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How to Lose a War

The Spokesman, 90

Bruce Kuklick (Ed), Thomas Paine, Ashgate International Library of Essays in the History of Social and Political Thought, 514 pages, hardback ISBN 0

7546 2490 0 £125.00/$250 Paul Collins, The Trouble with Tom, Bloomsbury, 279 pages, hardback ISBN

0747577684 £12.99



Bruce Kuklick has assembled an extensive collection of essays on Thomas Paine, beginning with two significant overviews of the literature, which is clearly growing at a phenomenal speed. There are as many people who pray Tom Paine in aid as we can count, and the literature of his detractors, from Edmund Burke on down, would fill a sizeable library. The two bibliographical essays, by A. Owen Aldridge and Caroline Robbins, offer an adequate taster of this.


Aldridge points out that we still lack anything approaching a complete edition of Tom Paine’s works, in spite of the fact that his writing resonates with sharp clarity. Paine used a number of pseudonyms, one of which echoes the Miltonic influence which helped to shape his outlook. Comus made his debut in the Pennsylvania Packet in March 1779, and brought its fire to bear on Governor Morris who was to become a perennial target.


Caroline Robbins begins with Paine’s Quaker tradition: ‘Everyone, he wrote, is finally his own teacher’. He seldom, she says, ‘allowed five minutes to pass without seeking some improvement’.


Kuklick’s book treats on six main subject areas: in addition to its survey of the literature, it includes a section on Paine’s influence on the history of political thought, and another on Paine and the ideology of Republicanism. There is a fourth part on the social history of ideas, and a fifth on the literary quality of Paine’s writings. The book concludes with two stirring treatments of Paine’s influence on radical history, by Ian Dyck and Harvey J. Kaye. Kaye endorses the belief that the study of American radicals should be essential homework for this generation, because it will give heart to the victims of the erosion of democracy over the recent past.


Amen to that: but the really essential homework involves the story of where they failed, and why …


Kuklick finishes his anthology with a reference to William Cobbett, who began by sharing an intense dislike, not to say phobia about the revolutionary Paine, but became a dedicated acolyte, going so far as to dig up Paine’s bones in the United States and bring them to England, where he hoped they might receive a more reverent welcome, possibly interment in a mausoleum.


This story is taken up by Paul Collins, in The Trouble with Tom, which records ‘the strange afterlife and times of Thomas Paine’. The story of the loss of Paine’s bones is a complicated one, and it has given rise to a macabre book, which does not know the answer. But it finishes with a good question: ‘Where is Tom Paine? Reader, where is he not?


James Jones










Independent News Collective


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