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The Majesty of the PeoplePopular Sovereignty and the Role of the Writer in the 1790s$
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Georgina Green

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199689064

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199689064.001.0001

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An American in Paris: Thomas Paine and the Politics of the Outsider

An American in Paris: Thomas Paine and the Politics of the Outsider

(p.64) (p.65) 3 An American in Paris: Thomas Paine and the Politics of the Outsider
The Majesty of the People

Green Georgina

Oxford University Press

This chapter argues that Thomas Paine increasingly focuses on exposing representation as provisional, and on deferring the absolute identification between the people and the ethical category of Justice. An analysis of Paine’s writing demonstrates how theories of language and representation, politics and ethics are mutually implicated. This mutual implication becomes particularly apparent when the meaning of the majesty of the people is contested. What emerges is a tension between Paine’s conventionism, his belief in collecting the sovereign will of the people, and his commitment to the sovereignty of justice. The chapter begins by discussing Paine’s theories of language in Rights of Man, arguing that Paine treats language as provisional, as a representation. It continues to demonstrate how this stance is applied in his interventions at the trial of Louis XVI, in an attempt to render any representation of the people provisional, and thereby to undercut the totalitarianism of democratic perfectionism with the provisionality of representative democracy.

Keywords:   Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Louis XVI, French Revolution, language, totalitarianism, justice, representative democracy

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