Skip to main content

Thomas Paine and the Idea of Human Rights

New monograph, entitled 'Thomas Paine and the Idea of Human Rights' published by Cambridge University Press

'Thomas Paine and the Idea of Human Rights' by Robert Lamb, Associate Professor of Political Philosophy, guides students and researchers through Paine's essays and pamphlets demonstrating their theoretical complexity and political interest.

Thomas Paine is a legendary Anglo-American political icon: a passionate, plain-speaking, relentlessly controversial, revolutionary campaigner, whose writings captured the zeitgeist of the two most significant political events of the eighteenth century, the American and French Revolutions. Though widely acknowledged by historians as one of the most important and influential pamphleteers, rhetoricians, polemicists and political actors of his age, the philosophical content of his writing has nevertheless been almost entirely ignored. This book takes Paine's political philosophy seriously. It explores his views concerning a number of perennial issues in modern political thought including the grounds for, and limits to, political obligation; the nature of representative democracy; the justification for private property ownership; international relations; and the relationship between secular liberalism and religion. It shows that Paine offers a historically and philosophically distinct account of liberalism and a theory of human rights that is a progenitor of our own.

Dr Lamb said, "herein I offer a reconstruction of Paine's political theory, presenting it as a coherent account of liberal rights. I address Paine's ideas concerning human equality, the nature of rights, the grounds for (and limits to) political obligation, democracy and representation, property ownership and welfare, international relations and religion. In addition to offering (hopefully) novel interpretations of Paine's thought, I try to demonstrate his historical and philosophical distinctness within modern liberalism. A broader aim of the project is to show how entering into interpretive dialogues with past thinkers can be philosophically productive."

Robert Lamb is Associate Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Exeter. His research is focused on the history of political thought and its methodology as well as contemporary political theory. He is the co-editor of Selected Political Writings of John Thelwall (with Corinna Wagner, 2009) and his work has been published in various international journals, including The Journal of Politics, The Review of Politics, History of Political Thought, the Journal of the History of Ideas, Law and Philosophy, the European Journal of Political Theory and History of the Human Sciences.

Back to articles