On this day in 1776, Thomas Paine published (anonymously) Common Sense. As regular readers know, I greatly admire Paine. But not for Common Sense. Don’t get me wrong. Paine was an amazing rhetorician. But there was always a sense with him that he was at heart a rabble-rouser. The content of the pamphlet strikes me as overblown, given what the colonists were going through. And then it is taken to a whole other level in the 13 pamphlets of The American Crisis.
I admire Paine for his more sober writing: The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason. And it is interesting to look at his reputation in the United States with regard to this. In as much as he is considered a hero, it is because of Common Sense. But it contains passages like this that could have been written by a modern glib libertarian:
To be fair, Common Sense is more closely argued than that passage indicates. But still: is this how Americans see the government today? I don’t think so. Yet this is what Paine is loved for. Meanwhile, it was with The Rights of Man that made Americans start to turn a jaundiced eye toward him. And then they actively hated him after The Age of Reason. But these are great works of the Enlightenment. Paine understood the intellectual currents of the time. And typically, most Americans wanted to push back against them. Paine saw that the future laid in humanism, and America became focused on the Second Great Awakening.
On this day in 1927, Metropolis was also released. It was hard not to write about it, because it still amazes me that it wasn’t that respected when it first came out. It blows my mind even today. No one has improved on cinema since then. But I’ve discussed it to some extent in the past, Fritz Lang.