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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.

Charles Frankel
BornDecember 13, 1917
DiedMay 10, 1979 (1979-05-11) (aged 61)
OccupationDiplomat, philosopher
Spouse(s)Helen Beatrice Lehman
Children1 son, 1 daughter


Early lifeEdit

Born into a Jewish family in New York City, U.S., he was the son of Abraham Philip and Estelle Edith (Cohen) Frankel. Frankel was educated at Columbia, (A.B. with honors, 1937, Ph.D., 1946) and Cornell Universities (graduate study, 1937–38). Frankel then served in the U.S. Navy from 1942–46, becoming a lieutenant.


Frankel 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.[citation needed]

In 1978 Frankel became the first president and founding director of the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. He held this role until his death in 1979.[citation needed]

Accolades and recognitionEdit

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.[1] In 1997 the prize was renamed The National Humanities Medal.[2]

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.[3]

Personal lifeEdit

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), the Institut International de Philosophie Politique, the Authors Guild, the Century Association, and the Phi Beta Kappa society.

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.


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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Charles Frankel Prize". National Endowment for the Humanities. National Endowment for the Humanities. 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  2. ^ "Awards & Honors: National Humanities Medals". National Endowment for the Humanities. National Endowment for the Humanities. 2014. Archived from the original on 15 March 2015. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  3. ^ "Munger Talk at Harvard-Westlake". Scribd (from Santangel's Review). Scribd Inc. 17 October 2012. Retrieved 7 April 2014.

External linkEdit

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