Thomas Paine as a Theorist of the Right to Existence

in Journal of Early American History
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Thomas Paine share with the Montagnards and the popular movement in the French Revolution the same conception of the republic. It is based on the guarantee of the right to exist, based on an idea of freedom defined as equality of personal rights. Instead, the Girondins and Condorcet whose political ideas are yet systematically associated with his, highlight the unlimited freedom of the owner as the basis of society. Thomas Paine allows to reconsider the divisions from which historiography has fixed the meaning of the French Revolution. He reveals the contradictions of the standard narrative of modernity we have inherited.

Thomas Paine as a Theorist of the Right to Existence

in Journal of Early American History




Philippe Van ParijsSauver la Solidarité (Paris, Fra: Cerf1995) and Refonder la Solidarité (Paris Fra.: Cerf 1996) ; “Vers un revenu minimum inconditionnel ?” La revue du MAUSS semestrielle 7 (1996); Yannick Bosc “Thomas Paine notre contemporain ?” in eds. Christian Delacroix François Dosse and Patrick Garcia Historicités (Paris Fra.: La Découverte 2009) 151–167.


Yannick Bosc“Liberté et Propriété. Sur l’Economie Politique et le Républicanisme de Condorcet”Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française366 (October-December 2011): 53–82 and “Républicanisme et Protection Sociale : l’Opposition Paine-Condorcet” in eds. Stéphanie Roza et Pierre Crétois Le Républicanisme Social: une Exception Française? (Paris Fra.: Publications de la Sorbonne 2014) 129–146.


Thomas PaineDissertation sur les premiers principes de gouvernement (Paris, Fra.: impr. de la rue de Vaugirard, Year III1795) 18. Translated from French.


Bernard VincentThomas Paine ou la Religion de la Liberté (Paris, Fra.: Aubier Montaigne1987) 92–93.


PaineAgrarian Justice398. This criterion of the state of society is now put in competition with Rawl’s justice principles by some economists and philosophers. In A Theory of Justice (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press 1971) 60 Rawls defines two justice principles. According to the first one “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with a similar liberty for others”. The second principle is made up with the difference principle and the principle of fair equal opportunities. According to the latter everyone should have at equal capacities the same access to the diverse positions in society. The difference principle says that economical inequalities are only justified if they are for the greater good of the disadvantaged.


PaineAgrarian Justice398.


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 See Florence Gauthier“De Mably à Robespierre. De la Critique de l’Economique à la Critique du Politique. 1775–1793” in La Guerre du blé au XVIIIe Siècle 111–144.


Jean-Paul MaratPlan de Législation Criminelle (Paris, Fra.: Rochette Imprimeur1790) 17.


George LefebvreLes Paysans du Nord Pendant la Révolution Française (Paris, Fra.: Rieder1924); Albert Soboul Les Sans-Culottes Parisiens en l’an II (Paris Fra.: Clavreuil 1958).


Keith M. Baker“Transformations of Classical Republicanism in Eighteenth-Century France” in The Journal of Modern History 73 no. 1 (2001): 32–53. For a criticism of Baker’s theses see Yannick Bosc “La Constitution de l’an III: Un Républicanisme Classique?” Révolution Franç September 2008 (online); Christopher Hamel “L’Esprit Républicain Anglais Adapté à la France du XVIIIe Siècle: Un Républicanisme Classique?” La Révolution Française 5/2013 (online).


Philip PettitRepublicanism. A theory of Freedom and Government (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press1997); Quentin Skinner Liberty Before Liberalism (Cambridge U.K.: Cambridge University Press 1997); Quentin Skinner “A Third Concept of Liberty” in Proceedings of the British Academy 117 (2002): 237–268


Florence GauthierTriomphe et Mort du Droit Naturel en Révolution 1789-1795-1802 (Paris, Fra.: PUF1992).


Yannick Bosc“‘Un Arsenal pour les Séditieux’: La Déclaration des Droits Comme Pratique Politique”Etudes Historiques sur la Révolution Française. Hommages à Victor DalineMoscou 1998 A. Tchoudinov ed. 189–200 (in Russian) French translation Révolution Franç December 2005 online.


Yannick Bosc“De Thermidor à Brumaire: La Victoire de ‘la Vaste Conspiration Contre les Droits Naturels”Corpus Revue de Philosophie64 (2013): 149–172.


Florence Gauthier 1992.


Edward Palmer Thompson 1963.


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