In recent years, the culture wars in the United States have been getting hotter. And louder. Tact, diplomacy, and subtlety seem to be fading away as politicians and journalists adopt more dogmatic tones and indulge in accusations, personal attacks, and sweeping statements.
Recently the militancy of public unrest was taken to a new extreme when Governor Rick Perry warned Washington that, unless it changed its ways, the state of Texas might secede from the union.
Ben Franklin was no stranger to sectarian anger. He lived in a society that was sharply divided in its opinions about self-government. Franklin was deeply passionate about the cause of liberty, but he showed civility and reasoned moderation in his speech and encouraged others to avoid the language of zealotry. He believed the republic could survive only if its citizens remained free. A society manipulated by its passions was on its way to being enslaved. Consequently, Franklin was suspicious of all demagogues, rabble-rousers, and fanatics (defined by Winston Churchill as those who can’t change their minds and won’t change the subject.)
What would Ben Franklin say?
Well, it’s not surprising to find Franklin warning a friend away from such agitators and firebrands. In his words, “Those disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory, sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them.”