Monday, August 10, 2009

Glenn Beck's "Common Sense" is a Sham

Well, I just finished Glenn Beck’s “Common Sense,” which, according to Beck, was “Inspired by Thomas Paine.” Beck has clearly never truly read Thomas Paine and knows very little about him, his history, or his beliefs. For many readers, pages one to seven seem to make a lot of sense. There are some general and specific criticisms about government spending and corruption in Congress I agree with. Who wouldn’t? But Beck’s attempt to connect his neo-conservative positions with Founding Father Thomas Paine is shockingly ignorant of both Paine and American history.

Beck uses this book – and Paine’s name – to criticize “Progressivism,” blaming it for much of what ails the country. Sadly, this is a complete distortion of Paine’s legacy. While the extent of most Americans’ knowledge of Paine is “he wrote Common Sense," I teach his work in class every year. I've use “The Crisis” and selections from “The Rights of Man” and “Age of Reason.” If you want to understand Paine and his vision for America, you should read them. Beck doesn’t understand Paine, but he does want to use the credibility of “The Founding Fathers” to promote an anti-government message.
Far from opposing “progressivism,” Thomas Paine is one of the original “Progressives,” though at the time he was called a radical for his liberal views. He is commonly associated with the origins of American liberalism. “Common Sense” was one small piece of his work – it was a pamphlet simply designed to encourage revolution against Britain. Paine later clearly outlined his vision of what he thought American government should look like. This is where Beck falls off the apple cart.

Beck uses this book to openly criticize progressive taxation, public education, social security, and “the progressive agenda.” But readers should know something – Thomas Paine was one of the earliest advocates of progressive taxation, even drawing up tables and rates.

He was also the first proponent of the estate tax. And in Agrarian Justice he proposed combating poverty and income inequality by taxing the wealthy to give jobs and “grants” to young people. He also proposed using this system to provide government-sponsored pensions for the elderly. Paine’s Agrarian Justice can be considered the earliest call for a national old-age pension – ie. Social Security. He wanted to tax the rich and give money to the poor.

He joined Thomas Jefferson in strongly advocating universal tax-supported public education, believing it was necessary to promote an educated electorate and was a necessary way to combat poverty. Paine also sought a federally guaranteed minimum wage, and long before Woodrow Wilson, Paine urged the establishment of, and US participation in, global organizations to help solve international problems and avoid wars.

Yet, this is all lost on Glenn Beck.

Beck criticizes Progressives for leading the United States away from its original purpose. He even goes as far as chastising Teddy Roosevelt. That’s pretty bold for a guy whose only contribution to the United States has been as an entertainer. Has Glenn Beck completely forgotten “The Gilded Age”? While Beck, for whatever reason, is disturbed by progressive ideals, he fails to concede the un-democratic conditions that led to the desire of Americans for the rise of progressive reforms.

In fact, if you look at American history from 1776 to 1900 and from 1900 to present, you will see that Beck is right in that progressives shaped America into the country that it is. It’s one with a thriving middle class, reasonably safe food and water, no child labor, forty hour workweeks, etc. If Beck wants to dismiss Progressives and return to life under President McKinley or Harding with robber barons running the economy and the atrocious work conditions chronicled by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle, he’s crazy. Beck has never known what it would be like to live in an America not guided by the leadership of progressives. Instead, he lives comfortably in a nation defined by liberal and progressive policies, and then audaciously challenges the very notion of the peaceful prosperity they provide.
Beck ironically praises “our political leaders” that could inspire us to “defeat Nazism and fascism,” and then goes on to criticize that leader - FDR - as helping destroy the country. Beck doesn’t even concede that the United States would never have been able to wage WWII or build the Atomic Bomb or put a man on the moon or wage and win the Cold War if it weren’t for the large-scale ability of the federal government to raise revenue, mainly through progressive taxation. He reviews the original foundation of the United States government in the Articles of Confederation, acknowledging that it failed because it was too weak, and then heaps his praise on the Constitution. However, he doesn’t concede that the significant difference in power given to the federal government in the Constitution was the power to levy taxes. Even conservative Edmund Burke knew that “the revenue of the state is the state.” Thus, weak revenue gathering equals weak government. And a weak federal government would never have been able to respond to two World Wars, the Cold War, and two Iraq wars.

Beck goes on to criticize Hillary Clinton and the public education system for “suggesting the community has a vested interest in what each child is taught.” Who doesn’t believe that? He offers no alternative proposals for how education should be carried out. Though I hardly believe he is proposing the end of public education. That would be so un-Jeffersonian, another Founding Father.
On page 99, Beck shifts from a scathing criticism of public education to promote God and religion in public life. This is completely disingenuous in a book “inspired by Thomas Paine.” Paine was a deist who vigorously opposed Christianity or any organized religion. He often called himself an atheist. Paine was very anti-Christianity. He vehemently opposed the government supporting religion in any way. In fact, in his later life, he was practically exiled from the country because of his criticism of religion in America.

A few other criticisms:

On page 61, Beck paraphrases Barry Goldwater’s (or some attribute Gerald Ford) quote, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have,” and he doesn’t even give the original speaker credit.

On page 17, Beck paraphrases the well-known “You can’t save the poor by destroying the rich” quote from Reverend William J. H. Boetcke and again doesn’t give credit. Historians and English teachers call this plagiarism.

Finally, Beck writes a mere 111 pages, and then re-prints all of Paine’s “Common Sense” which is in the public domain – and he charges $12.00 for the book. What a sham. I’m glad I checked it out of the library, but I hate that my library spent taxpayer funds on it. They should have waited until it was in the bargain bin for $.99

That’s why Beck is disingenuous. He is a hack, and while I occasionally enjoyed some of his earlier work – I’ve read all three of his books – I am sadly disappointed in this mis-use of one of America’s Founding Fathers. Beck says Americans do not know their history, but he is one of them, and with this book he is counting on their ignorance. Ultimately, this book is a poorly-written piece of neo-conservative fear-mongering. Perhaps saddest of all in a book "inspired by" a Founding Father, Glenn Beck says he "fears" the end of the republic. What a profound lack of faith in the very people and institution he praises. What an absolute insult to every true patriot who has ever laid his life on the line for the republic. As Republican Bob Inglis recently noted, "This is a constitutional republic that can withstand any president I disagree with." If the United States has managed to survive all the trials it has - from the Civil War to the Gilded Age to the Great Depression and beyond, it will survive today.

It will even survive fear-peddling "rodeo clowns" who are ignorant of its history.

** And for those of you who haven't heard the latest nonsense, Glenn Beck is at it again.


banders said...

Spot on. It's crazy to me how the notion of the "Founding Fathers" in conservative America has become so distanced from the men themselves. People talk about them as a group as if they all agreed on political and societal issues. Thanks for the education. Keep it up.

Daughter of Eve said...

Did you watch the video from that link I gave you??

mmazenko said...

I watched one of the links - the other has been removed from YouTube. These videos were available, and discussed at length, during last year's campaign. They're really aren't that disconcerting if you put them in context.

The problem, of course, is viewing these as any more than an academic discussion. It's far more important to understand the significant system of checks and balances in our constitutional republic. All Americans, regardless of personal preference, are bound by the Constitution. That is true until stringent actions are taken by popular vote to amend the Constitution when necessary, and then they are still bound by the changes.

At many times, scholars have noted the irony of American history, such as when Thomas Jefferson penned the lines "all men are created equal" as his slaves waited by his carriage outside. The nation, and its history, is not perfect. And we should never be afraid to verbalize that idea.

However, the rule of law stands, as it has for two hundred years. Don't let people using selective quotes in youtube videos scare you. You need to know all the facts, and concede the opposing view.

The United States has withstood the challenges of some very corrupt men and incredibly corrupt times. Neither is true right now. If you really think times are bad, do some research into life before 1900. Explore the Gilded Age. As I noted before, I have great hope for our future. And I was telling this to critics of George Bush for eight years as well, even as they argued Bush was destroying the country and violating the Constitution.

The republic will survive, as it is not about one man, but 300 million people. It survives every year, even though half the country always opposes the president. We should certainly be critics of that which we believe is wrong. However, we should concede, at the end of the day, that Americans love their country, even when they disagree with each other.

Anonymous said...

No where in our founding fathers history does it say we need the government to provide for us. That is where current day liberals are wrong. Remember liberal and conservatives are terms to describe the current political ideology. What was considered liberal 10 years ago, is now conservative. Thomas Paine might have been a liberal back in his day, but he was not the same kind of liberal we have in our government today. He was liberal because he wanted the people to be free from government, not more government which our liberals today want. When they ask for laws preventing smoking, fatty foods, health care or anything in the name of "whats good for the people" that is more government in our lives. WHICH IS OPPOSITE OF WHAT THOMAS PAINE WANTED!!! You would know that if you weren't pushing an agenda.

Paint said...

apparently you don't know history very well..
what district are you in so i make sure you never poison my kids.

mmazenko said...


I was referring to Paine in the contemporary sense, and as I noted exhaustively, Paine was an original proponent of many liberal/progressive programs and ideals. He viewed government as a "necessary evil," and he clearly supported the development of many "big government" plans. Have you read him?

And I'm not pushing an agenda - I'm an educator who is correcting a lot of misinformation. Additionally, I am neither a liberal, nor a Democrat. While I am fiscally conservative, it's more Burkean than neo-conservative (see David Brooks if you want an explanation), and I generally split my vote between Democrats and Republicans. As an independent voter, I am simply a pragmatist. If you care to refute my analysis of Paine's political beliefs - or Beck's distortion of them - feel free.

Paint, are you speaking to me or Anonymous? I hope it's not I, as I hope you don't believe that other people have more influence on your kids than you do. I don't promote any agenda in my classroom. As a teacher of rhetoric and argumentation, I regularly seek to offer both sides, urging my students to rationally evaluate the information and make their own decision. For example, when I do "book talks," I recommend my students read Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken, Sean Hannity, James Carville, Bill OReilly, Arianna Huffington, Glenn Beck, David Sirota, etc. I promote all their views, and let me kids decide.

I do not fear that my child will be "poisoned" by any teacher, as I have raised rational, independently minded children whom I trust to not be manipulated by ideology. I also know my school and district and teachers well enough to know that ideology is not a driving force in the classroom.

How exactly is it that I don't know my history? If you'd like to correct my statements with specific facts and details, I look forward to hearing your criticism.

Anonymous said...

I've done research on the Founding fathers, Mostly focused on Franklin and Washington though. As for Paine I do know he was an oppertunistic journalist and Died with most people hating him thinking he was crazy. I also listen to Glenn and I agree with him most of the time. I would agree that its not the best book written but it wasn't suppose to be. I read it for the current facts, which at had and was well researched. I wasn't looking at it from a literary point of view, which I agree was poor.

All I care about is the facts and the facts point to an out of control, over barring Government. In that respect I thought the book was pretty good.

mmazenko said...


I appreciate your commentary. After a similar point from an acquaintance, I recommended he get similar info, but from a different perspective. If you're interested you might check out:

"Who Will Tell The People?" William Greider

"Pigs at the Trough" Arianna Huffington

"Hostile Takeover" David Sirota

"Perfectly Legal" David Cay Johnston

"Bad Money" Kevin Phillips

"Trillion Dollar Meltdown" Charles Morris

"What Would Jefferson Do" Thom Hartmann

"The Shock Doctrine" Naomi Klein

"America the Broke" Gerald Swanson

"I.O.U.S.A." Addison Wiggen

I am also a big fan of former comptroller David Walker and his work with the Concord Coalition.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comment

Daughter of Eve said...

I NEVER said that ANY president is/was perfect. Our country is far from perfect. But that's because it's a world tainted by sin; man is corrupt. McCain has his problems too, but Obama is way worse. He may be right on a FEW things, but he is just so WRONG on SO MANY things! I still don't see how ANYONE could vote for a man who believes in murdering innocent, helpless children. There are so many people who are against the Iraq war, against GUNS! And yet what do they do? They ignore, or even promote, the murder of HELPLESS INFANTS!!! I cannot understand that. They talk about "People shouldn't be able to own firearms!", but they don't mind that many more helpless INFANTS die from selfish abortion than do people by guns in our country. I cannot believe that our country, which has stood for freedom and justice for over 200 YEARS, is now allowing such INJUSTICE!! Aren't we the defenders of the weak? Apparently many ARE NOT. There is a really cool, thought-provoking shirt from It says: "Would it bother us if they were using guns? ABORT73.COM" Good thing for all those people to think about, huh? I've never gone to that website, but they had a booth at LIFEST (a Christian music festival I went to), and I sure want one of those T-shirts. Maybe it would make people STOP and THINK.

~Queen Lucy~

mmazenko said...

Wow, a lot of yelling in that comment. I know you're passionate about that issue. In terms of the video, I was more focused on Obama's comments on the Constitution - speaking in the more general sense, not just one issue.

I'm not sure any one slogan is going to change minds about this. Statistically, people never change their minds about this issue. I do believe, however, that people stop and think - this is one issue people think about more than most. Some simply have different belief about the definition of the origin of life.

Strangely, while 75% of Americans think abortion is morally wrong, less than one-third want Roe overturned, or abortion made illegal. Strange, huh?

mmazenko said...

Oops, I posted before I finished.

In terms of voting for president, there are many anti-abortion voters who supported him. Most people don't vote based on one issue, and they also know that the president's views on this issue don't ever really come into play. Even with appointing judges, no judge ever reveals how he would decide that issue - and many justices have surprised their appointers over the years. It's really not an executive branch issue, unless he were given a bill about it, but even then, it has already been decided by the court.

Interestingly, abortions are only legal in 13% of counties in the United States, and the number of centers providing them has been decreasing every year. Several states only have one center for the entire state. And strangely, some of the states that have the most centers are generally Republican states. Additionally, state laws putting restrictions on abortions have been going up each year. Thus, the focus on one issue at the presidential level probably isn't going to be that significant, and, thus, it's less of a priority for voters in national elections.

Again, strange, huh?

Anonymous said...

Haha, I'm not sure how i got pulled into this, But here i am.
Abortion is only strange if you fail to really understand the circumstances those people are coming from.
By no chances should it be this way, but the second that pregnancy test shows a positive, morality becomes elastic.
While most people will acknowledge that both medically and morally you're basically killing a human being, certain curcumstances would inhibit someone's ability to have a child. Single teen mothers are not the thing we need more of anywhere. Neither do we need ignored children, suicidally depressed fathers or opressed housewives. It may seem horrible, but unfortunately, a good amount of people either are not ready for or don't want kids, and don't want to find themselves paying a large price for the next 18 years.
Sorry if i offended anyone.
I do enjoy the posts though, Mr. Mazenko, please keep them coming.

mmazenko said...

No offense taken, Anon.

Thanks for joining the discussion. It's always been a moral dilemma - would we rather have a potential (and I use that word not to offend, but to hypothesize) life ended before it's really begun, or allow a child to be born unwanted leading to a life of abuse and neglect.

Clearly, some can argue that those hypothetical and potential situations aren't for us to decide. For who knows what might become of those lives. Others could rightly argue that if a mother says she really can't have this child, we should trust her judgement.

Very tough issue.

steven said...

Michael, we all have an agenda, so you don't need to try and deny it. Your agenda is that you support the state. Therefore, you support the idea that some people have the right to rule over other people, whether or not these other people are doing anything to harm anyone else. That idea is inescapable if you support the state.

My agenda is that only those whose actions are harming someone else should ever be subjected to force, with no exceptions.

I admit that I have an agenda. You should too.

Daughter of Eve said...

I totally know that you really cannot vote on one issue, but I still could never, with a clear conscience, vote for someone who believes in that. I don't see how anyone could. And yes, I know that there was a lot of "yelling". ;) But that's one of the things that I really will fight for, no matter what anyone says. If people think it's wrong, why don't they stop it? We obviously know it's wrong, yet we're lazy and don't want to do anything about it. That is so wrong!!! When there is LEGAL MURDER happening, shouldn't we be doing SOMETHING?? *sigh* I wish people could see. Do you know how early a baby's heart begins to beat? Do you know when a baby has fingernails, a nose, and face? So early. Anyone who says that they are not yet a human being must be blind.
Anonymous, I can't exactly say that I UNDERSTAND you point, but I do see it. And I know that there are people who really could not take care of a child! But do realize how many people want children but have never had any?? How glad do you think they would be to adopt a precious gift from God??
Here are a few final thoughts:
"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both."
-Dwight Eisenhower
"Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."
Psalm 127:3-5

~Queen Lucy~

mmazenko said...


I have beliefs - they don't necessarily lead to an agenda. My only agenda to this piece was to point out glaring historical inaccuracies in a book used to deceive and manipulate public opinion. Having read all of Beck's books, I had, in the past, a fairly accepting opinion of him. But this stunt is just absurd, and I wrote about it.

You are correct, however, in that I support having a state. I support being able to fund the military, the CDC, the NIH, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the NRO, the FAA, highways, clean water, police and fire departments, public education, representative democracy, public parks, etc. Unlike you, and Beck, I am simply not naive or uninformed about what these foundations of civilization cost.

At the same time, I don't deny government waste. I support fiscal conservatism in government, as well as a libertarian ideal of individual liberties. Of course, I don't have a problem with the government having the power to tax, especially because that power is constitutional. I am an independent voter who could support Reagan in 1980, knowing taxes were too high. At the same time, I could support Bill Clinton in 1992 because I knew the Democrats understood that while taxes have a ceiling, they also have a floor. The GOP can't seem to figure that out.

If you don't support "the state," you're simply speaking about some utopian ideal of libertarianism, if not anarchy. Of course, you have the luxury of spouting off about such "freedom" without ever having to truly experience the consequences. There are many places where you can have such freedoms - from the state and the rule of law - today. However, life in places like Liberia doesn't really appeal to me. Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Friends Of Narnia, That is why we must be pro-choice. Exactly what we were saying before.
Every situation must be taken by itself, as an individual occurrence, and that's why most people are pro-choice although they decide it is likely morally wrong as a decision.
I have a strong history of mental disorders running through my family, enough in fact to make me never want to have kids. If i am not capable in myself to raise a child at certain points because of illness, especially a special needs child, then if a mistake ever were to happen, I'll just say that choices would have to be reviewed. I believe that children really are not for everybody anymore, and only those ready and willing to raise a child while having every need met should have children.
Even I'll admit that anyone that gets an abortion really needs to sit and realize what is happening, but stark as reality is, it may be the best choice at certain times.
I'm not saying this to be offensive, only to construct my own side of the argument and defend these opinions.

steven said...

Actually, Michael, if you think that you support the libertarian ideal of individual freedom and also support all the various state agencies and functions you mention, you are very naive indeed (as are many others). My feeling is that you are simply happy with your present situation, the state pays you well enough and provides what you want, so you see no problem as long as that continues.

I'm well aware of the cost of civilization. But I'm against employing force against people that have not harmed anyone else (aggression), and that's it. There's no justification for aggression. And as long as that holds true the state is not justified.

If you support the state you either support using aggression or you deny that the state uses aggression (which is obviously false).

mmazenko said...


I'm assuming you're not the person I already debated on this issue - but enforcement of the legal, constitutional act of taxation is not a violation of individual liberties - at least not in the way this country was founded. The problem with this discussion is that I am quite specific about my position, and you speak in generalities about "aggression" against people who haven't harmed anyone. By your definition, the police shouldn't ticket a driver who runs a red light if he doesn't hit or hurt anyone. That's a bit ridiculous.

I am clearly in support of libertarian ideals - but I am pragmatic about the law and order in a democratic republic, as well as the cost of that. I support the right to be safe from unreasonable search and seizure, the right to bear arms, the right to watch whatever you want on TV and turn it off if it bothers you, the right to resist military induction on moral or religious grounds, the right to home-school, the decriminalization of drugs, etc. However, I support the Constitution and the use of popular vote.

Apparently, the concept of a democratic republic upon which this country was founded is unacceptable to you because, among other inconveniences - I am assuming - you have to pay taxes and social security. That's really tough. Let's all sing some spirituals about how the "man" is always keeping you down.

You can certainly argue about how this form of revenue inhibits your individual freedoms, though it's legal and constitutional and representative of a republic. Of course, unless you are going to live on your little spot of land and never leave it and not utilize any public services, I think you're a little off base. Your position is an interesting academic and philosophical discussion, but it's not rational - it's utopian.

Unless you have some specific historical and legal examples of your victimization by tyranny, it's pretty obvious as to who is naive about libertarianism. Time and again in blog discussions, I cite extensive understanding of historical precedence and philosophical foundations. And critics respond that "any government that can tax and punish is oppressive and tyrannical."

That's absurd.

steven said...

Michael, I never said that people who engage in risky behavior that endangers others (such as running a red light) should not expect consequences. You've misunderstood my position here. To engage in behavior that endangers others is to cause harm.

You say that you are in support of libertarian ideals, but you also seem to accept that it is legitimate for other people in a democracy to be able to override those ideals by their vote. If you are in favor of allowing other people to vote away your liberty, what good is saying you support libertarian ideals? Either you support libertarian ideals or you don't, regardless of how someone else votes (democracy - three wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner).

Any government that can force you to pay (via taxes) for things that you don't want or need and who can punish you for actions that don't harm others (or threaten to harm others) is oppressive and tyrannical.

I am the person you previously debated on this issue, but others are using anonymous to post here as well, so I decided to use my name from now on.

Anarchism, at least my conception of it, is anything but utopian. Humanity will never be able to eliminate the criminal element that manifests itself in some people. But I believe that a free society is fully capable of dealing with that criminal element without an insitution that claims the exclusive right to make and enforce the law. We need to get past this idea that we need to have a state to protect ourselves.

mmazenko said...

Oh, Steven. This is always engaging, and I do appreciate you weighing in to discuss this.

The reality of the United States of America is that it is a democratic-republic founded on libertarian ideals. However, the founding happened during the Age of Reason. The Founders - while in support of as much "liberty" as possible - were rationalists. That's the difference between us. Your view is simply irrational. I am libertarian in many of my beliefs, but I am also a logical, pragmatic human being.

The "risky" behavior or "harm to others" is a tricky issue, as definitions get arbitrary. Some may argue that it's risky to do drugs or drink, as you may do harm to others eventually. No one running a red led intends to do harm, yet they might.

The issue of taxes can be viewed the same. The refusal of a member of a community to pay the taxes that provide military protection or fire or police protection or maintain building standards or provide safe highways could be seen by some as negligence putting others at risk. Are you going to drive on the roads? OK, then you should contribute to the funding which keeps those safe (relatively). Are you going to go out in public during flu season where you might sneeze on me (or your kid on mine)? OK, then perhaps you can support the federal backing of public health through the CDC and NIH.

If we arbitrarily let each citizen set his level of "risk," we get anarchy, as you apparently want. But that's not a society, it's lack of one.

It appears you don't feel you are part of a community. That's OK from a theoretical standpoint, but impractical and unrealistic for a civilization to organize itself that way. And, of course, you have the comfort of growing up in relative safety and security (in the contemporary US) without ever having to truly test the reality of your hypothetical anarchism.

You know not of what you speak, as it has never existed.

mmazenko said...

Interestingly, Steven, my wife's cousin just returned from a stint with the US Foreign Service in Africa. She's also heading to Southeast Asia. If you really want to use the terms of "tryanny" and "anarchy" accurately, you might try spending some time in parts of the world where these are actually in practice. Nigeria is in anarchy - North Korea is tyranny.

Middle class America is not even in the same universe as those places. Throwing those terms around so frivolously is really beneath your intellect. It's like people calling Bush or Obama Nazis. It's just absurd.

Daughter of Eve said...

I'm sorry, Anonymous, but you are SO WRONG. I'm not saying that it would not be very difficult for some people, but that child is a living human being!! That's just like finding a mentally disabled person who is grown up and saying: "I don't want you, you are a nuisance. Goodbye!" Do you realize HOW MUCH TROUBLE you would be in?!?! That would be called utter cruelty, and you could never get away with it! Yet you are saying it's alright to do it with someone, just because they are small. If you do that, THEIR BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS!! It's exactly the same as if you had walked up to someone with a pistol and shot them.

~Queen Lucy~

steven said...

Actually, Michael, it has existed. It existed for hundreds of years after the Roman Empire folded. Read Bruce Benson's "The Enterprise of Law", or read "What's Wrong With A Little Tort Reform" by John Hasnas. Read about the history of customary law. It's there, you've just never heard of it.

mmazenko said...

Well, Steven, I'll give you that much - life in the early years of the end of the Roman Empire is certainly something. Of course, let's again be realistic about that time period and that life that led to peasant uprisings and revolutions against oligarchy. I'm sure you would have wanted to have lived back then - as landed gentry maybe, defending your own property with your expert swordsmanship. Of course, dysentery could have killed you then without a state to ensure some clean water. And of course weak states with no public health statutes were no match for the Black Death.

I can't see where organized systems that recognize and respond to pandemics trouble you. But then again, it's because you have never had to, nor will you have to live under true anarchy or tyranny. Really, check out life Liberia or Myannmar. I lived abroad for several years, and traveled extensively, and while I worked in an industrialized and democratic country, I sure developed an appreciation for my liberties here.

The "history of customary law," huh. You're right, I have no experience with it. But then again, neither do you, nor do any of the men writing the books. It's easy to look back historically on that time of wonderful liberty and self-sufficiency. It was, I'm sure, so peaceful and serene. I kind of want to live in "Leave It To Beaver"-land, too. But I know it's rose-colored glasses, selective look at a time period. Not the whole picture.

But I'll check out the books. And I urge you to go seek out the anarchy in Africa. Very low government taxes in Somalia right now.

Anonymous said...

Well, Friends of Narnia,
we can't exactly argue from here on out because it is simply opinion whether or not it is the same, or whether or not that would be morally wrong.
Personally, I can't see a problem with it, but others can and do. It's apples versus oranges, and i respect that you choose one and stick to it, even if i don't agree with you.

steven said...

Michael, I have no problem with organized systems that recognize and respond to pandemics - so long as they don't compel membership and contributions and don't outlaw competing systems. But that's exactly what all states do. And, as you will see IF you actually read and digest the materials I have recommended (your smart-ass commentary and dismissive attitude makes me skeptical that you will do this), societies can function very well without a coercive monopoly which rules their lives. You seem to think that society and all other good things flow from the state. You have it all backwards.

Daughter of Eve said...
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Daughter of Eve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daughter of Eve said...

Sorry, I keep making mistakes in comments, not realizing it till AFTER I post them, and consequently deleting them. :P

Thank you, Anonymous. But your logic is wrong. If matters of life and death are about opinions, then there's no right or wrong at all. Everyone knows, to some extent, that it's wrong to just kill someone. We are made with a bit of built-in knowledge; it's called our conscience. We CAN destroy our consciences. But if you follow your logic, then you could equally say that, just because in Hitler's opinion Jews were "inferior", then he was perfectly right in doing what he did. NO SANE PERSON CAN SAY THAT, THOUGH!! I know you would not say that the holocaust was right and good; I'm sure you'd say like most others that it was horrible. So you see, we can't make opinions based on our own thoughts; we have to base it on the laws that were laid at the foundations of the earth: God has told us what is right, and that's where we need to get our convictions from. But even if you don't believe that (I hope that you do), you can still see that your logic is wrong. Just look at Hitler. It deeply saddens me that you do not see, but thank your for your respect; I hold you in respect, although I entirely disagree with your opinions. Please think about this; I hope that maybe you'll come to see what's really happening.

~Queen Lucy~

mmazenko said...

Wow, Steven, excuse me from injecting some levity into my blog. You might also consider the possibility that sarcasm and satire are used for rhetorical purpose. There is legitimacy to the challenges I pose to you.

In terms of the articles, I was going to thank you for the reference - I guess I still will - as I have read Hasnas' piece, and started on the first two chapters of Benson's book, which are excerpted on-line. It is an intriguing discussion - and I will research it more.

However, as I've noted, it's more of an academic discussion these days, as society has progressed and the people have expanded government's reach for legitimate reasons over the past 100 years. As I noted in the original post - you and Beck prefer to ignore the Gilded Age, or the times in the 1970s when the Cuyahoga River caught on fire five times in two weeks. There are public health and safety issues that rise beyond one citizens feelings that he's simply not willing to pay his taxes.

In terms of the CDC and NIH, you specifically noted organizations like these as the problem in an earlier post. You might like to assume these state institutions could be voluntarily funded by citizens. That is the mistake of too many neo-conservatives. They simply have no understanding of the realities of what their lives cost on state and national scale. Leaving it up to voluntary participation is, quite simply, inefficient. You may simply decide that you want to use the roads but don't want to pay for it. Certainly someone else will. Right?

I will certainly consider, and research, the history and contemporary practicality of customary law. You might consider the possibility that you have it wrong. And you might consider seeking out experience and evidence of that possibility to test your theories.

steven said...

Michael, you might have intended your comments as levity, but they sounded more like ridicule to me. In any case, I have no hard feelings about it. I've experienced much worse from others. I just wanted to point it out to you. My ideas are very radical.

And I'm not just throwing these terms around frivolously. These are ideas that I have examined under a very skeptical eye for many years. Long ago I felt the same as you do about the state, but after a lot of reading and consideration and correspondence with some very intelligent and thoughtful people, I have been able to see that if humans want to have a truly free and peaceful society we need to evolve beyond thinking of the state as the only institution that can provide peace and freedom.

You keep harping on wanting to get out of paying taxes, Michael. My idea is certainly not to get out of paying for things that I need and want. More than most people, I reject the idea that others should be obligated to provide me with things unless I am willing and able to compensate them. Other people are not objects to be used for my own purposes, they have value in their own right, just because they are human beings. But I don't want other people to have the right choose for me what I, in their eyes, should have. I want to make those choices myself. And I want you and others to be able to make those choices for yourselves. The main reason for so much fraud and waste in government is that other people are able to choose for you what you shall be provided with by the state, instead of you choosing for yourself. And that's wrong.

The main objection I have against the state is that states always commit aggression. In other words, they use force against people who are not harming anyone with their actions. And aggression can't be justified.

mmazenko said...


Here's my favorite quote from Thoreau:

"The government is best that governs least, and truly the best government is one that governs not at all ... yet, I ask not at once for no government, but for better government, and when man is ready for it, that is the government that he shall have."

As idealistic as that sounds, it represents what I believe. I am fond of telling my students that laws against speeding, theft, and murder are not made for me - as I will never break them. Laws are for lawless people, and I don't really expect the government to do much except protect my natural rights, and "promote the general welfare."

However, I am a supporter of public roads and parks, as well as organizations such as the FBI, FEMA, and the CDC. In terms of taxes, I support the rules of a democratic republic out of pure pragmatism. I believe we need public roads, and I believe too few will agree to pay for that which they will use. I don't feel it's too oppressive or aggressive, and in my view, it's certainly not tyranny.

That said, I've enjoyed this exchange, and you've given me much to think about and read in terms of customary law. While part of me sees your view as utopian, I can also see it in terms of Thoreau's quote. Thus, I think I can reconcile the views as I continue to add to my knowledge and refine my views.


steven said...

Thank you as well, Michael. Anyone who exchanges with you needs to keep on their toes to avoid being knocked out (and I do mean that as a compliment).

Anonymous said...

Your Amazon review just made it to the top of Reddit.
Good job!

Franklin Zappat said...

Glen makes perfect sense to me....common sense. Reasonable and rational. You wouldn't think sane reasonable people would have any problems with any of Common Sense but, they do. I read something the other day that stated liberals were genetically incapable of understanding basic truths. I guess there is something to that. Liberals just say the silliest shit I ever heard. For a long time I thought they were just yanking our chains but they really are brain dead and totally convinced that the idiocy they spout makes some kind of sense. I guess all we can hope for is they will all turn gay and won't reproduce. They sure are yucky tho aren't they? I sure am glad we have all the guns and ammunition.

mmazenko said...


It may be "common sense" to you - but it isn't Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," and that was my point. Beck is disingenuous in his use of this Founding Father, and he is really on neo-conservative Americans' ignorance of history. Nothing in my review criticized Paine's call for revolution against Britain. However, I clearly articulated a valid criticism of Beck's rant against progressivism. You, however, make no valid specific criticisms against liberals other than they say "silly shit," which is a subjective opinion as opposed to a argument grounded in historical precedence.

Your other comments are simply crass and inappropriate - which simply validates my latest posting.

Anonymous said...

I found your review petty and absent of substance. You are clearly educated beyond your intelligence since you can't tell the difference between the literary vehicle and philosphical destination...YOU HAVE NO COMMOM SENSE.

mmazenko said...


Don't hold back - tell me how you really feel.

Criticizing is perfectly valid, and I welcome it. Claiming my review has "no substance," and then failing to back that criticism up with some "substance" would earn you an F in my AP Language class.

I fail to note the difference between "literary vehicle" and "philosophical destination"? That is the most absurd spin on this topic I've heard yet. Beck uses one piece of Paine's writing to launch an attack on a philosophy of government that is a direct descendant of Paine's views.

It's disingenuous, and a manipulation of history that under-educated people rubber stamp rather than thinking for themselves.

But nice try. Thanks for playing.

neko said...

When I saw a one star review of Glenn Beck's Common Sense on Amazon by a "M. Mazenko," I figured it had to be the same Mazenko that regularly comments at "Right on the Left Coast." Clearly I was right.

mmazenko said...


I hope that was a positive discovery. Thanks for checking in.

Anonymous said...

Friends of Narnia,

after reading your one comment I stopped reading the other comments. So, this may have already been addressed - but just in case: You state that Obama is way worse than McCain but you also state that the world is the way it is bc of sin. I agree that the world is getting worse by the second due to sin. However, being an Evangelical minister myself, where do you get that any one person or sin can be worse than the other? Sin brings consequences. This is extremely clear with David & Bathsheba. God said: "The sword will never leave your house." Obvioulsy, we still see this in the world today. However, David was "a man after God's own heart" AFTER the whole Bathsheba/Urriah incident. So there we also see forgiveness. Again I ask, how can one sin be worse than another? I am a minister. My spouse is a minister. We both come from a long LONG line of conservative ministers! I am SO SICK of Christians spouting this or that is sin when simultaneously they are "thinking of themselves more highly than they ought." Jesus was a radical - and thank God He was or we would all be doomed to hell! The "church people" are the ones who killed Him! I just can't handle it anymore. We (the church) point fingers or "pray for them" (whoever them might be at the time) while we gossip. I wonder (since all sin hurts God bc sin is sin and He hates it all) which hurts God's heart more: His people gossiping or homosexuality. Yes, homosexuality is a sin - so is gossipping! In general, (not all by any means) christians are the most elitest & judgmental people there are. And yes my ministry is thriving so no, thats not the reason. The reason for my rant is this: "Jesus is the only way to God, but we are NOT the only way to Jesus!" (Casting Crowns)

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." Romans 13:1

So, good christian: STOP criticizing and get on board. If you bleive God is all in all as I do, pray for Obama, trust God, & STOP JUDGING!!!!!!!! I swear, Republicans are going to push me over to the Democrats bc in alot of ways they are more Christ-like!

Anonymous said...

Those who want to reap the benefits of this great nation must bear the fatigue of supporting it.
Thomas Payne
Does that sound like a progressive! I think not!!!

steven said...

Our tendency, anonymous, is to put too much emphasis on who made some statement, instead of what was actually said and what it means. I've done that with Thomas Jefferson in the past (not any more), and I see others doing it as well. Jefferson may have been correct about many things, but he was wrong about other things just as we all can be wrong about things. The same with Thomas Paine.

Daron D. Fraley said...

I read through all the comments on this post. Sorry to say mazenko, but you do have a liberal agenda, and I rejected all of your comments on my blog. My blog is my forum. A conservative forum. You can keep your agenda here.

mmazenko said...


Thanks for responding, Daron. Someone had sent me your link after reading my review. So, I thought I'd present an alternative view to the book.

My comments were, of course, about Paine's progressive agenda, not mine. My views are actually rather moderate - more traditional Burkean conservative than neo-conservative. My agenda, as a voter, is independent and moderate as well, as I generally split my vote between parties, choosing the moderate pragmatist preferred by most American voters - and not ideological extremes.

Your correct in that your blog is your forum. After if you prefer it to be one-sided, that's your choice. I've generally found blogs to be devoted to discussion, and even conservative blogs like Darren at Right-on-the-Left-Coast, publishes and encourages counter-argument and discussion.

However, if you desire to stifle dissent on your blog - just like the tyranny Paine fought and people like Beck claim to oppose - feel free. How very American of you. That "freedom" is a beautiful thing. Or is is the power to control that's appealing? Well, I'll let that pass.

Feel "free" to visit and comment on my blog anytime.

It's been a pleasure.

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Teej said...

"Paint, are you speaking to me or Anonymous? I hope it's not I,"

Tsk, Tsk. As an English teacher, you should know better that it should read,
"I hope it's not me,"

mmazenko said...

No, it's a predicate nominative, which takes the subject pronoun. I hope it is not I. As an English teacher, I do know better.

JoeT said...

Excellent post ... I really appreciate the enlightened, intelligent approach you have to the subject. I just came across your review and finally found your web site. I have two questions/comments about your post that I hope you can clear up.

1- I don't think the "government big enough" quote is from Barry Goldwater. Do you have a citation? It's often passed off as Thomas Jefferson on the internet, but that's just crazy. The best I've been able to come up with is Gerald Ford. You can go here:, insert the phrase and find 72 references to Ford. Nowhere does Ford say he is quoting someone else. One other thing: If you go to Ford's presidential library and museum website, it has a number of Ford quotes.
The "government big enough" quote is listed there as well. If it were really Goldwater (or Jefferson), I would have thought it would be corrected.

2. Paine never considered himself an atheist. In fact, he despised what he considered the atheists of the French Revolution and proposed deism as the only sane alternative. Since this was years before Darwin, I can understand his point of view. Do you have any citations to suggest that Paine thought of himself an atheist?

Thanks again for a great piece!!

mmazenko said...


Thanks for the comments and feedback.

I had seen the quote attributed most often to Reagan and Goldwater, but a viewer corrected me with the Ford reference. When I checked it out, it seemed to make sense - and I believe it was at a convention speech, but I don't have the exact details.

In terms of Paine's beliefs, I refer to him as a deist, which like Jefferson and Franklin, he most certainly was. However, I had seen references to Paine calling himself an atheist, which seemed more to push the buttons of the holier-than-thou crowd. I, again, don't have a specific text - I believe it was in some letters - but if I track the source down, I'll be sure to post it.

Thanks again for reading and commenting.

JoeT said...

I forgot to say that one thing I really liked about your post was that it pointed me to Agrarian Justice, which I had never read before (I read it yesterday finally). Amazing piece of work. Thanks for pointing this out.

If you check out the references I gave, I think it makes a convincing case that Ford was the author of the quote. But I'm open to other views if they are sourced properly.

I'm skeptical that Paine ever called himself an atheist. If you have a source, I'd love to see it. The Age of Reason make it very clear that he wrote it in part as a counter to what he perceived as the atheism of the French Revolution.

Also, I would say neither Jefferson nor Franklin were deists. I define a deist as someone who conceives of a god who starts the whole ball rolling and then butts out of human intervention. J & F clearly thought that god intervened in the affairs of man and that the success of the American Revolution was a product of such an intervention. Of course, Jefferson didn't believe in the divinity of Christ, miracles, the resurrection or the Trinity. But he did believe in an interventionist god. Paine was the only true deist amongst the Founders.

If you find a source whereby Paine calls himself an atheist, post it. I'd be very surprised if there was such a quote.

Great work though! Wonderful essay.


Anonymous said...

Weird, though, as a teacher of Thomas Paine, you miss the entire point of the document: the lifting of the human condition known as liberty and fredom out from under an oppressive and corrupt government. Beck does the same. Yes, it is from a different direction, but it is to the same destination.