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Alessandra Stanley, in a TV review in the New York Times, was pleased by the new BBC series, Three Musketeers, in part because the writers had taken a bit of naughty liberty with the Dumas story, let a little 21st century air into the story set in 17th century France, and made some fun of the foppish monarchy that would before long forsake its guilded carriages for crude tumbrels. And, why shouldn't the writers have been a little sporty, because, as Ms. Stanley says, “purists are no fun.” Ah, well, it was just comment on a TV series. There are so many of them, so many reviews too.

As it happened, I've been rereadiing Christopher Hitchen's meditation upon Thomas Payne's Rights of Man(Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006), a small book that had a small reception, by a penetrating polemicist and essayist. Perhaps Ms. Stanley had in mind those stuffy old Puritans, or perhaps the indefatigueable Islamist jihadists, or Vladimir Putin. If so, she's right. But today, the zeitgeist wrestles against the purists, no matter what their views are. It's a moment for what feels right for me, and nothing is immutable, unambiguous, itchy, confiining, or not fun.

But Payne was onto something, and he was definitely a purist. His influence spurred revolutions in 1776 and 1789, the first of which we'll celebrate soon. Payne's book, as Hitchens says, is “not just a paean to human liberty … it always kept its sights raised to a point somewhat beyond the immediate political and social horizon … [it] is both a trumpet of inspiration and a carefully wroght blueprint for a more rational and decent ordering ofsociety, both domestically and on the international scene.” Of course, it hasn't always been fun, and it's cost a great deal of blood.

 

 

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