By now, we all know what Thomas Paine had in mind when he wrote Common Sense: he was calling for America to free itself from the British rule and to set up its own independent, republican government. In the time when even the most fervent patriots were hesitant to voice their wish for revolution, Common Sense was able to inspire and spur the Americans to unite under a single cause and paved the way for what we now know as the American Revolutionary War. The success of this pamphlet can be attributed to many things: logical and straightforward arguments against the British rule, careful observation on the contemporary state and ability of America, or it can simply be his bold and impassioned prose. To me, however, the most interesting feature of Paine’s writing was the exclusion of certain groups. You might argue that Paine never explicitly excluded a certain group of people from the revolutionary cause, but once you read Common Sense more carefully, you will find that Paine’s aggressive remarks on these “cowards” and “traitors” appear quite often throughout the writing. He writes:
- “…a certain set of moderate men…by an ill-judged deliberation, will be the cause of MORE CALAMITIES to this continent”(Paine 28).
- “Let the names of Whig and Tory be EXTINCT; and let none other be heard among us” (Paine 61).
- “Every tory is a COWARD, for a servile, slavish, self-interested fear is the foundation of toryism” (Paine 75).
- “…the line of IRREVOCABLE SEPARATION be drawn between us…” (Paine 75)
- “…I as sincerely wish that our next year’s arms may EXPEL them from the continent, and the congress APPROPRIATE their possessions to the relief of those who have suffered in well-doing…America could carry on a two years war by the confiscation of the property of disaffected persons, and be MADE HAPPY BY THEIR EXPULSIONS” (Paine 77).
Even after reading the above passages you might still say “Hey, you know how Paine is like. He can be quite provocative. Paine didn’t really mean what he said there. It was just one of his writing strategies that sought to persuade moderate people and rally them against the Brits.” Well, maybe. But we should keep in mind that “about 62,000 loyalists, or about 2% of the total US population at the time, left after the Revolutionary War”, and that “many were disillusioned by the continuing hostility to Tories and eventually decided to leave the new Republic”(Loyalist(American Revolution), Wikipedia). So the fear of retaliation for the Tories was real. Why then, these exclusions? What could Paine possibly gain from drawing “the line of irrevocable separation”? We discussed a number of reasons for this in class on Tuesday, but I want to delve into the subject with a different approach : group psychology.
In his famous ‘Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego’ (1922), Freud offers an interesting idea about how individuals in a group try to identify with other members based upon an important emotional common quality. He argues that “The more important this common quality is, the more successful may this partial identification become, and it may thus represent the beginning of a new tie” (Freud 50). Although much of his effort is directed to explaining this mutual tie between leaders and members, he does not forget to mention that at the same time our death instinct (aggression) is expressed to out-groups in order to strengthen the mutual tie and thereby successfully create a cohesive, consolidated and united group. Citing the example of the Church – presumably the Catholic Church – Freud asserts that even the most sacred and compassionate human organization is no exception to this concept. He writes:
“But even during the kingdom of Christ those people who do not belong to the community of believers, who do not love him, and whom he does not love, stand outside this tie. Therefore a religion, even if it calls itself the religion of love, must be hard and unloving to those who do not belong to it. Fundamentally indeed every religion is in this same way a religion of love for all those who it embraces; while cruelty and intolerance towards those who do not belong to it are natural to every religion”(Freud 39)
Whether Freud’s view on group psychology is correct or not, it is hard to deny that his study provides an insight to understanding characteristics of mass political movements in human history. I presume no one would argue against the fact that Paine’s Common Sense indeed served as a seed for the American Revolution, which was essentially a mass political and military mobilization of American people. Then, if we apply Freud’s concept of group psychology to the exclusions found in Common Sense, we can infer Paine’s motive for explicitly making such distinctions. Paine is tried to create a sense of emotional bonds between “the members” by identifying those who are NOT included in this great undertaking of revolution. This bond would, in turn, hold the collective entity firmly together and thus contribute to the Independence of America, which was Paine’s ultimate objective.
I’m not implying that Paine has wrongfully discriminated against the out-groups. He – and other patriots – had every right to reproach the Tories for their seemingly antinational behaviors. It is an immovable fact that Britain has done horrible things to America, and to Paine and many others the only reasonable solution was independence. Nevertheless, the method Paine employed in bringing people of different interests together under the single, united cause is no different than what many political leaders and activists have done in history: concentrating people’s animosity on those who stand outside the tie, those who are different and dissident from the majority.
Let’s take a look at some examples of political exclusion in its most extreme form. Again, I am by no means saying that the causes and intentions of the American Revolution are similar to those of the following examples. I’m suggesting that the practice of making exclusions is a strategy shared by many mass political movements.
Watch from 1:00 to 1:50
Watch from 1:15
So, is exclusion inevitable? It seems in every radical movement, moderates, pacifists and minorities are likely to become a target of people’s hostility. Consider the following quote in relation to what I discussed.
“…the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” (Hermann Goering, as recorded in Gustave Gilbert’s Nuremberg Diary)