Thomas Paine, a great radical of the 18th-century, inspired both the American and French revolutions and is widely regarded as “possibly the most influential writer in modern human history.” He is cited often in libraries of great political quotations. Examples:
- Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice.
- Such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants is the liberty of appearing.
- The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason.
- It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.
- It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance.
- He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
- If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.
- Character is much easier kept than recovered.
- Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.
It wasn’t FDR who first seriously promoted the progressive income tax in the USA: it was Thomas Paine. It wasn’t LBJ who invented anti-poverty programs by introducing Medicare, housing assistance, and food-stamp programs: Thomas Paine proposed versions of all of these. It wasn’t Jack Kennedy who first talked seriously about international disarmament: it was Thomas Paine. And Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t the first American to talk about the “living wage,” or ways that corporate “maximum wage” wink-and-nod agreements could be broken up: it was Thomas Paine. Even Woodrow Wilson’s inheritance tax, designed to prevent family empires from taking over our nation, was the idea of Thomas Paine, as was the suggestion for old-age pensions as part of a social safety net known today as Social Security.
Paine thought that the best way to build a strong democracy was to tax the wealthy to give the poor bootstraps by which they could pull themselves up. He proposed helping out young families with the expense of raising children (a forerunner to our income tax exemptions for children), a fund to provide housing and food for the poor (a forerunner to housing vouchers and food stamps), and a reliable and predictable pension for all workers in their old age (a forerunner to Social Security). He also suggested that all nations should reduce their armaments by 90 percent, to ensure world peace…