"A new era for politics is struck; a new method of thinking has arisen." So proclaimed Thomas Paine in 1776, making the case for American independence. But Paine did not stop there. For the next forty-some years until his death in 1809, he continued to sound the call for change on both sides of the Atlantic: the eradication of hereditary government and privilege; enfranchisement for the common man; abolition of slavery; freedom from organized religion; a preliminary blueprint for Social Security; an end to barbaric punishments; and, not least, an end to unnecessary wars.
Fast forward two hundred years, from "We have it in our power to begin the world over again" to "Yes we can": it is hardly surprising that Paine's emphasis on change continues to reverberate in our nation -- and that Barack Obama himself would tap into this spirit by citing lines from Paine's first American Crisis paper in his inaugural speech. Yet, even with "change" on the national agenda, we are still left with that which Paine identified as the "curious phenomenon of a nation looking one way, and a government the other -- the one forward and the other backward." The issues of poverty, inequality, torture and faith-determined legislation (to name only a few) remain as vexed as ever.
This colloquium is organized by Frances A. Chiu, instructor in the Humanities and Social Sciences Departments at The New School. It commemorates the 200th anniversary of the death of Thomas Paine in conjunction with Chiu's course, "The Age of Paine: Radicalism, Revolution, and Reform." The course and the colloquium reflect upon Paine's achievements and legacy and their relevance in the 21st century.
Frances A. Chiu
Frances A. Chiu is an Instructor in the Humanities and Social Sciences Departments at The New School.
John Nichols is a noted U.S. commentator who writes for The Nation and was a visiting guest at the 2010 Walkley Media Conference.