A “brief but potent” appreciation of one of the most influential and revolutionary works of political thought “mixing biography, criticism and philosophy” (Los Angeles Times).
Christopher Hitchens, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of God Is Not Great, has been called a Tom Paine for our times. In this addition to the Books that Changed the World Series, Hitchens vividly introduces Paine and his Declaration of the Rights of Man, the world’s foremost defense of democracy.
An outraged response to Edmund Burke’s attack on the French Revolution, Paine’s immortal text is a passionate defense of man’s inalienable rights, and the key to his reputation. Ever since the day of its publication in 1791, Declaration of the Rights of Man has been celebrated, criticized, maligned, suppressed, and co-opted. But in Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, Hitchens marvels at its forethought and revels in its contentiousness.
Famous as a polemicist and provocative commentator, Hitchens himself is a political descendant of the great pamphleteer. Here, he demonstrates how Paine’s book became the philosophical cornerstone of the United States of America, and how “in a time when both rights and reason are under several kinds of open and covert attack, the life and writing of Thomas Paine will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend.” Enlivened by Hitchens’s extraordinary prose, this “elegant and useful primer . . . ought still to engage us all” (The Guardian).
“Paine, as Hitchens notes in this lucid and fast-moving appreciation, has no proper memorial anywhere; this slender book makes a good start.” —Kirkus Reviews
Thomas Paine's critique of monarchy and introduction of the concept of human rights influenced both the French and the American revolutions, argues Vanity Fair contributor and bestselling author Hitchens (God Is Not Great) in this incisive addition to the Books That Changed the World series. Paine's ideas even influenced later independence movements among the Irish, Scots and Welsh. In this lucid assessment, Hitchens notes that in addition to Common Sense's influence on Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, Paine wrote in unadorned prose that ordinary people could understand. Hitchens reads Paine's rejection of the ministrations of clergy in his dying moments as an instance of his unyielding commitment to the cause of rights and reason. But Hitchens also takes Paine to task for appealing to an idealized state of nature, a rhetorical move that, Hitchens charges, posits either "a mythical past or an unattainable future" and, Hitchens avers, "disordered the radical tradition thereafter." Hitchens writes in characteristically energetic prose, and his aversion to religion is in evidence, too. Young Paine found his mother's Anglican orthodoxy noxious, Hitchens notes: "Freethinking has good reason to be grateful to Mrs Paine."