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Modernity and Its DiscontentsMaking and Unmaking the Bourgeois from Machiavelli to Bellow$
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Steven B. Smith

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780300198393

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300198393.001.0001

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Benjamin Franklin’s American Enlightenment

Benjamin Franklin’s American Enlightenment

(p.109) Chapter 6 Benjamin Franklin’s American Enlightenment
Modernity and Its Discontents

Steven B. Smith

Yale University Press

The image of the self-made man is one of the most enduring images of the ideal American, and no one gave this greater expression than did Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s Autobiography is a testimony to the Enlightenment’s belief in the power of education to bring about both individual and social progress. Franklin’s life was nothing if not a testimony to the ability to rise and achieve greatness through one’s own unaided efforts. Yet, it is argued, it is wrong to reduce Franklin’s life to a few simple clichés about the “gospel of wealth” or the dour Protestant work ethic. His was a life suffused with humor, a capacity for self-reflection, the love of conversation, and a vivid sense of our own imperfection. Franklin’s was the model of the American Enlightenment that combined both pragmatism and idealism as the best means of achieving progress.

Keywords:   American Enlightenment, Deism, Education, Franklin, Benjamin, Junto, Lawrence, D. H., Masonry, Moral Reform, Protestant Ethic, Republic of Letters, Weber, Max

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