Being Frank About Franklin And The Founding Fathers


“Eventually, religion and business merged as they did nowhere else.” Barry Spector

Benjamin Franklin wasn’t so cool. He had upsides, but he had utterly unconscionable downsides. The former are pretty much all that’s covered in schools. And yet the latter have a lot to do with having contributed to our evolving into the greatest threat to peace on the planet; he was instrumental in advocating the great “American Myth,” for one.

Franklin’s much-hailed positive contributions to humanity are negligible when weighted against the destructiveness he set in motion with the Founding Fathers. And I am spotlighting negatives here on the eve of International Peace Day.

Inspired by the fierce religion of his time, Franklin advised everyone to become what we now call workaholics: “Be always ashamed to catch thyself idle.”

Franklin’s Time is money was not embraced by Native Americans, who were slaughtered because they recoiled in horror at the thought; their culture, their myths were not aligned with such nonsense. But that capitalistic mentality — though it drove America toward great material accomplishments — didn’t just kill of Indians. It has been, arguably, the basis for our present day horrid momentum.

Until the advent of mid-twentieth century consumerism, Americans believed that they established their worth in the eyes of neighbors and God through drudgery and saving. We still ask strangers, “What do you do? We have always been “what we do,” as well as “not the Other,” who we often perceive as doing nothing productive. But behind Franklin’s proverbs (“The sleeping fox catches no poultry,” etc.) lies a severe judgment: one who is doing nothing must be up to no good.

This has brought about our becoming the most materialistic society on earth, influencing others to model themselves after us; we’re choking on our purchases, consumed by our consumerism. The judgment can also be said to have led to wealth indicating spiritual grace. The rich had no problem with the doctrine of predestination.By displaying their wealth, they were merely showing proof of their salvation. Clarity respecting their status as chosen people, special, better. Exceptional.

These beliefs spawned radical new ideas of social obligation. Individualism in religion led to an individualist morality. As wealth became a sign of grace, poverty — for the first time — now indicated moral failure. People were damned by nature. Furthermore, the rich were now justified in feeling only scorn for them. Since they were lazy and sinful (or they wouldn’t be poor), to be charitable merely encouraged idleness. It was a waste. Race was later added to the equation, enabling us to — without the slightest trace of regret — violate international law and commit genocide at home and abroad.

One of my middle school students — after I asked him how he felt about the fact that his high tech gadgetry required that black kids in Africa be enslaved and subjected to toxicity — said, “They don’t have to do that work.” Well, as you know, they do. And he’ll know that before much more time passes. He also claimed that youngsters in the Congo got themselves into the situation they’re in. I immediately launched into a one-minute history of Belgium and Capitalism. It wasn’t enough — Surprise, surprise! — but I know that he’ll stop hawking Ben Franklin’s cold cold attitude by the end of the semester.

Yes, the mainstream media outlets don’t let us forget every single charitable act that comes down the pike courtesy of American citizens. But all that generosity pales when placed next to the fact that we coldly — on an ongoing basis, since Franklin’s time — cause immiseration and death worldwide in unprecedented fashion.

It’s time for Franklin and his first cousins to go out of fashion in academia.

Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator and activist for over half-a-century. He would be honored to speak gratis at any educational institution which makes a request at [email protected]. He drew significantly from Barry Spector’s Madness at the Gates of the City: The Myth of American Innocence in writing this piece.



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