Monday, August 15, 2011

Thomas Paine on "the vulgar and ignorant mob"

We have a soft spot for Thomas Paine, whose statement that "we have it in our power to begin the world over again" is a message of hope in troubled times. Paine is quotable in most contexts, and his comment about riots and the "the vulgar and ignorant mob" is as prescient today as it was two hundred years ago:

"They rise as an unaviodable consequence, out of the ill construction of all old governments in Europe, England included with the rest. It is by distortedly exalting some men, that others are distortedly debased, until the whole is out of nature."

At a time when the neo-liberal economic order is collapsing around us, when politicians are clueless about how to tackle entrenched powers of bankers and big businesses, and corruption holds at most levels, it should scarcely surprise anyone that large swathes of our populations - old and young - are disaffected, angry and lacking in respect.

Paine, you will recall, lived through one of the most turbulent periods of European history.

Hat tip: Michael Law (from a letter in The Guardian)




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