In May 2021, Phil Kotler celebrated his 90th birthday. In February 2023, he was awarded the lifetime achievement award at the Rise World Summit, organised in India (this must have been the umpteenth achievement award he would have received, over the past few decades). My path crossed Kotler’s in 1987 and, since that time, he has been my role model, philosopher, friend, guide, and well-wisher. He added greatly to the richness of my life—much beyond the forewords to five of my books, and the numerous world events where he has recommended my name as a speaker participant.
As I have said in the commemorative book brought out on his 90th birthday as a tribute to him, two of the most important lessons I have learnt from him are: 1) actively and constantly learn; 2) have the humility to accept what you do not know, and make amends, if possible. And this is in spite of the fact that millions of students around the world have been learning from Kotler’s book on marketing since the 1970s, and from some of the 50 books he has published on marketing, management and beyond.
By a strange coincidence, Prof Kotler had sent to me a draft of an article he had written on his rediscovery of Thomas Paine, one of the key figures during the American War of Independence. Kotler regrets that most of his friends do not know Paine and that Paine is greatly underrated.
He says that he got interested in Paine when he read Thomas Edison’s remark on Paine: “I have always regarded Paine as one of the greatest of all Americans. Never have we had a sounder intelligence in this republic… It was a revelation to me to read the great thinker’s views on the political and theological subjects ….. What a pity, these works are not today the schoolbooks for all children.”
This was what made Kotler, at 90, want to learn more about Paine, a man who lived in the 18th century and had 21st-century ideas. Kotler had just published My Life as a Humanist and now discovered Paine to be the prototype humanist: one who wanted to make the world a better place for all.
Paine was born in England in 1737 into a Quaker family and lived for 72 years. During his life, he was described as a political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary. One strong thread was he was always truthful. He believed in what was the right thing to do and, in that process, he also made many enemies.
Paine was introduced to Benjamin Franklin who was visiting London, and it was Franklin who convinced him to immigrate to British colonial America, which he did in 1774. He soon got a position as editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, in Philadelphia and he adopted the policy of educating the working-class audience on their rights in production and other topics.
Paine was an excellent writer and he had a great dislike for governments run by kings and aristocrats and the way they made the colonies pay taxes to support the headquarters. In 1776, he published Common Sense, which was an immediate success in all 13 colonies and seemed to have been read everywhere from taverns to homes and bolstered the enthusiasm of colonials to separate from Britain.
Paine’s later writings included The American Crisis (1776); Public Good (1780); The Rights of Man (1791); The Age of Reason and Agrarian Justice (1797). All his books are a treasure of ideas and causes.
Kotler has listed Paine’s major ideas, which will be of great interest to all of us who see failing models of democracy and—even worse—models of dictatorship, ‘communism and uncontrolled capitalism’.
Paine believed in a democracy where people decide their government. He condemned monarchs and aristocrats as applying tyranny. He applauded the French Revolution for establishing the human rights of liberty, equality and fraternity. But though he supported the French Revolution, he did not approve of the execution of Louis XVI. He had a moral objection to capital punishment. Paine wanted the government to offer social security programmes to alleviate the brutalising poverty of many common citizens.
He favoured progressive tax measures to provide state subsidies for poor people, for public education and for necessary health care. Paine held a libertarian concern with private ownership - and hoped that it would show an egalitarian commitment to moral values.
Paine held that the land west of the 13 colonies all the way to the Pacific (it belonged to the Virginia Company) be switched to the federal government. Washington, Jefferson and Madison had already claimed huge wild tracts, and Paine’s stand on this issue alienated them.
Paine carried an expanded view of the rights of people. He attacked slavery as an outrage against humanity and justice. He believed in women’s right to vote and opposed the 1795 constitution because it eliminated universal suffrage. Paine advocated Deism as his religion and argued against institutionalised churches of any religion. He did not hesitate to criticise revered public personages if he thought they did wrong.
When Washington proposed that he be remunerated for his services by Congress, Paine objected for fear of setting a bad precedent and an improper mode. Naturally, Paine was hated for his attack on Washington and for his stand against Christianity and the Bible. Paine worked as an internationalist and advocated for more peaceful relations between France and England, for the sake of the citizens of both countries.
As a result of much of what has been said above, there were six people at Paine’s funeral. Obviously, there is never a crowd for those who have chosen to stay with the straight and narrow path and uphold the truth and nothing but the truth! Paine’s biographer identifies a utopian mindset in his ideas.
He communicated a new vision: a utopian image of an egalitarian, republican society.
His was a vision of a society based on the common good and without losing individualism.
Philip Kotler’s propagation of the common good and humanism is the new 2020’s edition of Paine’s vision of the 1770s!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are ‘Marketing in a Digital/Data World’ with Brian Almeida and ‘Customer Value Starvation Can Kill’ with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)