Enlightenment & Capitalism
Commercial capitalism has been so routinely disparaged for so long by American intellectuals that we have some difficulty crediting how very happily the Enlightenment embraced commercial capitalism as Nature's own system of merit over against unearned aristocratic title. Gary Nash's recent attempt to re-cast the American Revolution as a proletarian uprising, more concerned with "elementary political rights and social justice, rather than the protection of property and constitutional liberties," misses utterly how genuinely revolutionary the protection of property and constitutional liberty was in a world of absolute autocrats and talentless courtiers. Precisely because the self-made man of commerce appeared to the philosophes as a manifestation of the operation of reason and nature, Voltaire sang an unashamed song of admiration for the calculating, dispassionate self-promotion of the bourgeoisie:I don't know which is the more useful to the state, a well-powdered lord who knows precisely what time the king gets up in the morning and what time he goes to bed, and who gives himself airs of grandeur while playing the role of slave in a minister's antechamber, or a great merchant who enriches his country, sends orders from his office to Surat and to Cairo, and contributes to the well-being of the world.
No one in revolutionary America lived up to this reputation more than Franklin. It represents a fatal inversion of Franklin's own expectations that no reputation today has lesser standing among the Revolution's scholars than that of the "great merchant." And none plays a smaller role in the modern-day marketing of Benjamin Franklin.
—Allen C. Guelzo, “Capitalist Tool” in Books and Culture