Eighteenth-century Graduate Student Reading Group tackles Franklin’s Autobiography

Some nice essays available here, which are patiently awaiting your comments.  Why don’t you stop reading my tired old middle-aged prose, and read something exciting for a change?  Then come back and finish this post.

I liked Ami Blue’s Imitating Jesus and Socrates, because it talks about the multiple roles Franklin plays in his Autobiography, which correspond to all three types of organic intellectual sketched out by Gramsci, who all work to effect economic, social, or political change.  And of course Franklin excels at every one of Gramsci’s categories, simultaneously.

I thought the most interesting point emerged around Ami’s discussion of origins, because it shows how the men of Franklin’s class were bred up specifically not to be ashamed of their origins:

Vaughn writes to Franklin, “Your account of yourself . . . will show that you are ashamed of no origin” (75). Gramsci would consider this the final mark of an organic intellectual: one who comes from the place he later restructures politically, economically, or socially—as if shepherded from birth by a diligent father unwilling to see his brilliant son lost at sea. Gramsci adds that only the “elite” among entrepreneurs can organize “society in general” because he will want to favor his own class. Franklin’s love for industry, frugality, and his egalitarian worldview wouldn’t permit him to reserve benefits for only his own; Vaughn says as much when he accredits Franklin with proving “how little necessary all origin is to happiness, virtue, or greatness” (75).

There is some sort of compensatory myth going on here with Franklin’s life, wherein the absence of distinguished origin acts as a spur to further success and an active role in restructuring his own environment.  But the crucial precondition for this leap is to start thinking in a more general way about others.  But to what extent does BF’s career as a capitalist entrepeneur allow him to think more generally (or perhaps more calclulatedly) about others? 

DM

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