Society and Government

Thomas Paine thought that society a product of our wants and needs whereas government is necessitated by our wickedness. Society, he wrote, unites our affections and government restrains our vices. 

Both society and government have developed and changed since 1776, when Paine published “Common Sense” but the fundamental characteristics of society and government and their qualities remain unchanged.

Things are more complicated now than they were when the American Revolution was taking place and the way in which communications have developed makes the world a place where instant remedies are sought as a reaction to wickedness. This makes governments, who have no other tool to use except to make laws, create more and more new laws. It has also created governments, who should be concerned to protect the people they govern from wickedness, stepping into roles that are better suited for society.

Society, it strikes me, develops from custom and usage over a period of time. It is not a device that can be re-engineered, any more than you can re-engineer a life that has been lived. By trying to engineer society, as all governments in my lifetime in my country have done, they meddle with what is not an engine but a series of inter relationships which they understand imperfectly, and by their attempts to re engineer something that is organic, rather than inorganic or engineered itself, they create undesired consequences and are blind to such consequences, because like all engineers, they are in love with their own engineering.

Thus we have complicated laws, not simple ones. We anguish over conflicts of rights that we find have arisen when we have tinkered with that which we do not understand. That is simply common sense.


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