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Benjamin Franklin Unmasked: On the Unity of His Moral, Religious, and Political Thoughtby Jerry Weinberger
Synopses & Reviews
Moral paragon, public servant, founding father; scoundrel, opportunist, womanizing phony: There are many Benjamin Franklins. Now, as we celebrate the tercentenary of Franklin's birth, Jerry Weinberger reveals the Franklin behind the many masks and shows that the real Franklin was far more remarkable than anyone has yet discovered.
Taking the Autobiography as the key to Franklin's thought, Weinberger argues that previous assessments have not yet probed to the bottom of Ben's famous irony and elusiveness. While others take the self-portrait as an elder statesman's relaxed and playful retrospection, Weinberger unveils it as the window to Franklin's deepest reflections on God, virtue, justice, equality, natural rights, love, the good life, the modern technological project, and the place and limits of reason in politics and human experience. Along the way, Weinberger explores Franklin's ribald humor, usually ignored or toned down by historians and critics, and shows it to be charming-and philosophic.
Following Franklin's rhetorical twists and turns, Weinberger discovers a serious thinker who was profoundly critical of religion, moral virtue, and political ideals and whose grasp of human folly constrained his hopes for enlightenment and political reform. This close and amusing reading of Franklin portrays a scrupulous dialectical philosopher, humane and wise, but more provocative and disturbing than even the most hardboiled interpreters have taken Franklin to be—a freethinking critic of Enlightenment freethinking, who played his moral and theological cards very close to the vest.
Written for general readers who want to delve more deeply into the mind of a great man and great American, Benjamin Franklin Unmasked shows us a massively powerful intellect lurking behind the leather-apron countenance. This lively, witty, and revelatory book is indispensable for those who want to meet the real Franklin.
Book News Annotation:
Bobbing and weaving between the opposing views of Franklin as the first embodiment of the self-made American hero and as a shallow and self-serving moralist, Weinberger (political science, Michigan State U.) says his spiritual and intellectual journey was marked by a deeply serious and disturbing encounter with the big questions of life, but that journey led to a skepticism even more radical and thoughtfully grounded than the one scholarship says he rejected.
Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Removing the many disguises behind the American icon, Weinberger reveals a profound thinker and a ribald humorist, who was skeptical of religion, morality, and political ideals, and whose grasp of human folly tempered his hopes for enlightenment and political reform.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Written Word Remains
1. The Autobiography: A Comic Moral Saga?
2. The Autobiography: Or Just a Pack of Lies?
3. The Philosophical Wag
4. Shameless Ben
5. The Metaphysical Follies
6. Dialectics and the Critique of Morality
7. The Political Principles of the Good Life
8. The Political Project of the Good Life
Conclusion: Will the Real Ben Franklin Please Stand Up?
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