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Benjamin Franklin and the American Ideal: Critical Assessments

Thomas Sanders

United States Naval Academy

     In the course of preparing a world history source book, our editorial team conceived of what we thought would be a wonderful chapter on ideal representatives of different societies. As I investigated the issue, however, it transpired that all four of the "ideal" candidates I had identified (the Mughal emperor Akbar, Peter I (the Great) of Russia, Benjamin Franklin of the British North American colonies, and Kangxi, the Manchu emperor of China) were highly contentious figures within their own cultural histories and contexts. In the end, we reshaped the material around a different theme­"Great Men" and leadership­excised Franklin and integrated Sundiata from the African tradition.1 1
   This left me with a dual conundrum. On the one hand, I still find it difficult to conceive that there are no good examples of ideal types out there in various cultural traditions. I cannot shake the conviction that "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." Or, rather, in myself. On the other hand, I had in Franklin someone for whose status as an ideal representative of his culture a good case could be made. He is well known and well thought of in contemporary American culture. He also served as the progenitor—or, at least the formulator—of rules of behavior through which certain facets of conduct considered ideal in the American value system could be accomplished. In his Autobiography, Franklin discussed his beliefs, and he also presented the way that he sought to embody them in his everyday behavior. In so doing, he provokes a set of questions that center on the issue of whether he constituted the iconic American, the primary exemplar of core American values. What values did Franklin represent? Were they the values of an ideal American? What were the sources of those values? Are they, for lack of a better term, good values? In short, Franklin seemed an ideal "ideal representative," at least as a heuristic device. If I could not manage to identify corresponding characters in other cultures, which I could not, then perhaps something productive could still be devised utilizing Franklin and the theme of the cultural ideal. 2
    Further encouragement for exploring this subject exists in the form of two rather famous and substantive European assessments of Franklin's philosophy of self-improvement. The first was a key component of one of the most important works of the brilliant German comparative sociologist, Max Weber (1864-1920). Writing at the time that the so-called second Industrial Revolution was transforming Germany, Weber was fascinated by the value system that generated so powerful, yet so impersonal, a force as modern capitalism. He found the answer in Calvinist Protestantism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Essentially, he argued that the Calvinist belief in predestination—that God has already predetermined the salvation or damnation of every soul on earth—was psychologically unsupportable to its adherents. Having rejected as "papist" the Roman Catholic belief in cooperating with God's grace in the form of "works," such as the sacraments, the Calvinists believed themselves unable to earn salvation. In seeking, therefore, to prove to themselves that they were among the elect, certain Protestants assimilated ways of acting that seemed to indicate divine favor. Protestants emphasized involvement in the world, not the withdrawal from it that medieval monks had practiced. They also believed that work was infused with spiritual meaning, because it represented an individual's "calling" in life. This concept resonates with the image of Christ calling St. Matthew to be an apostle, and it reminds us of "vox" or voice, the original Latin root of "vocation." These ideals came to the New World with the Puritans. Hence, Franklin would have been raised in a culture that was a few generations removed from their initial blossoming. For Weber, Franklin represented the Protestant work ethic disconnected from its original Calvinist roots.
    A harsher critic of Franklin was the famous English author D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930). A kind of "bad boy" of late Victorian culture, Lawrence struggled to find a place and an ethic that gave him a sense of personal integrity. Son of an alcoholic and abusive coal miner and a domineering mother with higher social aspirations, Lawrence gave personal and artistic voice to the new psychological concern with the unconscious, with sexuality, and with feelings. His novel Lady Chatterly's Lover was so scandalous that judicial approval for publishing it in Great Britain and the United States came only in 1959-1960. During one phase, Lawrence viewed the American West as a realm in which his search for freedom and a sense of wholeness could be realized. For a while he lived in Taos, New Mexico and that is where his remains are buried. From this interest in America, he produced a series of sketches entitled Studies in Classic American Literature, including an essay on Franklin. In his irreverent, iconoclastic tone, he lashed out at Franklin as the source of the stultifying and insincere morality that he perceived to be strangling the life out of England and Europe. His text raises the question whether Franklin, whom he accused of creating a "pattern" or machine-stamped American, is the ideal representation of America or whether Franklin is no kind of ideal, save a negative one, who has imposed his restrictive and life-defying ideal on America and Europe alike. 4
    So, I conceived of this essay as fundamentally an exploratory enterprise. It is presented in hopes of spurring an intellectual and pedagogical dialogue among scholars both about ideal types in global perspective and about productive themes for global analysis. Are there, for example, appreciations of Franklin in non-European cultures that differ in marked ways from the ones presented here that represent an exclusively Euro-American point of view? If so, how do their perspectives differ from these? If not, what does that tell us about the uniqueness (non-representativeness) of Euro-American culture? Flipping the lens completely to a global setting, what cultural ideals are presented in other societies and how are they contested and contextualized by the Webers and Lawrences of those other cultural traditions? More ambitiously, are there ways of seeing that reject this particular problematic? That is, are there cultural concepts in non-European societies that dispense completely with the ideal type presented and discussed here? Global history ought to be about more than just thinking about the whole world in Western rationalist ways. In sum, can Franklin and his (perceived, dissected, contested) embodiment of American ideals serve as a vehicle for elaborating and exposing alternative ways of conceptualizing the global social universe?
    In the text that follows, a selection from Franklin's Autobiography is offered as a specific instance of the widespread human practice of creating model representations of social ideals in order to body forth and transmit desired values. It is also presented as a foundation document of early American values in particular. The reading is preceded by a rationale for taking Franklin as an American cultural template, with background information on Franklin and on the colonial culture in which he lived. This section is then followed by introductory material for an evaluation of Franklin by Weber and then for an evaluation of Franklin by Lawrence. 6
Benjamin Franklin as the American Ideal  
    Is Ben Franklin, then, the ideal American? It could be objected, of course, that Franklin was a member of the elite. How, then, could he be an ideal for a culture that trumpeted the value of the common man? That objection is dealt with easily enough. Here, the ideal is taken as "representative" only in the sense of a model or example to be aspired to. Elite status is no bar, since leading members of a culture are often seen as embodying an idealized set of characteristics that are thought to represent the best that the civilization has to offer. Perhaps the average individual could never fully achieve the ideal, but average Americans are taught to aspire to the same values and behaviors as the elite—to replicate in miniature their leaders. 7
    A diametrically opposed objection is that Franklin was no ideal, because he cut such a non-heroic figure—a printer, not a planter, no glorious military exploits to his credit, even his famous bifocals bespeaking more a shopkeeper-craftsman than a national helmsman. Yet perhaps for that very reason, he has been taken as a model by a society of commoners, aspiring to make their way, as Franklin had done. Having faced significant challenges in early adolescence, he overcame them by dint of drive, intellectual curiosity, and creativity. In that sense, Franklin is, indeed, a more representative ideal of American culture than either the military hero Washington or the Renaissance man Jefferson. 8
     Franklin is also a useful exemplar to study, because he was a "new man," both in terms of his own ascent to the highest realms and also in terms of the fact that American society itself was so new. And the world of Benjamin Franklin—Britain's mainland North American colonies in the eighteenth century—was, indeed, new. It was a young social organism, one relatively devoid of social distinctions. In the 1830s, when the French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville traveled through much of the young American republic, he was struck by the overall uniformity of the society, at least as far as white males were concerned. The two great distinctions he observed were those of race and gender. Of course, the American world was much altered by the Revolutionary War, but from the outset the North American colonies were more open and democratic than the European society from which they had been formed. 9
    The process by which the native Americans would be driven off the land opened up a continent for agricultural and economic development of the sort pursued by the Europeans. This produced something that really did deserve to be called a new world. Franklin himself identified two key distinctions between Europe and America in his work Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind. They were 1) that in America land was abundant and cheap and 2) that labor was scarce and expensive. For European, especially Anglo, males, America was an open society of great opportunity and dynamism. The population of the North American colonies grew by roughly 3% a year, growing from a quarter million in 1700, to a million by mid-century, to two and a half million by 1775. The population of England was 20 times that of the North American colonies in 1700, only 3 times larger in 1775! Since this population was overwhelmingly young and male—at the time of the first US census in 1790, the average age in the US was 16—it was even more dynamic than the population figures might indicate.2 10
    This was Ben Franklin's world, and he too was dynamic, opportunistic and individualistic. Franklin was born in Boston in 1706, the tenth child of a soap and candle maker. He had a smattering of education that ended early, and he was apprenticed as an indentured printer to his older brother. He bridled under what he considered the overly severe regime of his brother, and in 1723, taking advantage of a legal loophole of sorts, he walked out on his brother and the contract. His first stop was New York City, but finding no work there, he continued on to Philadelphia, entering the city with only a few coins and three rolls to eat. He found work with a printer there and grew in experience and confidence. During this time period, he also journeyed to England to buy equipment to set himself up as a printer, and while in England he wrote a Deist tract that is most noteworthy as an early indication of his non-sectarian, Enlightenment bent. On returning to Philadelphia in 1728, he set up a printing house in partnership with another man, who he was able to buy out a couple of years later. 11
    Franklin enjoyed a very quick rise to commercial viability and public prominence. Philadelphia may have been the ideal location for him. His freethinking ways fit its tolerant religious culture. It is fascinating to read how he encountered the Governor of Pennsylvania on the streets of Philadelphia and how his light and humorous writing style won him such rapid entree into the circles of the power elite, resulting in lucrative printing contracts. Much of Franklin's advice boils down to ways to make a good impression on people and thereby to improve one's chances of material success in life. Obviously, he practiced these to good effect himself. 12
    But not all of his success can be attributed to careful attendance to his public image. He was a talented individual. His series Poor Richard's Almanac reflected English coffee-house culture, but he successfully repackaged ideas taken from the Spectator and other publications with items of concern to Americans and with a more elevated and informed perspective than other printers could achieve. Along with his own printing enterprise, he seeded printers in cities up and down the eastern seaboard with contracts for shared profits, but with buyout provisions for the new printers, too. Of course, he attained international fame with his experiments on electricity and lightning, but his practical inventions, such as the Franklin stove, the lightning rod, and bifocals, were useful and beneficial. Sometimes he refused to try to patent ideas, arguing that they ought to be for the general good. 13
    Franklin has been severely taken to task for his instrumentalist morality. It is true that he recommended certain actions because of the way they were perceived by others. Some of this can be attributed to style. He tells us, for example, that when he had an idea to start a club, he would recruit for it by saying that the idea had come up or someone has suggested, rather than naming himself as originator. This self-effacement may have had practical purposes in Franklin's life, but in the Autobiography he took little credit for having established institutions that grew into the American Philosophical Society and the University of Pennsylvania. He was sure of himself and his talents, and his self-appraisal was purposefully humble and balanced. To what extent this behavior was grounded in his personal sense of what is right and what is wrong—and whether it ought to have been—are two of the points of controversy about Franklin. 14
    This, then, is the famous American Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia. Did the hybrid Euro-American culture of the British Atlantic colonies-turned-states find its quintessential representative in him? He came of age in a society in the process of formation and relatively devoid of hereditary elites. His story is the saga of an ascent through society from employment as an indentured apprentice to a position of wealth, great influence and respect at home, and fame as both the archetypal American in European eyes and perhaps the best known scientist of his age. This life history has been adopted by Americans as a template for proper behavior. Since he ran away from Boston to escape the domineering rule of his brother-employer and arrived in Philadelphia close to penniless, his biography qualifies as a "rags to riches" tale. He was in many ways the typical American "man on the make."
    The following selection from Franklin's Autobiography is intended to help us come to some appreciation of the man and his society, and with it a sense of both the functions and the working of ideal representatives in human social systems. 16
In Benjamin Franklin's Own Words, from his Autobiography3    
    I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and tho' some of the dogmas of that persuasion, such as the eternal decrees of God, election, reprobation, etc., appeared to me unintelligible, others doubtful, and I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect, Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and govern'd it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. These I esteem'd the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho' with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mix'd with other articles, which, without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, serv'd principally to divide us, and make us unfriendly to one another. This respect to all, with an opinion that the worst had some good effects, induc'd me to avoid all discourse that might tend to lessen the good opinion another might have of his own religion; and as our province increas'd in people, and new places of worship were continually wanted, and generally erected by voluntary contributions, my mite for such purpose, whatever might be the sect, was never refused. 17
    Tho' I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia. He us'd to visit me sometimes as a friend, and admonish me to attend his administrations, and I was now and then prevail'd on to do so, once for five Sundays successively. Had he been in my opinion a good preacher, perhaps I might have continued, notwithstanding the occasion I had for the Sunday's leisure in my course of study; but his discourses were chiefly either polemic arguments, or explications of the peculiar doctrines of our sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting, and unedifying, since not a single moral principle was inculcated or enforc'd, their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good citizens.   18
     At length he took for his text that verse of the fourth chapter of Philippians, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report, if there be any virtue, or any praise, think on these things." And I imagin'd, in a sermon on such a text, we could not miss of having some morality. But he confin'd himself to five points only, as meant by the apostle, viz.: 1. Keeping holy the Sabbath day. 2. Being diligent in reading the holy Scriptures. 3. Attending duly the publick worship. 4. Partaking of the Sacrament. 5. Paying a due respect to God's ministers. These might be all good things; but, as they were not the kind of good things that I expected from that text, I despaired of ever meeting with them from any other, was disgusted, and attended his preaching no more. I had some years before compos'd a little Liturgy, or form of prayer, for my own private use (viz., in 1728), entitled, Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion. I return'd to the use of this, and went no more to the public assemblies. My conduct might be blameable, but I leave it, without attempting further to excuse it; my present purpose being to relate facts, and not to make apologies for them.   19
     It was about this time I conceiv'd the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish'd to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was employ'd in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct. For this purpose I therefore contrived the following method. 20
     In the various enumerations of the moral virtues I had met with in my reading, I found the catalogue more or less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name. Temperance, for example, was by some confined to eating and drinking, while by others it was extended to mean the moderating every other pleasure, appetite, inclination, or passion, bodily or mental, even to our avarice and ambition. I propos'd to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annex'd to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr'd to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express'd the extent I gave to its meaning.   21
These names of virtues, with their precepts, were:

1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
     My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judg'd it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro' the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arrang'd them with that view, as they stand above. Temperance first, as it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits, and the force of perpetual temptations. This being acquir'd and establish'd, Silence would be more easy; and my desire being to gain knowledge at the same time that I improv'd in virtue, and considering that in conversation it was obtain'd rather by the use of the ears than of the tongue, and therefore wishing to break a habit I was getting into of prattling, punning, and joking, which only made me acceptable to trifling company, I gave Silence the second place. This and the next, Order, I expected would allow me more time for attending to my project and my studies. Resolution, once become habitual, would keep me firm in my endeavors to obtain all the subsequent virtues; Frugality and Industry freeing me from my remaining debt, and producing affluence and independence, would make more easy the practice of Sincerity and Justice, etc., etc. Conceiving then, that, agreeably to the advice of Pythagoras in his Golden Verses, daily examination would be necessary, I contrived the following method for conducting that examination.   23
     I made a little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I rul'd each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter for the day. I cross'd these columns with thirteen red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues, on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.  24
Form of the pages.
     I determined to give a week's strict attention to each of the virtues successively. Thus, in the first week, my great guard was to avoid the least offence against Temperance, leaving the other virtues to their ordinary chance, only marking every evening the faults of the day. Thus, if in the first week I could keep my first line, marked T, clear of spots, I suppos'd the habit of that virtue so much strengthen'd and its opposite weaken'd, that I might venture extending my attention to include the next, and for the following week keep both lines clear of spots. Proceeding thus to the last, I could go thro' a course compleat in thirteen weeks, and four courses in a year. And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time, and, having accomplish'd the first, proceeds to a second, so I should have, I hoped, the encouraging pleasure of seeing on my pages the progress I made in virtue, by clearing successively my lines of their spots, till in the end, by a number of courses, I should be happy in viewing a clean book, after a thirteen weeks' daily examination.  

     This my little book had for its motto these lines from Addison's Cato:
Here will I hold. If there's a power above us
(And that there is all nature cries aloud Thro' all her works),
He must delight in virtue;
And that which he delights in must be happy.
     Another from Cicero, "O vitae Philosophia dux! O virtutum indagatrix expultrixque vitiorum! Unus dies, bene et ex praeceptis tuis actus, peccanti immortalitati est anteponendus."4   27
     Another from the Proverbs of Solomon, speaking of wisdom or virtue: "Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." iii. 16, 17.   28
     And conceiving God to be the fountain of wisdom, I thought it right and necessary to solicit his assistance for obtaining it; to this end I formed the following little prayer, which was prefix'd to my tables of examination, for daily use. "O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me."
I used also sometimes a little prayer which I took from Thomson's Poems, viz.: "Father of light and life, thou Good Supreme! O teach me what is good; teach me Thyself! Save me from folly, vanity, and vice, From every low pursuit; and fill my soul With knowledge, conscious peace, and virtue pure; Sacred, substantial, never-fading bliss!"
     The precept of Order requiring that every part of my business should have its allotted time, one page in my little book contain'd the following scheme of employment for the twenty-four hours of a natural day:   30
The Morning.
Question. What good shall I do this day? 5 Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day’s business, and take the resolution of the day;
  9 Work
Noon. 12 Read, or overlook my accounts, and dine
  3 Work
Evening 6  
Night. 9  
  2 Sleep.
     I enter'd upon the execution of this plan for self-examination, and continu'd it with occasional intermissions for some time. I was surpris'd to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish. To avoid the trouble of renewing now and then my little book, which, by scraping out the marks on the paper of old faults to make room for new ones in a new course, became full of holes, I transferr'd my tables and precepts to the ivory leaves of a memorandum book, on which the lines were drawn with red ink, that made a durable stain, and on those lines I mark'd my faults with a black-lead pencil, which marks I could easily wipe out with a wet sponge. After a while I went thro' one course only in a year, and afterward only one in several years, till at length I omitted them entirely, being employ'd in voyages and business abroad, with a multiplicity of affairs that interfered; but I always carried my little book with me.  31
     My scheme of ORDER gave me the most trouble; and I found that, tho' it might be practicable where a man's business was such as to leave him the disposition of his time, that of a journeyman printer, for instance, it was not possible to be exactly observed by a master, who must mix with the world, and often receive people of business at their own hours. Order, too, with regard to places for things, papers, etc., I found extreamly difficult to acquire. I had not been early accustomed to it, and, having an exceeding good memory, I was not so sensible of the inconvenience attending want of method. This article, therefore, cost me so much painful attention, and my faults in it vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect, like the man who, in buying an ax of a smith, my neighbour, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge. The smith consented to grind it bright for him if he would turn the wheel; he turn'd, while the smith press'd the broad face of the ax hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing. The man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went on, and at length would take his ax as it was, without farther grinding. "No," said the smith, "turn on, turn on; we shall have it bright by-and-by; as yet, it is only speckled." "Yes," said the man, "but I think I like a speckled ax best." And I believe this may have been the case with many, who, having, for want of some such means as I employ'd, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle, and concluded that "a speckled ax was best"; for something, that pretended to be reason, was every now and then suggesting to me that such extream nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character might be attended with the inconvenience of being envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance.   32
     In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it. But, on the whole, tho' I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it; as those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, tho' they never reach the wish'd-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavor, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible. It may be well my posterity should be informed that to this little artifice, with the blessing of God, their ancestor ow'd the constant felicity of his life, down to his 79th year, in which this is written. What reverses may attend the remainder is in the hand of Providence; but, if they arrive, the reflection on past happiness enjoy'd ought to help his bearing them with more resignation. To Temperance he ascribes his long-continued health, and what is still left to him of a good constitution; to Industry and Frugality, the early easiness of his circumstances and acquisition of his fortune, with all that knowledge that enabled him to be a useful citizen, and obtained for him some degree of reputation among the learned; to Sincerity and Justice, the confidence of his country, and the honorable employs it conferred upon him; and to the joint influence of the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to acquire them, all that evenness of temper, and that cheerfulness in conversation, which makes his company still sought for, and agreeable even to his younger acquaintance. I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.  33
     It will be remark'd that, tho' my scheme was not wholly without religion, there was in it no mark of any of the distinguishing tenets of any particular sect. I had purposely avoided them; for, being fully persuaded of the utility and excellency of my method, and that it might be serviceable to people in all religions, and intending some time or other to publish it, I would not have any thing in it that should prejudice any one, of any sect, against it. I purposed writing a little comment on each virtue, in which I would have shown the advantages of possessing it, and the mischiefs attending its opposite vice; and I should have called my book THE ART OF VIRTUE, because it would have shown the means and manner of obtaining virtue, which would have distinguished it from the mere exhortation to be good, that does not instruct and indicate the means, but is like the apostle's man of verbal charity, who only without showing to the naked and hungry how or where they might get clothes or victuals, exhorted them to be fed and clothed.--James ii. 15, 16.   34
     But it so happened that my intention of writing and publishing this comment was never fulfilled. I did, indeed, from time to time, put down short hints of the sentiments, reasonings, etc., to be made use of in it, some of which I have still by me; but the necessary close attention to private business in the earlier part of thy life, and public business since, have occasioned my postponing it; for, it being connected in my mind with a great and extensive project, that required the whole man to execute, and which an unforeseen succession of employs prevented my attending to, it has hitherto remain'd unfinish'd.   35
     In this piece it was my design to explain and enforce this doctrine, that vicious actions are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but forbidden because they are hurtful, the nature of man alone considered; that it was, therefore, every one's interest to be virtuous who wish'd to be happy even in this world; and I should, from this circumstance (there being always in the world a number of rich merchants, nobility, states, and princes, who have need of honest instruments for the management of their affairs, and such being so rare), have endeavored to convince young persons that no qualities were so likely to make a poor man's fortune as those of probity and integrity.  36
     My list of virtues contain'd at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show'd itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinc'd me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavouring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list giving an extensive meaning to the word.   37
    I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it. I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix'd opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so; or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny'd myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear'd or seem'd to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag'd in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos'd my opinions procur'd them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail'd with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.   38
    And this mode, which I at first put on with some violence to natural inclination, became at length so easy, and so habitual to me, that perhaps for these fifty years past no one has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me. And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had early so much weight with my fellow-citizens when I proposed new institutions, or alterations in the old, and so much influence in public councils when I became a member; for I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my points.  39
     In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility. 40
Max Weber, Benjamin Franklin and the Spirit of Capitalism  
     Max Weber (1864-1920) is one of the most important social thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In fact, his work on bureaucracy and charisma, his study of the Protestant work ethic, and his use of the "ideal type" as a tool of social analysis are still among the most important concepts used by social scientists. Weber presents Franklin as the ideal American in the sense that he represents the modern capitalist values that America deems to be the best economic and social arrangement. It is important to note, though, that Weber conceived of the "ideal type" not necessarily as embodying the best, but rather the most representative, values of a given culture.  41
     Weber's life almost perfectly brackets the rise to economic, political, and military dominance of the German empire. Weber was born into the upper middle class in a rapidly industrializing Germany. His father was an important, politically active lawyer. On both his mother's side of the family and in his wife's family, there were a number of industrial entrepreneurs. Despite suffering a severe mental and psychic breakdown, Weber managed an extremely rich scholarly life before his death two years after Germany's defeat in the First World War.   42
     Given his family's background, it was perhaps natural for Weber to inquire into the origins of the spirit that motivated the nineteenth-century Western capitalist. He noted an ascetic frugality that distinguished what he termed "modern capitalism" from capitalist values in other places and times. Weber traced the origins of modern capitalism to the most widespread and influential of Protestant denominations, Calvinism. Calvinism was noteworthy for its emphasis on the predestination of souls to either salvation or damnation. According to Weber, this doctrine was psychologically intolerable to devout Calvinists, who then began to look for signs of salvation in their lives. As opposed to medieval Catholicism, for Calvinists the life of a soul "elected" for salvation could not be lived in isolation from the world: one of their favorite Gospel passages was the parable of the talents. They viewed their work not simply as a way of making a living, but as a divinely determined vocation which they had a duty to do well and conscientiously. As a result, they applied the practices of a spiritual athlete­close attendance on their daily behavior, strict self-discipline, avoidance of excess, active engagement in their work lives­to the tasks of economic life. Material welfare, conspicuously not consumed, was taken as sign and surety of spiritual salvation. Surely for any depraved human to act in so righteous a way must indicate the presence of God's grace in his life and must signify membership in the elect.   43
     Such, according to Weber, are the origins of the modern capitalist spirit. Franklin was raised with these values, by his strict Calvinist father. While he strayed from Calvinism into a denatured Deism, Franklin, according to Weber, retained the core sense of modern capitalism: hard work, frugality, the obligation to make the most of one's opportunities, modesty and moderation, especially in consumption. In articulating Franklin's status as the ideal representation of the capitalist spirit, Weber was also holding him forth as the American ideal.  44
In Max Weber's Own Words, from "The Spirit of Capitalism"5    
     The title of this study uses a concept that sounds rather intimidating: "the spirit of capitalism." What should be understood by it? . . . [W]e turn to a document that contains the spirit of concern to us in near classical purity, and simultaneously offers the advantage of being detached from all direct connection to religious belief--hence, for our theme, of being "free of presuppositions."  45

     Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but, sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings, besides.  


     Remember, that credit is money. If a man lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me interest, or so much as I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum where a man has good and large credit, and makes good use of it.  


     Remember, that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again it is seven and three pence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds. . . .  


     Remember this saying: The good paymaster is lord of another man's purse. He that is known to pay punctually and exactly to the time he promises, may at any time, and on any occasion, raise all the money his friends can spare. This is sometimes of great use. After industry and frugality, nothing contributes more to the raising of a young man in the world than punctuality and justice in all his dealings; therefore never keep borrowed money an hour beyond the time you promised, lest a disappointment shut up your friend's purse for ever.  


     The most trifling actions that affect a man's credit are to be regarded. The sound of your hammer at five in the morning, or eight at night, heard by a creditor, makes him easy six months longer; but if he sees you at a billiard table, or hears your voice at a tavern, when you should be at work, he sends for his money the next day; demands it . . . in a lump. 


     It shows, besides, that you are mindful of what you owe; it makes you appear a careful as well as an honest man, and that still increases your credit.  


     Beware of thinking all your own that you possess, and of living accordingly. It is a mistake that many people who have credit fall into. To prevent this, keep an exact account for some time both of your expenses and your income. If you take the pains at first to mention particulars, it will have this good effect: you will discover how wonderfully small, trifling expenses mount up to large sums, and will discern what might have been, and may for the future be saved, without occasioning any great inconvenience. 


     He that spends a groat a day idly, spends idly above six pounds a year, which is the price for the use of one hundred pounds. 


     He that wastes idly a groat's worth of his time per day, one day with another, wastes the privilege of using one hundred pounds each day.  


     He that idly loses five shillings' worth of time, loses five shillings, and might as prudently throw five shillings in the river.  


     He that loses five shillings, not only loses that sum, but all the advantage that might be made by turning it in dealing, which by the time that a young man becomes old, will amount to a considerable bag of money. 

     It is Benjamin Franklin who preaches to us in these sentences [a]s the supposed catechism of a Yankee, . . . That the spirit of capitalism is here manifest in Franklin's words, even in a manner characteristic for him, no one will doubt. It will not be argued here, however, that all aspects of what can be understood by this spirit is contained in them.  57
     Let us pause a moment to consider . . . , the philosophy . . . [that is summed up by a satirist in the words­TS], "They make tallow for candles out of cattle and money out of men." Remarkably, the real peculiarity in the "philosophy of avarice" contained in this maxim is the ideal of the credit-worthy man of honor and, above all, the idea of the duty of the individual to increase his wealth, which is assumed to be a self-defined interest in itself. Indeed, rather than simply a common-sense approach to life, a peculiar "ethic" is preached here: its violation is treated not simply as foolishness but as a sort of forgetfulness of duty. Above all, this distinction stands at the center of the matter. "Business savvy," which is found commonly enough, is here not alone taught; rather, an ethos is expressed in this maxim. Just this quality is of interest to us in this investigation.   58
     . . . Jakob Fugger (1459-1525) . . . [said he] "wanted to make money as long as he could." Obviously, the spirit of this statement must be distinguished from Franklin's. Fugger's entrepreneurial daring and personal, morally indifferent proclivities now take on the character, in Franklin, of an ethically-oriented maxim for the organization of life. The expression spirit of capitalism will be used here in just this specific manner­naturally the spirit of modern capitalism. That is, . . . it must be evident that the Western European and American capitalism of the last few centuries constitutes our concern rather than the "capitalism" that has appeared in China, India, Babylon, in the ancient world, and in the Middle Ages. . . . [J]ust that peculiar ethic was missing in all these cases.  59
     Nevertheless, all Franklin's moral admonishments are applied in a utilitarian fashion: Honesty is useful, because it leads to the availability of credit. Punctuality, industry, and frugality are also useful, and are therefore virtues. It would follow from this that, for example, the appearance of honesty, wherever it accomplishes the same end, would suffice. Moreover, in Franklin's eyes an unnecessary surplus of this virtue must be seen as unproductive wastefulness. Indeed, whoever reads in his autobiography of his "conversion" to these virtues, or the complete discussions on the usefulness of a strict preservation of the appearance of modesty and the intentional minimizing of one's own accomplishments in order to attain a general approval, will necessarily come to the conclusion that all virtues, according to Franklin, become virtues only to the extent that they are useful to the individual. The surrogate of virtue­namely, its appearance only­is fully adequate wherever the same purpose is achieved. Indeed, this inseparability of motive and appearance is the inescapable consequence of all strict utilitarianism. The common German tendency to perceive the American virtues as "hypocrisy" appears here confirmed beyond a doubt.  60
     In truth, however, matters are not so simple. Benjamin Franklin's own character demonstrates that the issue is more complex: his character appears clearly, however seldom, in his autobiography as one of candor and truthfulness. It is also evident in Franklin's tracing of his realization, that virtues can be "useful," back to a revelation from God that was designed, he believed, to guide him onto the path of righteousness. Something more is involved here than simply an embellishing of purely self-interested, egocentric maxims.   61
     The complexity of this issue is above all apparent in the summum bonum ["supreme good"] of this "ethic"; namely, the acquisition of money, and more and more money, takes place here simultaneously with the strictest avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of it. The pursuit of riches is fully stripped of all pleasurable, and surely all hedonistic, aspects. Accordingly, this striving becomes understood completely as an end in itself­to such an extent that it appears as fully outside the normal course of affairs and simply irrational, at least when viewed from the "happiness" or "utility" of the single individual. Here, people are oriented to acquisition as the purpose of life; acquisition is no longer viewed as a means to the end of satisfying the substantive needs of life. Those people in possession of spontaneous, fun-loving dispositions experience this situation as an absolutely meaningless reversal of a "natural" condition . . . . Yet this reversal constitutes just as surely a guiding principle of [modern] capitalism as incomprehension of this new situation characterizes all who remain untouched by [modern] capitalism's tentacles.   62
     This reversal implies an internal line of development that comes into close contact with certain religious ideas. One can ask why then "money ought to be made out of persons." In his autobiography, Franklin answers (although he is himself a bland Deist) with a maxim from the Bible that, as he says, his strict Calvinist father again and again drilled into him in his youth: "Seest thou a man vigorous in his vocational calling? He shall stand before kings" (Prov. 22:29). As long as it is carried out in a legal manner, the acquisition of money in the modern economic order is the result and manifestation of competence and proficiency in a vocational calling. This competence and proficiency is the actual alpha and omega of Franklin's morality, as now can be easily recognized. It presents itself to us both in the passages cited above and, without exception, in all his writings.  63
     In fact, this peculiar idea of a duty to have a vocational calling, so familiar to us today but actually not at all self-evident, is the idea that is characteristic of the "social ethic" of modern capitalist culture. In a certain sense, it is even of constitutive significance for it. It implies a notion of duty that individuals ought to experience, and do, vis-à-vis the content of their "vocational" activity. . . .   64
     The capitalist spirit . . . became prominent only after a difficult struggle against a world of hostile powers. The frame of mind apparent in the cited passages from Benjamin Franklin that met with the approval of an entire people would have been proscribed in the ancient world, as well as in the Middle Ages, for it would have been viewed as an expression of filthy greed and completely undignified character. Indeed, antagonism to this frame of mind is found even today, particularly . . . in those social groups least integrated into or adapted to the modern capitalist economy. . . .  65
     It is actually in no way unusual, but highly common to find in Franklin a degree of detached modesty . . . . He "has nothing" from his wealth for himself personally, except that irrational sense of having "fulfilled his vocation."  66
     Just this, however, is exactly that which appears to the pre-capitalist person so incomprehensible and puzzling, so vulgar and repulsive. That anyone could conceive of the idea of defining the exclusive goal of his life-long work as sinking into his grave weighed down with a heavy load of money and goods­this seems comprehensible to the pre-capitalist person only as the product of perverse drives: the auri sacra fames [craving for gold]."  67
D. H. Lawrence, Benjamin Franklin and the Spirit of America  
     Another, more critical commentator on Franklin was the famous English writer, D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930). Like Weber, Lawrence had an unhappy family background. His socially ambitious mother imparted to her children a sense that they should seek a higher station in life than his coal mining, pub drinking father. Lawrence worked briefly as a teacher, but he found his métier as a writer, and he supported himself in that profession until his premature death from complications related to tuberculosis.  68
     Lawrence is usually grouped with the literary modernists, a broad cultural current unified primarily by a rejection of the philosophy, worldview and aesthetics of Enlightenment-based nineteenth-century realism. His most famous works are probably Sons and Lovers, in which the clearly biographical story line involves the emasculating influence of a hyper-possessive mother, and Lady Chatterly's Lover, in which he explores aspects of sexual and metaphysical concerns. His wrote in a variety of genres, treating a range of issues, such as the individual self and the unconscious, sexual and family relationships, social change, and the nature and role of mythic, anti-rational aspects of human existence. His importance derives in part from the fact that his personal demons reflected those of Western society at large.   69
     Lawrence sought a sense of community that he never really found. His relationship with a progressive-minded German, who left her husband and children to live with Lawrence, along with Lawrence's physical exemption from military duty and his radical ideas, made life in England uncomfortable. Although he lived in England for brief periods, he remained physically and psychologically an expatriate for the rest of his life. He seemed better able to sustain relationships by means of his extensive and substantive correspondence than by close proximity to people. Not surprisingly, then, he embarked on a long odyssey that took him to Ceylon, Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, and finally to America, where he settled for a while in Taos at the invitation of the wealthy widow, Mabel Dodge. It is there that he finished the work that includes his assault on Franklin, Studies in Classic American Literature.   70
     There are probably a number of reasons that Lawrence disliked Franklin and the ethic he put forward in his Autobiography. First of all, he did not like America, and he opposed democracy, because he did not believe in equality. Along with many others of that age, including Friedrich Nietzsche and Theodore Roosevelt, he rejected egalitarian democracy. As he immodestly put it, "I feel I'm the superior of most men I meet. Not in birth, . . . [n]ot in money, . . . not in education, . . . Just in myself. . . . When I meet another man, . . . he should give reverence to the very me, because it is more at one with the gods than is his very self."6 America was inauthentic to Lawrence, who viewed it as a sort of dessicated Europe, a culture he was already critical of. In addition, he was disgusted by the materialism of America. Henry Miller said of Lawrence that he had "three superb qualities: vision, courage and integrity."7 From those qualities he devised a literary-cultural role for himself, as an artistic prophet who would lead the world to a point where the integral, authentic human could re-emerge. He exclaimed in his last extended work, Apocalypse, "What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and the earth, with mankind and nation and family."8 From this arose his distaste for Franklin, whom he characterized as "the real practical prototype of the American. . . . To the European, the American is first and foremost a dollar-fiend." He disliked Franklin­"the dry little snuff-coloured Doctor"­even more than most Americans, arguing that "new Americans might use venery [sex] for health and offspring, and their time for cultivating potatoes and Chicagoes, but they had got some sap in their veins after all. They had got to get a bit of luscious emotion somewhere. NATURE." For Lawrence, though, Franklin lacked both nature and art.9 71
     In fact, in the same work in which he lambastes Franklin, Lawrence does find an American model worth emulating, but he is fictional, not real. That model is Fenimore Cooper's leather-stockinged hero, the Deerslayer. This is so, because:  72

True myth concerns itself centrally with the onward adventure of the integral soul. And this, for America, is Deerslayer. A man who turns his back on white society. A man who keeps his moral integrity hard and intact. An isolate, almost selfless, stoic, enduring man, who lives by death, by killing, but who is pure white.  


This is the very intrinsic-most American. He is at the core of all the other flux and fluff. And when this man breaks from his static isolation, and makes a new move, then look out, something will be happening.10

     Here, then, is Lawrence's diatribe against Franklin. It represents a quite different style of text from either Franklin's Autobiography or Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. That is as it should be, because it also represents a quite different interpretation of both capitalist America and the man taken to represent it, for good or for ill, Benjamin Franklin.  75
In D. H. Lawrence's Own Words, on "Benjamin Franklin"11    
     THE Perfectibility of Man! Ah heaven, what a dreary theme! The perfectibility of the Ford car! The perfectibility of which man? I am many men. Which of them are you going to perfect? I am not a mechanical contrivance.  76
     Education! Which of the various me's do you propose to educate, and which do you propose to suppress?  77
     Anyhow, I defy you. I defy you, oh society, to educate me or to suppress me, according to your dummy standards.  78
     The ideal man! And which is he, if you please? Benjamin Franklin or Abraham Lincoln? The ideal man! Roosevelt or Porfirio Diaz?  79

     There are other men in me, besides this patient ass who sits here in a tweed jacket. What am I doing, playing the patient ass in a tweed jacket? Who am I talking to? Who are you, at the other end of this patience?

Who are you? How many selves have you? And which of these selves do you want to be?

Is Yale College going to educate the self that is in the dark of you, or Harvard College?

     The ideal self! Oh, but I have a strange and fugitive self shut out and howling like a wolf or a coyote under the ideal windows. See his red eyes in the dark? This is the self who is coming into his own. 81
     The perfectibility of man, dear God! When every man as long as he remains alive is in himself a multitude of conflicting men. Which of these do you choose to perfect, at the expense of every other?  82
     Old Daddy Franklin will tell you. He'll rig him up for you, the pattern American. Oh, Franklin was the first downright American. He knew what he was about, the sharp little man. He set up the first dummy American.  83
     At the beginning of his career this cunning little Benjamin drew up for himself a creed that should 'satisfy the professors of every religion, but shock none'.  84
     Now wasn't that a real American thing to do ?  85
'That there is One God, who made all things.' (But Benjamin made Him.)  86
'That He governs the world by His Providence.' (Benjamin knowing all about Providence.)  87
'That He ought to be worshipped with adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving.' (Which cost nothing.)  88
'But-' But me no buts, Benjamin, saith the Lord.  89
'But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to men.' (God having no choice in the matter.)  90
'That the soul is immortal.' (You'll see why, in the next clause.)  91
'And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice, either here or hereafter.'  90
     Now if Mr Andrew Carnegie, or any other millionaire, had wished to invent a God to suit his ends, he could not have done better. Benjamin did it for him in the eighteenth century. God is the supreme servant of men who want to get on, to produce. Providence. The provider. The heavenly storekeeper. The everlasting Wanamaker.12   91
     And this is all the God the grandsons of the Pilgrim Fathers had left. Aloft on a pillar of dollars. ' That the soul is immortal.' The trite way Benjamin says it!  92
     But man has a soul, though you can't locate it either in his purse or his pocket-book or his heart or his stomach or his head. The wholeness of a man is his soul. Not merely that nice little comfortable bit which Benjamin marks out.  93
     It's a queer thing is a man's soul. It is the whole of him. Which means it is the unknown him, as well as the known. It seems to me just funny, professors and Benjamins fixing the functions of the soul. Why, the soul of man is a vast forest, and all Benjamin intended was a neat back garden. And we've all got to fit into his kitchen garden scheme of things. Hail Columbia!  94
     The soul of man is a dark forest. The Hercynian Wood13 that scared the Romans so, and out of which came the white-skinned hordes of the next civilization.  95
     Who knows what will come out of the soul of man? The soul of man is a dark vast forest, with wild life in it. Think of Benjamin fencing it off!  96
     Oh, but Benjamin fenced a little tract that he called the soul of man, and proceeded to get it into cultivation. Providence, forsooth! And they think that bit of barbed wire is going to keep us in pound for ever? More fools they. 97
     This is Benjamin's barbed wire fence. He made himself a list of virtues, which he trotted inside like a grey nag in a paddock. [Here follows the list of virtues from the Autobiography-TS] . . .   98
     A Quaker friend told Franklin that he, Benjamin, was generally considered proud, so Benjamin put in the Humility touch as an afterthought. The amusing part is the sort of humility it displays. 'Imitate Jesus and Socrates,' and mind you don't outshine either of these two. One can just imagine Socrates and Alcibiades14 roaring in their cups over Philadelphian Benjamin, and Jesus looking at him a little puzzled, and murmuring: 'Aren't you wise in your own conceit, Ben?'  99
     'Henceforth be masterless,' retorts Ben. 'Be ye each one his own master unto himself, and don't let even the Lord put His spoke in.' 'Each man his own master' is but a puffing up of masterlessness.  100
     Well, the first of Americans practiced this enticing list with assiduity, setting a national example. He had the virtues in columns, and gave himself good and bad marks according as he thought his behaviour deserved. Pity these conduct charts are lost to us. He only remarks that Order was his stumbling block. He could not learn to be neat and tidy.  101
     Isn't it nice to have nothing worse to confess?  102
     He was a little model, was Benjamin. Doctor Franklin. Snuff-coloured little man! Immortal soul and all!  103
     The immortal soul part was a sort of cheap insurance policy.  104
     Benjamin had no concern, really, with the immortal soul. He was too busy with social man.  105
     (1) He swept and lighted the streets of young Philadelphia.
     (2) He invented electrical appliances.
     (3) He was the centre of a moralizing club in Philadelphia, and he wrote the moral humorisms of Poor Richard.
     (4) He was a member of all the important councils of Philadelphia, and then of the American colonies.
     (5) He won the cause of American Independence at the French Court, and was the economic father of the United States.  
     Now what more can you want of a man? And yet he is infra dig., even in Philadelphia.15  106
     I admire him. I admire his sturdy courage first of all, then his sagacity, then his glimpsing into the thunders of electricity, then his common-sense humour. All the qualities of a great man, and never more than a great citizen. Middle-sized, sturdy, snuff-coloured Doctor Franklin, one of the soundest citizens that ever trod or 'used venery'.   107
     I do not like him.  108
     And, by the way, I always thought books of Venery were about hunting deer.16   110
     There is a certain earnest naiveté, about him. Like a child. And like a little old man. He has again become as a little child, always as wise as his grandfather, or wiser.  111
     Perhaps, as I say, the most complete citizen that ever 'used venery'.  112
     Printer, philosopher, scientist, author and patriot, impeccable husband and citizen, why isn't he an archetype?  113
     Pioneer, Oh Pioneers! Benjamin was one of the greatest pioneers of the United States. Yet we just can't do with him.  114
     What's wrong with him then? Or what's wrong with us?  115
     I can remember, when I was a little boy, my father used to buy a scrubby yearly almanac with the sun and moon and stars on the cover. And it used to prophesy bloodshed and famine. But also crammed in corners it had little anecdotes and humorisms, with a moral tag. And I used to have my little priggish laugh at the woman who counted her chickens before they were hatched and so forth, and I was convinced that honesty was the best policy, also a little priggishly. The author of these bits was Poor Richard, and Poor Richard was Benjamin Franklin, writing in Philadelphia well over a hundred years before.  116
     And probably I haven't got over those Poor Richard tags yet. I rankle still with them. They are thorns in young flesh.  117
     Because, although I still believe that honesty is the best policy, I dislike policy altogether; though it is just as well not to count your chickens before they are hatched, it's still more hateful to count them with gloating when they are hatched. It has taken me many years and countless smarts to get out of that barbed wire moral enclosure that Poor Richard rigged up. Here am I now in tatters and scratched to ribbons, sitting in the middle of Benjamin's America looking at the barbed wire, and the fat sheep crawling under the fence to get fat outside, and the watch-dogs yelling at the gate lest by chance anyone should get out by the proper exit. Oh America! Oh Benjamin! And I just utter a long loud curse against Benjamin and the American corral.  118
     Moral America! Most moral Benjamin. Sound, satisfied Ben!  119
     He had to go to the frontiers of his State to settle some disturbance among the Indians. On this occasion he writes:  120

     We found that they had made a great bonfire in the middle of the square; they were all drunk, men and women quarrelling and fighting. Their dark-coloured bodies, half-naked, seen only by the gloomy light of the bonfire, running after and beating one another with fire-brands, accompanied by their horrid yellings, formed a scene the most resembling our ideas of hell that could be well imagined. There was no appeasing the tumult, and we retired to our lodging. At midnight a number of them came thundering at our door, demanding more rum, of which we took no notice. 


     The next day, sensible they had misbehaved in giving us that disturbance, they sent three of their counsellors to make their apology. The orator acknowledged the fault, but laid it upon the rum, and then endeavoured to excuse the rum by saying: 'The Great Spirit, who made all things, made everything for some use; and whatever he designed anything for, that use it should always be put to. Now, when he had made the rum, he said: "Let this be for the Indians to get drunk with." And it must be so.' 


     And, indeed, if it be the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for the cultivators of the earth, it seems not improbable that rum may be the appointed means. It has already annihilated all the tribes who formerly inhabited all the seacoast . . . 

     This, from the good doctor with such suave complacency, is a little disenchanting. Almost too good to be true.  124
     But there you are! The barbed wire fence. 'Extirpate these savages in order to make room for the cultivators of the earth.' Oh, Benjamin Franklin! He even 'used venery' as a cultivator of seed 125
     Cultivate the earth, ye gods! The Indians did that, as much as they needed. And they left off there. Who built Chicago? Who cultivated the earth until it spawned Pittsburgh, Pa?   126
     The moral issue! Just look at it! Cultivation included. If it's a mere choice of Kultur17 or cultivation, I give it up.  127
     Which brings us right back to our question, what's wrong with Benjamin, that we can't stand him? Or else, what's wrong with us, that we kind fault with such a paragon?  128
     Man is a moral animal. All right. I am a moral animal. And I'm going to remain such. I'm not going to be turned into a virtuous little automaton as Benjamin would have me. 'This is good, that is bad. Turn the little handle and let the good tap flow,' saith Benjamin, and all America with him. 'But first of all extirpate those savages who are always turning on the bad tap.'  129
     I am a moral animal. But I am not a moral machine. I don't work with a little set of handles or levers. The Temperance-silence-order-resolution-frugality-industry-sincerity-justice- moderation-cleanliness-tranquillity-chastity-humility keyboard is not going to get me going. I'm really not just an automatic piano with a moral Benjamin getting tunes out of me.  130

Here's my creed, against Benjamin's. This is what I believe:

'That I am I.'
' That my soul is a dark forest.' '
That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest.'
'That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing of my known self, and then go back.'
'That I must have the courage to let them come and go.'
'That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods in other men and women.'  

     There is my creed. He who runs may read. He who prefers to crawl, or to go by gasoline, can call it rot.  132
     Then for a 'list'. It is rather fun to play at Benjamin.
     1. TEMPERANCE Eat and carouse with Bacchus18 , or munch dry bread with Jesus, but don't sit down without one of the gods.
     2. SILENCE Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot.
     3. ORDER Know that you are responsible to the gods inside you and to the men in whom the gods are manifest. Recognize your superiors and your inferiors, according to the gods. This is the root of all order.
     4. RESOLUTION Resolve to abide by your own deepest promptings, and to sacrifice the smaller thing to the greater. Kill when you must, and be killed the same: the must coming from the gods inside you, or from the men in whom you recognize the Holy Ghost.
     5. FRUGALITY Demand nothing; accept what you see fit. Don't waste your pride or squander your emotion.
     6. INDUSTRY Lose no time with ideals; serve the Holy Ghost; never serve mankind.
     7. SINCERITY To be sincere is to remember that I am I, and that the other man is not me.
     8. JUSTICE The only justice is to follow the sincere intuition of the soul, angry or gentle. Anger is just, and pity is just, but judgment is never just.
     9. MODERATION Beware of absolutes. There are many gods.
     10. CLEANLINESS Don't be too clean. It impoverishes the blood.
     11. TRANQUILITY The soul has many motions, many gods come and go. Try and find your deepest issue, in every confusion, and abide by that. Obey the man in whom you recognize the Holy Ghost; command when your honour comes to command.
     12. CHASTITY Never 'use' venery at all. Follow your passional impulse, if it be answered in the other being; but never have any motive in mind, neither offspring nor health nor even pleasure, nor even service. Only know that 'venery' is of the great gods. An offering-up of yourself to the very great gods, the dark ones, and nothing else.
     13. HUMILITY See all men and women according to the Holy Ghost that is within them. 
Never yield before the barren.  134
     There's my list. I have been trying dimly to realize it for a long time, and only America and old Benjamin have at last goaded me into trying to formulate it.  135
     And now I, at least, know why I can't stand Benjamin. He tries to take away my wholeness and my dark forest, my freedom. For how can any man be free, without an illimitable background? And Benjamin tries to shove me into a barbed wire paddock and make me grow potatoes or Chicagoes.  136
     And how can I be free, without gods that come and go? But Benjamin won't let anything exist except my useful fellow men, and I'm sick of them; as for his Godhead, his Providence, He is Head of nothing except a vast heavenly store that keeps every imaginable line of goods, from victrolas to cat-o'-nine tails.  137
     And how can any man be free without a soul of his own, that he believes in and won't sell at any price? But Benjamin doesn't let me have a soul of my own. He says I am nothing but a servant of mankind--galley-slave I call it--and if I don't get my wages here below--that is, if Mr. Pierpont Morgan19 or Mr. Nosey Hebrew20 or the grand United States Government, the great US, US or SOMEOFUS, manages to scoop in my bit, along with their lump--why, never mind, I shall get my wages HEREAFTER.  138
     Oh Benjamin! Oh Binjum! You do NOT suck me in any longer.  139
     And why, oh why should the snuff-coloured little trap have wanted to take us all in? Why did he do it?  140
     Out of sheer human cussedness, in the first place. We do all like to get things inside a barbed wire corral. Especially our fellow men. We love to round them up inside the barbed wire enclosure of FREEDOM, and make 'em work. ' Work, you free jewel, WORK!' shouts the liberator, cracking his whip. Benjamin, I will not work. I do not choose to be a free democrat. I am absolutely a servant of my own Holy Ghost.  141
     Sheer cussedness! But there was as well the salt of a subtler purpose. Benjamin was just in his eyeholes--to use an English vulgarism, meaning he was just delighted--when he was at Paris judiciously milking money out of the French monarchy for the overthrow of all monarchy. If you want to ride your horse to somewhere you must put a bit in his mouth. And Benjamin wanted to ride his horse so that it would upset the whole apple-cart of the old masters. He wanted the whole European apple-cart upset. So he had to put a strong bit in the mouth of his ass.  142
     'Henceforth be masterless.'  143
     That is, he had to break-in the human ass completely, so that much more might be broken, in the long run. For the moment it was the British Government that had to have a hole knocked in it. The first real hole it ever had: the breach of the American rebellion.  144
     Benjamin, in his sagacity, knew that the breaking of the old world was a long process. In the depths of his own under-consciousness he hated England, he hated Europe, he hated the whole corpus of the European being. He wanted to be American. But you can't change your nature and mode of consciousness like changing your shoes. It is a gradual shedding. Years must go by, and centuries must elapse before you have finished. Like a son escaping from the domination of his parents. The escape is not just one rupture. It is a long and half-secret process.  145
     So with the American. He was a European when he first went over the Atlantic. He is in the main a recreant European still. From Benjamin Franklin to Woodrow Wilson may be a long stride, but it is a stride along the same road. There is no new road. The same old road, become dreary and futile. Theoretic and materialistic.  146
     Why then did Benjamin set up this dummy of a perfect citizen as a pattern to America? Of course, he did it in perfect good faith, as far as he knew. He thought it simply was the true ideal. But what we think we do is not very important. We never really know what we are doing. Either we are materialistic instruments, like Benjamin, or we move in the gesture of creation, from our deepest self, usually unconscious. We are only the actors, we are never wholly the authors of our own deeds or works. IT is the author, the unknown inside us or outside us. The best we can do is to try to hold ourselves in unison with the deeps which are inside us. And the worst we can do is to try to have things our own way, when we run counter to IT, and in the long run get our knuckles rapped for our presumption.  147
     So Benjamin contriving money out of the Court of France. He was contriving the first steps of the overthrow of all Europe, France included. You can never have a new thing without breaking an old. Europe happens to be the old thing. America, unless the people in America assert themselves too much in opposition to the inner gods, should be the new thing. The new thing is the death of the old. But you can't cut the throat of an epoch. You've got to steal the life from it through several centuries.  148
     And Benjamin worked for this both directly and indirectly. Directly, at the Court of France, making a small but very dangerous hole in the side of England, through which hole Europe has by now almost bled to death. And indirectly in Philadelphia, setting up this unlovely, snuff-coloured little ideal, or automaton, of a pattern American. The pattern American, this dry, moral, utilitarian little democrat, has done more to ruin the old Europe than any Russian nihilist. He has done it by slow attrition, like a son who has stayed at home and obeyed his parents, all the while silently hating their authority, and silently, in his soul, destroying not only their authority but their whole existence. For the American spiritually stayed at home in Europe. The spiritual home of America was, and still is, Europe. This is the galling bondage, in spite of several billions of heaped-up gold. Your heaps of gold are only so many muck-heaps, America, and will remain so till you become a reality to yourselves.  149
     All this Americanizing and mechanizing has been for the purpose of overthrowing the past. And now look at America, tangled in her own barbed wire, and mastered by her own machines. Absolutely got down by her own barbed wire of shalt-nots, and shut up fast in her own 'productive' machines like millions of squirrels running in millions of cages. It is just a farce.  150
     Now is your chance, Europe. Now let Hell loose and get your own back, and paddle your own canoe on a new sea, while clever America lies on her muck-heaps of gold, strangled in her own barbed wire of shalt-not ideals and shalt-not moralisms. While she goes out to work like millions of squirrels in millions of cages. Production!  151
     Let Hell loose, and get your own back, Europe!   152
     America's status in the world is as contested now as it has been at any time since the Vietnam War. From global economic and trade policies through environmental agreements to military involvement in Iraq, American policies and the values behind them are being profoundly scrutinized and criticized. The moment seems primed for an assessment of archetypical American values as represented by Benjamin Franklin. In the Weberian and Laurentian critiques provided here, we have two fin de siècle assessments of Franklin, and by extension of America. The explicit intention of this essay is to inspire the global world history community to utilize the approach discussed and provided here. In the first instance, that may generate other, non-Western, perhaps gendered, reactions to Franklin and whatever American values he embodied. In a somewhat longer durée, it is to be hoped that this piece will summon forth ideal or even deeply contested examples of ideal representatives of other cultural traditions, which will thereby enrich the scholarly dialogue and expand the analytical matrix through which that dialogue is framed. To paraphrase Lawrence, "Let Hell loose, and get your own back, Global Scholars!"   153
Biographical Note: Tom Sanders teaches Russian and Soviet History and World History at the United States Naval Academy. He is co-editor of the recent Encounters in World History: Sources and Themes from the Global Past (McGraw-Hill, 2005).  


1 Thomas Sanders, Samuel Nelson, Steven Morillo, and Nancy Ellenberger, eds., Encounters in World History: Sources and Themes from the Global Past, 2 vols. (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2005). See vol. 2, Chapter 5, "'Great Men' and Virtues of Leadership."

2These population figures come from George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1. (New York, W. W. Norton & Co., 1999).

3 Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography. (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1908), 96-110.

4 "O, Philosophy, guide of life! O teacher of virtue and corrector of vice. One day of virtue is better than an eternity of vice." See, J. A. Leo Lemay and P. M. Zall, eds. Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1986), n. 5, p. 70.

5 Max Weber, from Chapter 2 "The Spirit of Capitalism" in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. by Stephen Kalberg (Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2001), 13-19, 31-32.

6 D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (New York: The Viking Press, 1961 [1923]), 44-45.

7 Henry Miller, The World of Lawrence: A Passionate Appreciation (Santa Barbara, CA: Capra Press, 1980), 48.

8 Cited in Fiona Becket, The Complete Critical Guide to D. H. Lawrence (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 28.

9 Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, 24. Italics and capitalization in the original.

10 Ibid, 62-63.

11 D.H. Lawrence, "Benjamin Franklin," Studies in Classic American Literature (New York: The Viking Press, 1961 [1923]), 9-21. Italics, capitalization and bold in the original.

12 John Wanamaker (1838-1922), Philadelphia businessman, who pioneered the development of the department store.

13 A forest on the edge of the Pannonian Plain in what is modern-day Hungary.

14 Alcibiades (c.450–404 BCE), a controversial Athenian statesman and general during the Peloponnesian War and a leading follower of Socrates.

15 Abbreviation of the Latin expression infra dignitatem, 'beneath (one's) dignity.'

16 A pun on the word "venison," or deer meat.

17 German for "culture," meaning education and cultural sophistication.

18 The Roman god of wine and drunkenness.

19 J. Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913), a financier and banker and one of the wealthiest men in America in his day.

20 This is an anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist slur. It may be a play on Naso, a Jewish surname, meaning "big-nosed."



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