Common-sense gun laws. Common-sense conservatism. Common Sense Nation. “The courtroom of common sense.” Politics and the media have been awash in common sense lately, so I decided to investigate. My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, “Common Sense and Sensibility,” takes a close look at this commonplace expression and its meanings.
Full access to the column is restricted to subscribers. Here’s an excerpt:
It was Thomas Paine who, newly arrived in the American colonies from England, made “common sense” an indispensable part of American political language when he published a pamphlet in 1776 that offered “nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.” He wanted to title the manifesto Plain Truth, but his fellow revolutionary Benjamin Rush suggested he change it to Common Sense. Historian Sophia Rosenfeld – the author of Common Sense: A Political History – writes that the new title, “with its hint of anti-elitism as well as nonpartisanship,” helped “cement the case — for independence, an end to monarchy and the triumph of a politics that began with the wisdom of the people.”
Today, writes Rosenfeld, “common sense” is shorthand for two related messages: “Ordinary people know better, especially compared with overeducated, smooth-talking experts and insiders. And governing works best when it is rooted in everyday experience.”
Blog bonus #1 (“common sense” in the wild):
We are grateful for the outpouring support of the common-sense bathroom privacy law in our state.https://t.co/x5WSHd2Uvj— Pat McCrory (@PatMcCroryNC) April 3, 2016
McCrory, the governor of North Carolina, signed the law two weeks ago; it reverses local antidiscrimination protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender people in the state and requires people to use the bathroom corresponding to their birth-certificate sex. The law was framed as a protection of religious liberty, but its “common sense” is not evident. North Carolina’s attorney general called the law “a national embarrassment” and will not defend it; PayPal has announced it will not proceed with plans for an operations center in Charlotte, NC.
Blog bonus #2 (from Uncyclopedia):
Common sense is the ability of commoners to “sense” what is true and what is untrue, without having to think about it. A related term is horse sense, the ability of an ordinary working-class citizen to intuitively understand that he is supposed to ride a horse instead of the other way around. Both terms are distinct from royal sense, which is the inability of kings and queens to stop bleeding when you cut them.
As a concept, common sense is similar to consensus, the philosophy that if many people believe something, they cannot possibly be wrong, unless those people are foreigners. It is, however, distinct from comsensus, which is a portmanteau of “common” and “sense” that does not exist in the English language.
Common sense reached its apex in America in the early 1950s, when everyone had it. Unfortunately, no one these days has any common sense anymore. This is entirely due to the actions of hippies, lawyers, and Democrats.
Thanks to reader Ben Seipel for suggesting this topic!