Study Guide

Common Sense Society and Class

By Thomas Paine

Society and Class

Thomas Paine's major beef with the English isn't just their tyrannical rule over America; it's the entire structure of their society. And here's his problem: English people are born into rich and powerful families just like the king is born into power. Paine believes in a world where people have to work for whatever power and respect they end up getting, and he can't imagine how the British have tolerated such an unfair and bogus system for so long.

Ultimately, he figures that it's just national pride and an empty sense of "tradition" that keeps the Brits hanging on to their social structure. America, on the other hand, has the ability to be different, to be a place where people can make their own way and succeed based on their merit instead of who their fathers are. A meritocracy, according to Paine, is just good Common Sense.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. What kind of society does Thomas Paine like to envision for a future America" Do you think present-day America has made good on his dream? Why or why not?
  2. Why does society exist, according to Paine? What purpose does it serve and how can it work best?
  3. According to Paine, what social classes exist in America? Are there any? What's good about America compared to Britain when it comes to issues of social class?

Chew on This

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine dreams for an America that will one day have no social classes at all, and where everyone will be equal.

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine is totally fine with inequality as long as the inequality is justified.

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