A well-intended, well-written effort to reclaim Thomas Paine from today’s Tea Party.
Readers familiar with Paul Collins’ The Trouble with Tom (2005) or, for that matter, with basic U.S. history will know that Paine was a revolutionary firebrand of the kind Glenn Beck would like to be. He was not, however, a right-winger. Moreover, asserts Montana journalist and activist Kahn, Paine was a champion of the rights of the people in the plural. “If Tom Paine were alive today,” he writes, “Glenn Beck would label him a radical socialist or revolutionary Marxist.” Conversely, he adds, Paine “would call Beck what he is: a deceitful demagogue and twenty-first–century disciple of exactly what the Founders fought against.” Kahn conjures a vision of an American polity, a society of friends and neighbors, that is in sharp contrast to the Hobbesian visions of Ayn Rand and her descendants. The approach is a touch scattershot at points, for the author attempts to argue for many things at once—the need to protect children from advertising, support public broadcasting, preserve public lands against corporate land grabs, and so forth. Still, his idea of society comes first, and though it is not necessarily socialist, Kahn mounts a preemptive defense against that charge. Elsewhere, he enlists the support of other thinkers to refute the grabby pretenses of the radical Right—including Mike Mansfield, the contrarian senator who is too little evoked today. But the author does most of his own heavy lifting, serving up a modern rejoinder to Paine’s famed pamphlet Common Sense.
Paine would be proud, even if Kahn’s small book likely reaches few readers beyond the already converted.