Thomas Paine: Government a Necessary Evil?
After Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, I also read his Common Sense last week. Apart from making a case against British rule over the United States (shortly before independence was declared), he makes a case against government in general. For him, government is always an evil, albeit a necessary one:
Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.
I wonder how many Americans nowadays would be willing to call the President they support a necessary evil? And how many Presidents have been willing to call themselves a necessary evil?