06 November 2007

Election Day Reading

I sat down this evening to read Thomas Paine's Common Sense, but instead, read Paine's Rights of Man (1791, 92).

Paine's arguments for the right to choose one's government, 215 years later, seem self-evident, so obvious as to make one wonder how society did not universally accept the natural rights of man. Yet, it wasn't universally accepted in Paine's time. The purpose of Paine's work was a defense of the necessity of the French Revolution as an assertion of those natural rights. In his work he called for the establishment of a British constitution, an act that lead to his being tried, in absentia, for treason.

From Paine's Rights of Man:
When I contemplate the natural dignity of man, when I feel (for Nature has not been kind enough to me to blunt my feelings) for the honour and happiness of its character, I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and can scarcely avoid disgust at those who are thus imposed upon.

We have not to review the governments which arise out of society, in contradistinction to those which arose out of superstition and conquest.

It has been thought a considerable advance towards establishing the principles of Freedom to say that Government is a compact between those who govern and those who are governed; but this cannot be true, because it is putting the effect before the cause; for as man must have existed before governments existed, there necessarily was a time when governments did not exist, and consequently there could originally exist no governors to form such a compact with.

The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.

The news tonight claimed an 'surprise upset' and a 'landslide' in local election. I didn't vote for the victor, and I don't understand his campaign which was more 'against' a specific situation than 'for' anything. But, how I feel is irrelevant now that the election is over.

I arrived at my precinct polling place 50 minutes before the polls closed. The electronic voting machine indicated that I was the 288th voter today. I don't know how many people are in my precinct, but I suspect it is far more than 288. Aren't those who abdicate their right by not voting allowing themselves to be 'knaves and fools'? Aren't they truly the fools, rather than those only thought to be by those who usurp power? By putting your trust in the voting process, you are part of the process of constituting a government, a process that people were willing to die for, a right that people elsewhere are denied.

1 comment:

chris miller said...

Not that I'm a monarchist -- but there's nothing in these excerpts with which I would agree - beginning with the "dignity of man" -- which I would offer as a goal rather than a given.

Argghhh ! -- could it be that I'm turning conservative in my old age ?