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Title: The political and social thought of Thomas Paine 1737-1809
Author: Burnell, Peter J.
ISNI:       0000 0001 1436 8656
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 1972
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The aims of this study are to elucidate and present systematically the main themes of Paine's political and social thought by means of a comprehensive analysis of all his writings; to investigate the foundations of, developments in, and interconnections between these themes, and to point out their main limitations. These aims are explored after reviews of, (1) commonly held beliefs about Paine, which are shown to be based on superficial acquaintance with his writings, and (2) of specific studies of his thought the disagreements between which are shown to involve more than reflections of inconsistencies in Paine's own writings. Commencing with an account of Paine's favourable view of human nature and his idea of universal justice, the study presents as fundamental his religious thought - his belief in a benevolent God - in the context of a discussion of competing Quaker and Newtonian Deist interpretations neither of which is satisfactory. An examination of Paine's ideas of a fairly orderly state of nature, of equal natural rights, and of the origin of government in a social compact, helps us to understand his beliefs in the need for government, and about the purposes of government and its relationships to society; and we see that he did not view governments as responsible for all social evils. Paine's model of republican government is then considered and it is seen to involve more than just the absence of monarchy: it has both moral foundations and involves a view of an appropriate constitutional form. These and their significance for popular sovereignty and political participation are discussed in relation to the question why Paine did not see electoral despotism as a problem. Paine gave moral sanction to revolution when it was necessary for introducing republican government. It is next shown why, and to what extent, he failed to take actual circumstances adequately into account before welcoming political reform. The origins and development of Paine's social welfare proposals are next traced, and his idea of social justice in found to be not inconsistent with, but rather an extension of, his earlier moral and political beliefs, even though it involved him in advocating an increased scope for government. He is shown to have emphasised as important the roles of religion and education, and to have envisaged improvements in international relations through the operation of commerce and the establishment of republican governments and international institutions. It is also shown that, far from desiring a return to a simpler form of society, he supported progress, and that his idea of progress did not involve a belief in perfectibility, This study does not furnish a biography of Paine, investigate in detail the external influences upon his thought, or examine his historical importance and literary style. It does, however, point to comparisons and contrasts between Paine's ideas and the ideas of other thinkers of his time, and it includes a list, and summaries, of his main writings, along with a note on his reading which, with a date-chart of his life, suggests that he was more knowledgeable than has often been supposed. It is concluded that Paine, although not a great political or social thinker, nor an entirely consistent or complete thinker, presented a not wholly unoriginal system of ideas which, because not expressed in any one work, has not been fully recognised. By reference to this system of ideas, some discrepancies in previous accounts of his thought are clarified, and some neglected aspects of his thought elucidated.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: JC Political theory