Radical happiness

Particularly radical was Franklin’s idea about who could pursue happiness in this way. In Europe at the time, mainly aristocratic men with means would have been able to pursue lifelong learning in a formal sense. Franklin rejected this. He believed that “this pursuit was not the province of the upper classes,” Burns told me, “but rather for everyone, from the wealthy to the masses.” Burns hastened to add that this idea was nowhere near expansive enough in Franklin’s time—Franklin himself had slaves in his household, and equal rights for women were still far off—but this philosophy set the unique American aspiration in motion.

~ Arthur C. Brooks from, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/05/ben-franklin-happiness-self-improvement-advice/629767/

There’s certainly a lot one can say about Franklin ranging from great to terrible. He feels close enough in time that he should be at least partly relatable and understandable, like a quirky uncle who has some sketchy ideas but is generally a good egg. But he isn’t; He isn’t that close in time and the reality of his life is all over the map. It’s difficult, but important, to try to give proper credit for radical, positive ideas despite other blemishes, mistakes, or egregious errors. Brooks does a tidy job of focusing on Franklin’s advancement of the batshit–crazy notion that everyone could do the absolutely selfish thing of pursuing their own happiness, and that would actually make the communal society better. Alas, it’s humanity’s loss that such radical ideas didn’t surface sooner.