Speaking Like a State: Listening to Benjamin Franklin in Times of Terror
This essay reconstitutes Benjamin Franklin's characteristic political style as a particular inflection of liberal irony, arguing for a way of speaking today that checks arrogance with humility and attempting to unlock the psychosocial economy of political enjoyment implicit in this rhetoric. To do so, the essay traverses four bodies of discourse (including recent political thinking about civic character, Franklin's oratory in 1787 at the constitutional convention, passages from his letters, and an excerpt from his autobiography) in order to extract strategies for managing situations in which democracy becomes prone to the enjoyments of terror and tyranny.
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