May’s issue (no. 32) contains the penultimate book in my series celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Thomas Paine’s pamphlets Common Sense and Agrarian Justice are part of his remarkable legacy of revolutionary, communitarian ideas. Reviled in his own day, the ideas contained in these texts such as the pension and basic income are as relevant today as they were radical then. Challenging both hereditary privilege to govern and ownership of land as pernicious perversions of natural law, Paine calls for systems of amelioration (rather than confiscation) to be established to recompense those born outside of privilege. His is a radical, yet nonviolent call for a revolution that seeks to benefit all, regardless of the station they were born to. It seems fitting then to place alongside them the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I believe Paine would have approved of. A landmark achievement and a direct descendant of Magna Carta, it is part of the Post War Settlement which established in law in many countries, the inherent rights of individual human beings. As we grapple with the erosion of the Welfare State and national sovereignty in favour of corporations, the global rise in inequality, religious intolerance, state surveillance, suspension of civil liberties and other egregious acts, we do well to hold it dear, and fast.
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