A kind of American Socrates

Timothy Lehmann reviews Benjamin Franklin Unmasked: On the Unity of His Moral, Religious, and Political Thought by Jerry Weinberger, in the Weekly Standard:

2fwyplh2ayu6To some, Benjamin Franklin is known as a skillful diplomat and intrepid scientist, one of America’s most important and influential Founders. Yet Franklin is also known as something of a didactic boor, droning on about self-denial, discipline, and “virtue.” D.H. Lawrence saw in him the personification of Nietzsche’s last man, while Max Weber saw in Franklin the archetype of the Protestant ethic at work in America–bland, bourgeois, and eminently prosaic.

There is something–a little something–to these claims, according to Jerry Weinberger, who teaches political science at Michigan State. Yet Weinberger’s Benjamin Franklin Unmasked offers a revolutionary reevaluation of Franklin’s thought, one that unveils Franklin as a far more subtle, complex, and subversive thinker than most have cared to notice.

There has been a spate of biographies reviving interest in the Founders recently, but this is not a biography. Rather, it is an attempt, through a close reading primarily of Franklin’s Autobiography, to plumb the depths of Franklin’s mind and figure out just what he thought about the big questions. And contrary to Franklin’s reputation as a humorless stiff, Weinberger reveals him to be a surprising and impressive thinker–a kind of American Socrates who mercilessly refuted his philosophical interlocutors, and whose profound philosophical probity was laced with ironic skepticism.

More here.