Study Guide


“When the Truth deigns to come, her sister Liberty will not be far.  Truth, the fountain of happiness, the harbinger of freedom, the basis of justice, and the source of judgment..By exploring this sacred and invaluable principle, evil is exterminated and good is produced.  It is the province of all ranks of society, from prince to beggar to seek it, and it is only to be found by dispassion and fair reflection.  By giving free scope to the imagination, and full discussion and promulgation of every sentiment, wherever it may spring, this sacred guide to human action will be ascertained.” 

The Rights of Man, 1795

“He will now felicitate himself that the era has arrived, when the light of reason is bursting forth with effulgence, that distinguishes genuine principles from sophistical doctrines, (my underline), and be convinced of the utility of the former over the latter.  By reasoning and thinking for himself, he will not relinquish those rights which are inalienable to his nature…” 

The Rights of Man, 1795

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.” 

The Rights of Man, 1795


Paine calls for the politics of noetic reasoning which awakens conscience through the thoughtful exploration of democratic principles in relation to contemporary social and political issues.  This rounded approach which calmly examines multiple proposals in relation to pressing issues would be inclusive of diverse sentiments as well as dispassionate and humble before the daunting task of pursuing the public good.  By invoking universal principles of “liberty and justice for all” within a context of trust, our indivisible Union could be existentially honored in the open forums of dialogue and debate rather than subtly subverted by intellectual “jockeying”, fueled by the desire to uphold narrow ideological programs and moneyed interests.


  1. What exactly is a “principle”?  Can we “step back” from impulses so as to be able to calmly view a principle as a rational basis for thought, deliberation, and action?  How inclusive or exclusive should a political principle be?  Does a genuine democratic principle such as “justice for all” lend itself to multiple possible interpretations and an even richer array of possible applications to emerging contemporary issues?  Does Robert Maynard Hutchin’s observation that “the classical is always contemporary” shed light on the paradoxical truth that a principle is simultaneously unchanging at its core but dynamically evolving in its creative application to diverse issues?
  2. Are politically charged ideological terms such as “capitalism”, “socialism”, “free enterprise”, “libertarianism”, and/or “progressivism” linked to sophistry or can they be thoughtfully used to reveal different aspects of concrete, practical political proposals?  To what extent, in practice, do such political “isms” illuminate current conditions and future possibilities or oversimplify them; thus prematurely walling off dialogue and mutual fact-finding about policy impacts?
  3. What might be meant by the phrase, “You can’t have liberty without unity”?