February 22, 2005

Absolutely the last installment of Ben Franklin posting for a while...

I finished up Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin over the weekend. As regular readers know, I've been sniping at this book here, criticizing a variety of literary flaws and biases.

But as I put the book down, it occured to me that one of the major reasons I didn't like the writing very much is that, in the end, I don't like Ben Franklin very much.

Don't misunderstand me - I generally approve of much of Franklin's political outlook - I think his instincts regarding self-government and opportunity for social mobility based on merit, for example, are correct. And who couldn't be interested in his various dabblings in science and other fields? But in the end, on a personal level, I believe the man was basically a weasel. He could talk big, but in the end his basic calculation in all matters seemed to be "What's in it for Ben?" This seemed true not just in politics, but in all other spheres of his life including his treatment of his family, which was downright appalling.

Eh. No wonder he kept having fallings out. The kind of man who covers that level of self-centered pragmatism with lofty rhetoric is the kind of man who would elbow aside the women and children to assure himself a seat in the lifeboat and then argue why it was necessary for the good of everyone else. Not the sort of person I'd trust with anything important to me.

Posted by Robert at February 22, 2005 09:51 AM
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