Policy

Thomas Paine on Society & Government

Sheldon Richman

In connection with today’s TGIF, I reproduce a quotation from Thomas Paine (The Rights of Man), who thought government a “necessary evil.” In it, Paine anticipates work by Bastiat, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Carl Menger, Mises, Hayek, Bruno Leoni, Anthony de Jasay, Elinor Ostrom, Peter Boettke, Peter Leeson, and more.

Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. The landholder, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and every occupation, prospers by the aid which each receives from the other, and from the whole. Common interest regulates their concerns, and forms their law; and the laws which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws of government. In fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to government.

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