Friday, 8 June 2007

Tom Paine

The anniversary today of the death of Thomas Paine in 1809.

Which takes us (strangely enough) to that seventies cult classic Death Race 2000. Wonderfully cheap and tacky production values, but like much Sci-Fi, a serious message underlies it.

In the wake of global economic collapse the USA is run by a fascist government. In order to keep the citizenry happy and distracted, and to cull society of its weaker members, the government televises a Death Race across the country. The objective is not just speed but to accumulate points for running over the public – with maximum points for a kill on the elderly or children. (If this all seemed far fetched in the seventies it now seems like a possible new project for Endemol).

Significantly the leader of the resistance movement which plans to disrupt the race, assassinate the Fascist president and restore freedom to the USA, is Thomasina Paine. And hence the connection to today’s anniversary.

Tom Paine, a true working class hero. Originally apprenticed as a corset maker, he failed in pretty much every job he tried his hand at, and this forced him to emigrate to the American colonies. Largely self-educated, he was an inventor and scientist but above all a political philosopher who provided in three short works a democratic and radical ideology that inspired revolutionaries in America (Common Sense) and France (The Rights Of Man) and rational opposition to religion (The Age Of Reason). He was imprisoned in France during the Jacobin Terror but never wavered in his support for the revolution and returned to the US only when Napoleon replaced the republic with the empire.

In our own age when the US stands as a reactionary superpower he is a reminder of where it all came from. The Republicans and Democrats today would do well to re-acquaint themselves with somebody who was truly both these things.

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