Some have derided the anonymous author of a recent op-ed The New York Times as cowardly, pusillanimous, or otherwise inappropriately masking their identity (“President Trump fumes over NYT op-ed; top officials swiftly deny ‘resistance’ role,” Sept. 6). It is asked: Why else would they conceal their name?
Three words: fear of tyranny. An accusation of “treason” (President Donald Trump’s language) demonstrates how capably can the tyrant exact a toll on a given writer’s reputation, profession, livelihood — and very life — should their name be publicly disseminated.
We ought consider the publication of Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense.” Its first three editions (at the least) were published anonymously, though Mr. Paine’s name was known to the publisher, Robert Bell. The number of copies sold equaled one-third of the colonial population. As it was read aloud in public meeting places and shared among acquaintances of the buyers, it is fair to say that the author’s message reached essentially the entirety of the citizenry. Anonymously.
Mr. Paine’s identity was relevant to neither the truth of the writing nor its impact. President John Adams said, "Without the pen of the author of ‘Common Sense,’ the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”
To appreciate proof that Mr. Paine wrote anonymously, consider that a fellow Marylander wrote to the Pennsylvania Evening Post (in a letter published February 13, 1776) that "If you know the author of COMMON SENSE, tell him he has done wonders and worked miracles. His stile [sic] is plain and nervous; his facts are true; his reasoning, just and conclusive."
For me, it is sufficient that the editors at the New York Times, as with those at the Pennsylvania Evening Post, know full well whose voice they echo. It’s just common sense.
Brian Raila, Parkville
Become a subscriber today to support editorial writing like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.