“Protestant Ethic” is a widely misapplied term, invented by Max Weber, the German sociologist who relied heavily on the writings of Benjamin Franklin to define that concept in his celebrated work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905). Weber demonstrated boundless imagination and covert irony, slyly deforming Franklin's jolly image, and transforming Poor Richard into Ebenezer Scrooge. In fact, the man behind the playful mask of Poor Richard was a precursor of the lavish “Robber Barons,” especially Andrew Carnegie, who so consciously emulated Franklin. The Robber Barons were central archetypes for the American sociologist, Thorstein Veblen, who formulated The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), and Veblen, who is celebrated for his irony, would have been more justified than Weber in using Franklin to illustrate his thesis. In fact, Franklin, who made such enviable use of his leisure, personified Veblen's complicated, and frequently oversimplified concept of “Conspicuous Consumption.” Undeniably, certain prophets of the Gilded Age skillfully developed a rhetoric resembling that of Franklin's mythical Poor Richard, among them, Booker T. Washington, the wily adviser to striving African Americans, and a notable beneficiary of the American tradition of private philanthropy that Carnegie inherited from Benjamin Franklin. Henry Ford was another baron who became a philanthropist. He played the role of a Poor, penny-pinching Richard, but he lived well, and while preaching thrift, he promoted inflation in order to encourage consumer spending.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this to your organisation's collection.