Paine, Mill, and Burke: Revolution Rights Research Paper

Pages: 17 (4982 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: American History  ·  Written: April 20, 2019

The fact that the Revolution can be read in two different ways—as being progressive or as being conservative—shows that it was ultimately of mixed character. Undoubtedly, this is why the American Revolution appealed to Burke more than the French Revolution did—but there was another reason as well: the American Revolution was gradual and organic—a natural consequence of forces beyond Britain’s control. The French Revolution was much more forced and cruel: the duties of those who assumed power were neglected (in Burke’s eyes—not in Paine’s—until, of course, he was actually arrested by them and imprisoned).

Research Paper on Paine, Mill, and Burke: Revolution Rights Assignment

While the American Revolution advanced the notions of liberty and equality for generations to come, in practical terms it took the nation a great many years to actually put these notions into effect. Thus, even after the Revolution in America, gradual changes occurred. Those who assumed power struggled to understand their duties and responsibilities. Jefferson, for example, seriously put himself to task over the issue of slavery. Women were not afforded the same rights and liberties as men during the Revolution. Africans were still enslaved both during and after the Revolution. Native Americans were still being pushed off the land (indeed, one of the reasons for the Revolution was so that the leading colonists could continue to expand westward and take the land from the Natives). All of these populations were treated unequally and none of them were really free in the same sense that the leaders of the Revolution viewed themselves as free. However, from Burke’s perspective, the Americans would have had a duty and responsibility to address these issues. From Paine’s perspective, the Revolutionaries were promoting the rights of man unapologetically and pursuing the natural aims that accorded with their position. Still, even he objected to some of these social ills—such as slavery—and thus became a political pariah at the end of his life. Paine believed in the Rights of (all) Men—much more so than the Revolutionaries who used his words to drive their own movement. Thus, ironically, Paine himself would fall out of favor with the Revolutionaries on both shores—particularly with Robespierre—and would be arrested and not freed until Robespierre was toppled. Paine’s belief in the revolution was thus tested by direct experience and he got to feel directly the bitterness of the Revolution when it turned against one’s own lot.

Robespierre had been a devotee of Rousseau, too, and had admired the French Romantic-Enlightenment who likewise eschewed the concept of Original Sin (fallen human nature) and announced that nature was pure in and of itself and that all men should be free to do as they like. Robespierre thus had no problem chopping his perceived enemies off at the neck during the Reign of Terror in Paris—a point that Burke vehemently lamented. Robespierre himself would be guillotined in 1794 after his reign had fizzled out. What made him a revolutionary was his ambition to overturn the established order and install something new (the worship of Reason) using whatever force necessary. In terms of thinking, he was much in line with Paine—yet the two were not aligned practically speaking. What divided the two was the same thing that divided Paine from Burke: a bridge, a connector, a way for a middle ground to be reached. The middle ground that appeared eventually came by way of J.S. Mill, who offered the philosophy of pragmatism, known as utilitarianism. It would be this philosophy that the modern world would embrace from the 19th century on in its attempt to define the legitimate role of government, the duties of government, the limitations of government and the rights of man. The point or perspective from which it was all to be judged would be the point of consequence.

Mill’s Utilitarianism: A Practical and Pragmatic Approach to the Problem

Mill’s philosophy was rooted in the idea that in order for society to function effectively, it had to have some concept of the common good by which it could judge all else. There had to be some limit as to what was permissible and what was not. Mill’s philosophy held that what is good should be determined by what is deemed to make the greatest number of people the happiest. This was the idea behind judging actions by their effect on the commonweal overall and choosing that which benefited the greatest number of people. Mill wrote, for instance, that “if [society] issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression” (13). Mill thus advocated for a Utilitarian approach to life. His God was a pragmatic or practical God who wanted a practical or utilitarian form of government for His people. Mill inherently viewed morality as a social construct. The moral laws of a state were thus to be determined by state. The government had a duty and responsibility to protect and guide its people. It was a concept that Plato had put forward centuries earlier.

Mill likewise stated in “On Liberty” that one’s personal actions are “right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” In order to define the right, it was necessary for Mill to define happiness, which he did by drawing on the Enlightenment perspective. According to Mill, happiness was essentially the absence of pain. In terms of governance, social pain was caused by social tyranny, which was in its own turn produced by the issuance of “wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which [society] ought not to meddle.” Mill spoke of propriety in the same way in which Tocqueville spoke of the moral law. For Mill, propriety was the greatest virtue and the only moral that mattered in so far as the state was concerned. It was a sentiment that Burke… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Paine, Mill, and Burke: Revolution Rights.  (2019, April 20).  Retrieved May 26, 2020, from

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