In Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, he says:

SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.

Are there any examples of which modern society has been confounded with government, specifically in the United States?

  • 3
    This seems like it'd take a whole book to answer. – user4012 Apr 8 '18 at 7:41
  • 2
    Generally, when people say "I think X [gay marriage, sodomy, flag burning, whatever] should be illegal because I think it's gross/wrong/disgusting/immoral and most people agree with me", they are confounding society with government. – barrycarter Apr 8 '18 at 18:39

This was putting a line between Englishmen (his audience) and the English government (the target of his criticism). It is almost certainly a response to "How can you not like being English? We are obviously the best country in the world by far."

In the US the very similar "America, love it or leave it." isn't unheard of, and on the other side of the aisle the libertarian thinking Paine then outlines (defense of property being the only proper use of government) is often considered unfriendly or racist.

  • Thanks for the answer. Do you mean that defense of property as the only proper use of government is often considered unfriendly or racist by those who confound society with government? – Cannabijoy Apr 10 '18 at 2:40
  • Yes, but confound has maybe more judgment attached than I would like to use; after the new deal pretty much all US politics have mixed them to some extent. – user9389 Apr 10 '18 at 6:56
  • Yeah the New Deal was an unfortunate event against freedom. Could you add some examples about how the New Deal influenced future generations? Maybe add a few important SCOTUS decisions? I’m trying to get a better understanding of how the government has grown so fast in such a short amount of time- when it seems like important figures such as Paine and Jefferson believed our government should have become smaller and eventually disappear. – Cannabijoy Apr 10 '18 at 14:57
  • @Joshua I doubt Paine or Jefferson believed government would ever disappear, that's taking things too far. When Paine wrote Common Sense he was more concerned with rallying other Englishmen to the cause of secession, so naturally he took a more adversarial tone against the British Government. – Jeff Lambert Apr 10 '18 at 15:31
  • @Joshua while I don't think the question as written is too broad, to include all that stuff would be, and I would normally not count the new deal as modern. You might ask some follow up questions here or at history.se if you have some specific point you want addressed. – user9389 Apr 10 '18 at 15:47

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .