Saturday, May 2, 2015

Benjamin Franklin Would be Appalled

Benjamin Franklin would likely think that Americans today are idiots.  

If we could bring him back from the dead, Franklin might shake his head in dismay and incredulity that many of use misconstrue the words of the Constitution—or, worse, take it as inviolable Gospel.  

Franklin, we know from his own words, would not have wanted his descendants to be so ham-strung and literal minded. Indeed, the primary architect of the United States of America warned against taking the Constitution as the final word when he wrote that the Constitution would need to be revisited and revised (perhaps every 19 years or so).

It seems that many Americans still think that Franklin, like all the Founding Fathers, was prescient, even omniscient. Yes, Franklin was an amazing man, perhaps the ultimate American, with countless, profound achievements to his name. He was the finest American example of a man who pulled himself up by his own boot straps—but God-like? No. Humans are imperfect, and so are the ideas they come up with.

Taking Franklin’s quotations as perfect and perpetually true (even though they have a strong track record of being apt, and Franklin’s aphorisms have long resonated with humanity) is one thing.

Interpreting the Constitution—one of the major founding documents Franklin helped to draft—in a literal way is another. How could we possibly assume that the Constitution must be and will always be a perfect blueprint for every conceivable issue and obstacle America might face?

How can we possibly take the text of the Constitution to mean only one thing, in perpetuity, without paying any attention to the context in which it was written?

Textual interpretations of the Constitution are absurd and simplistic. (I’m talking to you, Antonin Scalia.)

Beyond the Constitution, why do we blindly assume that everything that was true in Franklin’s time must still be true now? Can Franklin’s advice to humanity still be seen as Always True? Yes, there are connections, and constants, but our nation is a very different place from the land Franklin knew.

What worked for Franklin and people in Franklin's time will not, in most cases, work now.

To ignore this fact is asinine, particularly when it comes to the idea of the American Dream.