Was Thomas Paine an anarchist?
No. Although many have tried to make that case (including an ex-President of this Association, William van der Weyde), Paine believed the government’s role should be for promoting the general happiness and well-being of the people. In Agrarian Justice and Rights of Man he outlined the principles that would become the basis of the welfare state, help for the poor, aged, and young. He supported taxation of the rich to fund these programs. He also fought for a strong central government based on his principles of human rights. The phrase “at best, government is a necessary evil” is often misinterpreted: only the “evil” part is elaborated, and the “necessary” part is given short shrift. Paine’s central tenet was to apply Enlightenment principles to government, make government democratic, and use government to make social and even economic changes. Anarchism dismisses and opposes all government.