Perhaps the most oft-quoted disparagement of Franklin came from the pen of D. H. Lawrence. Reacting to what he believed to be the self-righteousness underlying many of Franklin’s moralisms in the Poor Richard’s Almanack series, Lawrence complained that “Franklin made a list of virtues, which he trotted inside like a grey nag in a paddock.I do not like him.” Even Franklin’s remarkable accomplishments as a civic leader in Philadelphia have not escaped criticism. The literary critic Charles Angoff, assessing Franklin’s activities as Philadelphia’s leading citizen, described him as a “Cheap and shabby soul…. He represented the least praiseworthy qualities of the inhabitants of the New World: miserliness, fanatical practicality, and lack of interest in what are usually known as spiritual things. Babbittry was not a new thing in America, but he made a religion of it, and by his tremendous success with it he grafted it upon the American people so securely that the national genius is still suffering from it.”9 Whether we accept the assessment of Boorstin or of Lawrence and Angoff, we are left with a set of caricatures. In either case, Franklin’s very accessibility – his standing as a “Typical American” – has tended to reduce his stature. Franklin’s contributions to enlightenment thought far transcended the boundaries of his own country: his reputation as a scientist and as a philosopher was, deservedly, an international one. We must not, in our urge to free Franklin from the baggage associated with his image as “Typical American,” divorce him entirely from his American upbringing and experience. The extraordinary novelty and variety in that landscape would give to Franklin, in common with many other American enlightenment figures a sharpened sense of empirical observation and induction: the more open-ended social structure of eighteenth century America encouraged in Franklin an optimism about humanly-created institutions – be they legislatures or fire companies or colleges – that citizens of European societies, more heavily encumbered by tradition, would have found difficult to share. Franklin lived a long and extraordinarily varied life, but the remainder of this essay will focus on the period of Franklin’s life from 1723-1756. Franklin’s wit, like his intellectual curiosity, seemed to grow rather than diminish over time, while the young Franklin may have been overly-earnest in his quest for success, the mature Franklin was more apt to temper his ambition with irony and self-deprecation. Introducing herself to her readers in Letter No.1 in the April 2, 1722 edition of James Franklin’s New England ‘Courant’ the pseudonymous Ms. Dogood observed ‘that the Generality of People, now a days, are unwilling either to commend or dispraise of what they read, until they are in some measure informed who or what the Author of it is, whether he be POOR or RICH, OLD or YOUNG, a SCHOLLAR or a LEATHER APRON MAN, ETC. The description she gives of herself sounds very much like the young Franklin – born in humble circumstances, bound out as an apprentice t an early age, and taking ‘more than ordinary delight in reading ingenious books’. The same ambition that motivated Franklin to embark on the Silence Dogood series impelled him, just a year later, to leave Boston altogether, journeying first to New York in search of employment and, when prospects there looked less-than- promising, on to Philadelphia. Ever the enterprising tradesman, Franklin also called for investigation into “All new Arts, Trades, Manufactures etc that may be proposed or thought of.’ The underlying rationale behind all of these varied inquires was to ‘let Light into the Nature of Things” and “To increase the Power of Man over Matter, and multiply the Conveniencies or Pleasures of Life.”15 This emphasis on “Useful knowledge,” so striking in many of Franklin’s writings, has led historians to underscore the practical and “American” quality of Franklin’s thoughts and deeds. Franklin’s description of his invention appeared in pamphlet form in order to enable Robert Grace to sell the stoves that he was manufacturing according to Franklin’s plan; but Franklin the savvy businessman often gives way to Franklin the scientist. Writing to Peter Collinson in 1749, Franklin noted his chagrin that thus far no-one had been able to find any practical uses for electricity. These early entrepreneurial aspects of Franklin’s life can be followed in any of a number of Franklin biographies.
Rousseau and the Counter-Enlightenment: An Introduction
Rousseau demonstrates through the nature of his writings, not to mention through his own admissions in those writings, that while he was contemporary to the Enlightenment, he was actually an avid opponent of it. As honest as these self-evaluations are, the willingness of modern academics to persistently include Rousseau as a characteristic Enlightenment thinker requires us to demonstrate them conclusively, and perhaps the best example lies in the central argument of Rousseau’s First Discourse: ” our souls have been corrupted in proportion to the advancement of our sciences and arts toward perfection. For Rousseau, the vices of the arts and sciences – uselessness and the facilitation of idleness and malice – were obvious. Deriding the achievements of men like Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon, Rousseau implores such thinkers to reexamine the importance of their studies and conclusions, as they have produced “So little that is useful.” Rousseau finds even the simplest of human inventions – clothing and shelter, for example – to be “Hardly necessary, since he [man] had done without them until then.” Further, Rousseau charges these conveniences with weakening man, physically and mentally, and as man becomes more accustomed to these conveniences, man becomes “Unhappy about losing them without being happy about possessing them.” Thus, through the faculty of self-perfection, man desires further ease and further weakens himself by seeking it. To Rousseau, this is evil in and of itself, as it interferes with man’s fundamental ethic: pity, that which he considers the natural feeling that subjects the love of oneself to the needs of another “To the mutual preservation of the entire species.” Rousseau states that from the establishment of property comes idleness and vanity, which leads to the pursuit of luxury and of the sciences and arts that produce it. Rousseau credits this “Zeal for raising the relative level” of one’s fortune, derived from vanity rather than real need, as the cause of a “Wicked tendency to harm one another.” Thus, quite apart from the value the Enlightenment places upon scientific study, Rousseau considers such study useless insofar as it gives man more than necessary for him to subsist in the state of nature, enfeebling as it weakens the constitution that man would otherwise have in the state of nature, and vicious in that the differing standards of living it produces based upon talents leads to development of preference, then to vanity, and then to the desire in men to cause each other harm for their own advancement. If not already apparent, Rousseau exhibits the same distaste for reason and knowledge in general as he does for the sciences. Supposedly born from the same idleness and vanity as the sciences to no greater use, the employment of reason towards intellectual pursuits is just as disdainful from the perspective of Rousseau as are the sciences. As reason, human knowledge, and enlightenment progress, Rousseau believes that so too do the industries which lead to idleness, vanity, and so on. In the state of nature, Rousseau argues that man possesses “In instinct” all he needs to live; “In a cultivated reason, he has only what he needs to live in society.” In mocking figures like the mythical Prometheus who brought knowledge of fire to mankind, and in commending figures like Socrates who preached the value of ignorance, Rousseau makes clear his aversion to reason, going so far as to suggest that the factors which perfect human reason and consequently bring man out of the state of nature also lead to the deterioration of the species. Of course, appeals to the “Common good” throughout the Enlightenment were far from uncommon, but Rousseau distinguishes himself from the rest in the degree to which he extends this premise. Predating Marx’s notion of the species-being by almost a century, Rousseau suggests that citizens should be “Influenced rather early to regard their individuality only in its relation to the body of the state and to be aware, so to speak, of their own existence merely as a part of the entire state, [so that] they might finally come to identify themselves in some way with this greater whole”. Based on his antagonism to the dominant and perhaps least contentious values of the Enlightenment, this initial examination of Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggests that he ought not to be considered an Enlightenment philosopher. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, trans.