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Thomas Paine on Foregin Intervention

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I randomly saw this quote on the bottom of the site: "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." --Thomas Paine

Taking the quote by itself without having read much about Paine, it seems to be promoting foreign intervention. Is this accurate?

(My quick search lead me to lots of articles about freedom of religion, but nothing more in-depth.)

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I am pretty sure that he meant this on an interpersonal scale, not an international scale.

Basically he is saying if I want to be free I can't the precedent be set that others are oppressed.

The kind of foreign intervention that we have today didn't even exist back then. Everything ammounted to nations conquering one another. Napoleon's wars against europe are the things that comes closest in ideology and even then those wars were wars of survival as much as they were wars of liberation.

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Thanks to Google, here's the quote with more context. See this Gutenberg text for still more.

I shall conclude this discourse with offering some observations on the means of
preserving liberty
; for it is not only necessary that we establish it, but that we preserve it.

It is, in the first place, necessary that we distinguish between the means made use of to overthrow despotism, in order to prepare the way for the establishment of liberty, and the means to be used after the despotism is overthrown.

The means made use of in the first case are justified by necessity. Those means are, in general, insurrections; for whilst the established government of despotism continues in any country it is scarcely possible that any other means can be used. It is also certain that in the commencement of a revolution, the revolutionary party permit to themselves a
discretionary exercise of power
regulated more by circumstances than by principle, which, were the practice to continue, liberty would never be established, or if established would soon be overthrown. It is never to be expected in a revolution that every man is to change his opinion at the same moment. There never yet was any truth or any principle so irresistibly obvious, that all men believed it at once. Time and reason must co-operate with each other to the final establishment of any principle; and therefore those who may happen to be first convinced have not a right to persecute others, on whom conviction operates more slowly. The moral principle of revolutions is to instruct, not to destroy.

Had a constitution been established two years ago, (as ought to have been done,) the violences that have since desolated France and injured the character of the revolution, would, in my opinion, have been prevented.(1) The nation would then have had a bond of union, and every individual would have known the line of conduct he was to follow. But, instead of this, a revolutionary government, a thing without either principle or authority, was substituted in its place; virtue and crime depended upon accident; and that which was patriotism one day, became treason the next. All these things have followed from the want of a constitution; for it is the nature and intention of a constitution to
prevent governing by party
, by establishing a common principle that shall limit and control the power and impulse of party, and that says to all parties,
thus far shalt thou go and no further
. But in the absence of a constitution, men look entirely to party; and instead of principle governing party, party governs principle.

1 The Constitution adopted August 10, 1793, was by the

determination of "The Mountain," suspended during the war

against France. The revolutionary government was thus made


An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. Thomas Paine.

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It doesn't promote interventionism. It promotes fighting oppression on principle.

The difference is that the concept "interventionism" is amoral, the people relying on it to characterize a nation's foreign policy don't care whether it is done for good or bad. In fact, to this very post they would reply "Who gets to decide what's good or bad?", signaling that they don't believe in objective morality.

Thomas Pain clearly identifies the difference between the moral and the immoral use of force, and supports the only kind that is moral. He is not for "interventionism": the use of force irrespective of the action's moral value, he is for a specific kind of forceful action.

I am pretty sure that he meant this on an interpersonal scale, not an international scale.

If he had a scale in mind, he would've mentioned it. As it stands, the statement applies to any scale in the same way.

Edited by Nicky
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