Charles Frankel

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Charles Frankel
BornDecember 13, 1917
DiedMay 10, 1979(1979-05-10) (aged 61)
OccupationDiplomat, philosopher
Spouse(s)Helen Beatrice Lehman
Children1 son, 1 daughter

Charles Frankel (December 13, 1917 – May 10, 1979) was an American philosopher, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State, professor and founding director of the National Humanities Center.

Early life[edit]

Born into a Jewish family in New York City, U.S., he was the son of Abraham Philip and Estelle Edith (Cohen) Frankel. After attending Cornell University, Frankel received Bachelor of Arts with honors in English and philosophy from Columbia University in 1937. He then continued his education at the same university, earning Doctor of Philosophy]] in 1946. During World War II, Frankel served as lieutenant in the United States Navy[1] and in 1968 graduated from Mercer with a degree in law.[2]


Frankel joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1939 where in 1956, he attained position of full professor of philosophy.[1] Prior to the position, he was awarded Guggenheim Fellowship in 1953[3] and in 1954 became visiting professor at the University of Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship. The same year he was awarded Fulbright Scholarship, Frankel served as Donnellan lecturer at the University of Dublin, and following it, served as a lecturer at Bennington and Bowdoin Colleges, as well as at Ohio University and the New York University School of Social Work.[1]

In 1960, Frankel became chief consulting editor of Current and the same year became a member of Board of Directors of the Civil Liberties Union of New York State. He became a member of the National Assembly for the Teaching of Principles of the Bill of Rights in 1962, and following it became a fellow of the Conference of Science, Philosophy and Religion.[1]

On August 22, 1965, Frankel replaced Harry McPherson as Assistant Secretary of State Educational and Cultural Affairs.[1] He wrote on value theory, social philosophy and philosophy of history. During the Johnson Administration he served as an Assistant Secretary of State in charge of education and culture (1965-1967), but resigned in protest of the Vietnam War.[2]

In 1978 Frankel became the first president and founding director of the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. At the time of his death, he was on leave as Columbia University's Old Dominion Professor of Philosophy and Public Affairs.[2]

Accolades and recognition[edit]

In recognition of his efforts, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded the Charles Frankel Prize from 1989 to 1996 to individuals making "outstanding contributions to the public's understanding of the humanities." A list of honorees can be found at the NEH website.[4] In 1997 the prize was renamed The National Humanities Medal.[5]

During an interview and Q&A session at Harvard-Westlake School on January 19, 2010, American business magnate Charlie Munger referred to Frankel in his discussion on the US financial crisis of 2007-08 and the philosophy of responsibility. Munger explained that Frankel believed:

... the system is responsible in proportion to the degree that the people who make the decisions bear the consequences. So to Charlie Frankel, you don't create a loan system where all the people who make the loans promptly dump them on somebody else through lies and twaddle, and they don’t bear the responsibility when the loans are good or bad. To Frankel, that is amoral, that is an irresponsible system.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Frankel married Helen Beatrice Lehman on August 17, 1941. Together they raised two children, Susan and Carl. He was a member of the American Philosophical Association, the American Association of University Professors (chair of committee on professional ethics),[7] the Institut International de Philosophie Politique, the Authors Guild,[8] the Century Association, and the Phi Beta Kappa society.[9]

Both he and his wife were fatally shot during a robbery of their home in Bedford Hills, New York, U.S. on May 10, 1979.[2]


  • The Faith of Reason
  • The Case for Modern Man
  • Religion—Within Reason
  • The Democratic Prospect

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents. 1. p. 133.
  2. ^ a b c d "Charles Frankel Resigned a Post Under Johnson". The New York Times. May 11, 1979. p. B2.
  3. ^ "Charles Frankel". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  4. ^ "Charles Frankel Prize". National Endowment for the Humanities. National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  5. ^ "Awards & Honors: National Humanities Medals". National Endowment for the Humanities. National Endowment for the Humanities. Archived from the original on March 15, 2015. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  6. ^ "Munger Talk at Harvard-Westlake". Scribd (from Santangel's Review). Scribd Inc. October 17, 2012. Retrieved December 18, 2014.
  7. ^ Editor's Note. Humanities. 1990. p. 2.
  8. ^ Mergers and Industrial Concentration: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on the Judiciary United States Senate. 1978. p. 369.
  9. ^ "Triennial Awards Recipients". Phi Beta Kappa. Retrieved December 18, 2019.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Harry McPherson
Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs
September 15, 1965 – December 31, 1967
Succeeded by
Edward D. Re