City Journal Winter 2016

Current Issue:

Winter 2016
Table of Contents
Tablet Editions
Click to visit City Journal California

Readers’ Comments

Jerry Weinberger
Benjamin Franklin on American Happiness « Back to Story

View Comments (18)

Add New Comment:

To send your message, please enter the words you see in the distorted image below, in order and separated by a space, and click "Submit." If you cannot read the words below, please click here to receive a new challenge.

Comments will appear online. Please do not submit comments containing advertising or obscene language. Comments containing certain content, such as URLs, may not appear online until they have been reviewed by a moderator.

Showing 18 Comment(s) Subscribe by RSS
Happiness is a byproduct of right action, like being full is a byproduct of eating. Happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise. None can be directly achieved.
i love it, thank you
It seems that Franklin might have agreed with the notion that "There is no way to Happiness, Happiness is the way..."
subramaniam shanakar October 10, 2010 at 7:52 AM
Happiness in the state of mind of Franklin is akin to accepting Karma and finding ways of treating it to our advantage.The horse probably cannot imagine being an oyster and even if it did might be incapable of letting us know.So the problems with humans is we share the frustrations and become more miserable knowing well that sharing would not help.Looking inwards and feeling happy about ourselves counting the positives is the key.Ben has treated happiness with wit and wisdom
His description of Franklin and his belief in happiness rings true. Abraham Lincoln said “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be”. This sounds very much like what Franklin was saying. In both of these cases, happiness come mostly from inside a person not from external conditions.

I agree with everything Weinberger wrote until the last paragraph. He discusses Franklin's view of life but makes no mention of government until the last paragraph and then states "the siren of new entitlements beckons" and how it will make us unhappy. Franklin certainly had a very distinct view of government and how it could affect human happiness, after all he was a revolutionist against the English government, a government of King and aristocrats. A bad government will cause great duress on people, look around the world and see how many governments are nothing more than klepocracy. Governments of thieves plunder their country and their citizens. Only countries with a modicum of honestly in government has any chance of prosperity for their people. Maybe Mr. Weinberger would prefer to live in 1910 instead of 2010, but most Americans would not. I beleive that Franklin would prefer the United States of 2010 rather than 1800. He was a man who preferred a better future to a mystical past.
I'm not sure how our new Health Care laws, which are a moral and legal responsibility, will destroy the U.S. I'm not sure how health care is an "entitlement" in the negative since. If we are "entitled" to justice in court of law then we are entitled to universal (or as close as we can get) healthy care. If a company releases certain chemicals into the air, that I breathe in, and they give me asthma, that company is entitled to pay into a fund (taxes) that will pay for my medical expenses, which wouldn't exist if not for them. Same with me, my driving around all day produces some bad by-products that make people sick. It is my moral and legal duty to make sure I pay for the mess I make. Again, I'm not sure moral responsibility is an entitlement.
Wow this is a hilarious example of writing our culture onto history. Doesn't it sound like a wonderful rejection of consumerism (which is, by the way, a cliche value we all love to believe everyone else but ourselves has too much of)?? But wait, ignorance is bliss then? Or no, we should be 'perfectly' ignorant. It's a very creative way of relaying the old myth of capitalist society--if you're born poor, but haven't got the 'talent' to become rich, well you'd better be happy with being poor. Gosh, silly underclass! Don't you know you're not as smart as the bourgeoisie??
Forget the literature on self-help. With this essay it has all become obsolete. If I'm wrong, at least it was a delightful read.
I retract by comment above. Obviously I wrote it before reading the article. My apologies.
You are mistaken about Franklin and religion I think. Like Lincoln he began as a free-thinker but ended with a deep appreciation of the essence of our Judeo-Christian religion (not "religion" in general or some "orthodox" interpretation) as a force for good in society and the lives of individuals, including his own. This is not difficult to document: the New American Library selection of his writings contains plenty of evidence, though I don't have it by me. I should add that 18th century "Deism," however unacceptable to "orthodox" authorities, was very much in the tradition of the Hebraic conception of "God" and therefore part of that tradition; Deism (note the capital letter) always implied the existence of a universal moral law and the possibilities of rewards and punishments even if it did not include a belief in providential intervention or the power of prayer. The Biblical influence is unmistakable.
Jenny McCarthyism October 06, 2010 at 1:21 PM
The author's attempt to connect Franklin's philosophy and healthcare entitlements feels forced and poorly thought out.
In his autobiography Ben Franklin advises one to be a con artist.
Good advice now in Amerika !!!

"Atheism is unknown there; infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great age in that country, without having their piety shocked by meeting with either an Atheist or an Infidel."

That is why we think he would continue to trumpet the importance of religion for happiness.
An interesting article, but why do we think that Ben would continue to trumpet the importance of religion for happiness? Franklin's central argument is that we are responsible for making our lives what they are, given the various constraints that exist. The existentialists were right in seeing that religious beliefs of nearly all stripes generally obscure this point. Weinberger may favor religiosity but he hasn't made a convincing argument that it is at all necessary for happiness. I do understand the frequent association between religious belief and.....feeling settled and maybe even happy. A friend remarked that when she thinks of Jesus, she just feels comfortable and secure. But one can certainly feel comfortable and secure and happy without thinking of Jesus, or Allah, or whomever/whatever. That pleasure is available to atheists as well.
It appears to me that Franklin had this philosophy: Work hard and then do as you please when you're not working, damn the consequences. I have read some of Franklin's writings and am amused at the interpretation given here. The author of the article writes about what Franklin "means" and I pretty much can figure out for myself what Franklin meant in his writings.
We Americans have pretty much ignored the admonition of St. John to avoid the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.
Not a path that traditionally leads to fulfillment...