Susan Dunn

Susan Dunn is a professor of humanities at Williams College. She is the author of Sister Revolutions: French Lightning, American Light. Her most recent book is Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party.

Recent Articles

The Contradictions of Common Sense

COMMON SENSE: A POLITICAL HISTORY BY SOPHIA ROSENFELD Harvard University Press, 337 pages, $29.95, BY SUSAN DUNN Common sense, Thomas Paine boasted in 1776, stood firmly on the side of the people. "There is something absurd," he wrote in Common Sense , his best-selling political pamphlet, "in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island." And it was "very ridiculous," he declared at the dawn of the American Revolution, for a hereditary monarch, a "youth of twenty-one (which hath often happened)," to rule over several million people, all older and wiser than himself. Is common sense what common sense takes it to be -- the universal ability to make elementary judgments about everyday matters, based on real-world experience, leading to self-evident conclusions on which all sensible people can readily agree? Or is there more to it? As Sophia Rosenfeld emphasizes in her illuminating new book, Common Sense: A Political History , the concept actually belongs to the realm of...