests saw Mr. Paine differently, both admired his courage. How very refreshing.

While watching Brookhiser and Kaye, I felt like I was in a classroom (I’m still waiting for the homework assignment). I loved the way they complimented each others thoughts.

I’d heard of Paine before, but I never really knew how he had fitted into the big picture back then (With his talent to inspire, I’ll bet Rove had studied his work decades ago). But I sort of have issues with the title of one of his books though. When I was a kid, every time I’d do something stupid, my dad would smack me in the back of my head and ask “don’t you have any common sense?” (I found that being a smart ass and answering this question was not very bright either.)

Common sense sounds so subjective. Everyone having belief in their own common sense, then Paine comes along and gets them all on the same page. Who knows if he was right or if he was wrong, the fact is, they were acting as one. United we stand. I miss being united.

Bill Moyers:

Our rights to own and operate weapons is guaranteed by the constitution in the second amendment. As you know the second amendment reads "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Your decision that it is time to take away our right to self defense and recreation with weapons is arrogant. The framers of the constitution were smarter than you and kept radicals like you from destroying the freedom of others by intentionally making the constitution difficult to amend. You stated that 30,000 people a year are killed by firearms. 30,000 people a year are killed by the people who want to kill them, themselves or by someone who is ignorant about firearms. Off the top of my head the number of people who are killed in car accidents each year in the U.S. is about 40,000. You say it's a safety issue so why don't we leave the driving up to professional bus drivers and train operator the same way you want firearms to only be operated by professional soldiers and police officers? The truth is that if we start ignoring the constitution when we see a potential problem then we won't be able to rely on it when we need it.

I absolutely love Mcaughlin Group and have recently been trying to watch Bill Moyers Journal. Tonight's show was excellent, especially the segment about Thomas Paine. However I wonder if Mr. Moyers was asleep during the interview with Mr. Kaye and Mr. Brookhiser. Did he not learn anything about the man that personified liberty? Mr. Moyer's diatribe against firearms offends me. Don't get me wrong he has all the right in this country (thanks to the second amendment) to have his opinion; just don't do it on my dime! Public programming that is more than partially funded by my taxes should not be used to air Mr. Moyer's personal fears.

Since Mr. Moyer's ended his segment with hard numbers, I will end mine the same. Mr. Moyer's I hope that you will also support the ban of all automobiles in this country. Not only are they contributing to global warming, but every year approximately 60,000 Americans die in them. That is twice the number of people killed by firearms in the same year and as many as the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the entire Vietnam war. So lets ban all automobiles in order to save lives.

I am a 21st century liberal with anarchist tendencies. I read the complete works of Thomas Paine after studying US government with postdocs when I was 13. Nevertheless, the only thing that I liked of Paine's writings was Agrarian Justice. Anyone who is American and liberal is always directed to read Paine. One of my favorite anarchist books on public rants included something from Rights of Man. I found it moderately distressing when Mr. Moyers accused post-modernist liberals of being "merely big government" schleps, because they don't cite Paine or exhort working class values in like fashion. The Age of Reason convinced me that Paine was a charming idiot on most social issues, much like Ronald Reagan who invoked him. A citations search showing that Paine is usually cited by establishment leaders finished him for me. That meant that any anti-monarchist like Napolean, Hitler, or even Mao Zedong could invoke Paine with impunity. Even Karl Marx in his writings included a standard to measure the success or failure of leadership in any Marxist revolution. The reason that Paine is quoted more by moderate leaders than by liberal anarchists is that Paine was more interested in the freedoms of Thomas Paine than of anyone else who followed his ideas. That inherent selfishness and foolhardiness of the American dream is most of what remains of Paine's contributions to ideology in our little democracy. Like most of the founders, today Paine would probably either be locked up and resocialized or else medicated as a harmless crank. Working stiffs today would seem rich beyond imagining to Paine, but with no real voice in what happens to things like MRIs and space shuttles. Lobbyists are more powerful today than the tyrannical Kings of Paine's world. The styled, violent form of revolution Paine advocated would be met today with surveillance and star wars. If Paine is a fool by today's standards, then what would that make the liberal anarchist who followed him? I think that Mr. Moyer's bitter criticisms of liberal intelligentsia to be misplaced. Today nearly everyone is out of their depth, not merely liberals or Thomas Paine.

But Burke was a capitalist, the same as Paine, and Adams hated banks, the same as Jefferson. Where the former were Whigs, the latter were at heart Tories. We have nearly none of the latter left today. Those we do have are the paleo-conservative Republicans that everyone says are dead meat even while we are staring depression in the face.

While I understand the concern of "responsible gun owners" that their right to bear arms must not be taken away, I do not understand how any sane person can justify the private ownership of assault weapons. I applaud Mr. Moyers for his fearless voice on this issue.

The American tradition of dissent...It is overwhelmingly clear that a majority of the people in the United States seek to end violence by other means than banning weapons. While the talking heads voice dissenting views and try desperately to take away one of our most cherished rights, I'm sure most of the viewers of Moyers' show feel that the underlying moral issues, and the socio-environmental parameters which oftentimes breed negative and violent thought ought to be addressed in order to reduce unwanted behaviors in the country, and not through the use of Hegelian dialectics on the population as an attempt to marginalize the huge number of responsible gun owners. Shame on you Moyers.

One thing frustrated me about the conversation. At one point, Moyers said liberals don't quote Paine any more. Except President Obama did, in his inaugural address. This is what Obama said.

In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river.

The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.

At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it."

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

I think Mr. Brookhiser hit the nail on the head. Paine stuck with the revolution, the concept of the citizens truly taking the reins of the country, until the end. He understood that revolutions are not static moments in time, they are permanent fixtures of any free society.

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