I’m reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin right now. I was interested in it because I enjoyed Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs so much. And while this book isn’t as compelling as the Jobs book (not least because Franklin wasn’t as big of an a-hole as Jobs), I have learned that Franklin bathed more and treated his illegitimate child better than Jobs.
Anyways, I was reading the part about Franklin’s run for the Pennsylvania colonial Assembly in 1764, and, as we in America are currently clutching our pearls over fake news and trying to decide who should and should not be censored on social media, this passage jumped all over me:
Modern election campaigns are often criticized for being negative, and today’s press is slammed for being scurrilous. But the most brutal of modern attack ads pale in comparison to the barrage of pamphlets in the 1764 Assembly election. Pennsylvania survived them, as did Franklin, and American democracy learned that it could thrive in an atmosphere of unrestrained, even intemperate, free expression. As the election of 1764 showed, American democracy was built on a foundation of unbridled free speech. In the centuries since then, the nations that have thrived have been those, like America, that are most comfortable with the cacophony, and even occasional messiness, that comes from robust discourse.