Diversity: Threat and Value

As students at the University of Michigan we appreciate the many benefits of diversity. The University is composed of people of various religions, races, and ethnicities. Diversity is touted as one of the University’s core values. “The University’s diverse blend of students, staff and faculty is a tremendous resource, and we all benefit from this mix of perspectives and experiences.” [1]

The University has made moves to publicize and, in some instances, institutionalize diversity. Whether it is through the Expect Respect campaign, or the more controversial (and now abandoned) affirmative action policies, the University does much to promote diversity.

To us, modern students in this inclusive University, some of Paine’s ideas about minorities might seem puzzling, if not offensive. Why does Paine insist in his writing that not all groups be included in the new polity? Does he not see the benefits of a diverse community? Must we discredit his work because of his exclusionary vision for the new nation?

We will find sufficient answers to these questions when we consider Paine as a political theorist. While Paine might have held views that we could today be classified as racist or sexist, I argue his political identity as a civic republican was the primary reason why he believed certain groups needed to be excluded.

“In this extensive quarter of the globe, we forget the narrow limits of three hundred and sixty miles (the extent of England) and carry our friendship on a larger scale; we claim brotherhood with every European Christian, and triumph in the generosity of the sentiment.”[2] So much can be said about this short excerpt.

Slaves, African as they were, would not have a place in this new society. Neither would Jews. Since Paine is claiming “brotherhood” with European Christians it is doubtful that women would be included. Would Paine consider Catholics to be eligible for inclusion in this new society? Possibly, but considering the rampant anti-Catholicism in the colonies, maybe not.

When we remember that Paine was a civic republican, this all makes sense. Paine considered the community to be the fundamental political unit. He had to create the notion of a “people”.

Morone writes, “Ultimately, “the people” is a reification, a powerful political fiction.”[3] It was this same fiction that Paine had to create.

To suggest that European Christians with varying interests and of varying classes could unite into one brotherhood was myth enough. To claim that everyone, including those who at the time were considered subordinate or inferior, could come together as equals would simply not have been believable. It is clear that Paine viewed diversity as a threat.

We should not pass judgment on Paine because he failed to include everyone in his vision for America. When we consider the political and historical environment in which he lived and wrote, his vision for the new nation makes more sense.


[2]  Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and Other Essential Writings of Thomas Paine, p. 39

[3] James A. Morone, The Democratic Wish, p. 7

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5 Responses to Diversity: Threat and Value

  1. hengk says:

    I didn’t find it clear that Paine was sexist! I see what you mean about him not being explicit with the inclusion of women and other races, and he is pretty clear about not including Quakers and Jews. But I honestly don’t think he did it out of fear of diversity. Instead, I think he was just emphasizing the community of all his peers. Paine’s ultimate goal was to convince his fellow colonists that they were in it together, against Britain. In order to create this communitarian group, he needed a non-we. That excluded the some other groups, and honestly, the other groups weren’t emotionally affected by this British attachment. That being said, women WERE probably emotionally attached to Britain, and should have been in Paine’s idea of a community. Well, I didn’t find Paine to be blatantly sexist. I know that he never lauded the idea of women being represented. I’m not even trying to defend him with his little Joan of Arc exclamation (“Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment!”). He certainly didn’t approve of the prostitutes hanging out in the colonies, and he tends to write his “we” for men. But I genuinely believe that Paine would have included the women in his community idea. I think that his excluded groups were because their feelings didn’t resonate anger for the British. Or maybe my beliefs are just wishful thinking on Paine’s part.

  2. emmasag says:

    Paine’s implicit viewpoint that excludes a number of Americans from the ‘American revolution’, seems to be a result of the burgeoning status quo. The argument that Paine was a true civic republican, and thus was attempting to inspire a more efficient movement made up of white male land owners seems a little off base.
    Paine was undoubtedly one of the most significant political theorist of the the late 18th century. Nevertheless, despite his abolitionist sentiments and resentment towards England’s monarchy, he upholds England’s strict class system, and seems to use it as the standard for his ambition for a representative democracy. So, I would argue that Paine was racist, he was sexist, and indeed he was prejudice against Catholics, Jews, Quakers, etc.
    Now whether this simply means that Paine was a man of his time or whether this was a strategic decision, to more effectively engage it’s audience (white males) is hard to say. Nonetheless, it is clear that whatever Paine’s reasons were, he appears to have been wise in his judgement given the results.

  3. eakunne5 says:

    i think that you had some very interesting ideas and arguments in referring to what we see as ideal in comparison to Paine. However i feel some discrepencies need to be made about how Paine thinks. This is by no means an excuse, but the exclusions he made were more about the pushover effect that britiain had on american and his fear of thier tyranny. Him excluding loyalist and people who arent against British rule(quakers) was for, in his opinion, the common good for everyone. His exclusion of race and slavery are more akin to the time period and his assumptions of how are society is able to work at that time. He never said he was against the progression or regression of these excluded people

  4. bjacobs25 says:

    When I think of why Paine excluded who he did I always come back to the time period in which he wrote. At this time, exclusion was commonplace. The founding fathers had no issue excluding slaves from the constitution. In fact, many of the same demographics that Paine explicitly or implicitly excludes were rarely included in society at this time. Not all Americans at this time were civic republicans, therefore it’s hard to justify Paine’s exclusion because he himself was a civic republican.

    Even today we still have demographic exclusions of some sort (though they may not have been as extreme as Paine’s time): homeless people, Muslims, Jews, to a certain extent women (wage earning for example). Exclusion seems to be a staple of human nature. In 100 years, though some currently excluded groups will have been included, it’s hard to imagine a world in which no demographic, be it racial, ethnic, religious or what-have-you, is excluded.

  5. eskylis says:

    There is a lot going on in this post, some of which could be expanded upon. Paine and exclusion has been a hot topic of discussion for the class for several weeks, and there are several blog posts that deal expressly with this issue (http://polsci307.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/target-audience-2/#comments is my own post on the issue from a few weeks ago). There is one point in this post that I found of particular interest and would like to see more on, which is diversity, and the institutional impact of a program like affirmative action in the school or workplace.

    First of, it is worth noting that affirmative action is always in practice in umich’s admission board, despite proposition (2 was it back in 2008?) seeking to ban the usage of affirmative action in university settings. The implementation of this legislation fell short, even though it was widely agreeable to the majority of Michigan voters. Recently, there was a civil rights tribunal put in place by former Governor Granholm that declared affirmative action out of the realm of the voters and subject to the discretion of admissions offices rather than the tax paging citizens that so generously fund such academics. Despite the legal battle raging, it is clear that admissions officers find ways around restricted affirmative action policies as well (assess admission based on income level and region applying from, for instance). Thus affirmative action is still live and well.

    I wonder how Paine and the rest of the founding fathers would have regarded affirmative action policies. This is even more interesting when considering Shklar’s definition of citizenship, and the significant weight Shklar places on the value of an education. Is affirmative action a way to foster a more inclusive citizenship? This is, after all, really the only logically sound argument of affirmative action proponents (that is the foreword looking argument, in favor of an ethnically diverse elite, rather than a backward looking argument that claims affirmative action beneficiaries deserve preferential treatment to right past wrongs). It may be that affirmative action is necessary to promote a racially diverse elite in the country (which was the subject of debate between majority and dissenting opinions in Grutter v. Bollinger). Thus, where Paine may be against such policies, it is interesting to consider where writers such as Shklar would be.

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