Modern philanthropy has a lot to answer for. As William Schambra expounds in this superb New Atlantis essay, the iniquities of the Lovers of Humanity go beyond their disgraceful embrace of eugenics to a deeper rejection of love itself. Preferring rational bureaucracy, distant, cold, calculating, to the humble warmth of human interaction, the philanthropists set out to do great things for mankind. They never cared to reflect on the evils they inflicted on particular men.
The statement of a British reformer goes to the heart of these philanthropic blunders:
The superficially sympathetic man flings a coin to the beggar; the more deeply sympathetic man builds an almshouse for him so that he need no longer beg; but perhaps the most radically sympathetic of all is the man who arranges that the beggar shall not be born.
The creepy, slithering evil bound up in that use of “arranges” positively chills the blood. Its progeny proliferated, as slithering things do: in eugenics, yes, but also in the broader population control mentality, the fraudulent compassion of euthanasia, the chemical truncation of human sexuality, insured, off at the end, by homicide. Each of these exemplifies the depravities man lurches into when he neglects that charitas must always be personal and concrete. Abstraction obliterates it. Even Rousseau understood this; the old Swiss madman reserved a memorable barb for cosmopolitans who “boast that they love the whole world, in order to have the right to love no one.”
And so much of philanthropy is just peacock strutting. Writing in City Journal, Guy Sorman has his own bone to pick with American philanthropy:
Call this philanthropy for show, a kind of celebrity giving designed for a mediatized age, based on grand gestures, big dollars, and heartwarming proclamations — but too little concern with actual results, which often prove paltry, redundant (as with the condom initiative), or even destructive. The American media often revel in controversy, so one might expect that the gap between expansive promises and disappointing outcomes would prompt intense journalistic interest. But for the most part, would-be statesmen-humanitarians — such as Bill Clinton, [Bill] Gates, and Al Gore, along with entertainment-world benefactors like Oprah Winfrey and academic superstars like Columbia development economist Jeffrey Sachs, have gotten a free pass for their good philanthropic intentions. They and their cohorts deserve closer scrutiny.
Sorman also notes how effective an ostentatious philanthropic agenda can be for the businessman whose success has made him unpopular:
[Bill] Gates’s transformation into a philanthropic benefactor has dramatically elevated his public status. A 2010 USA Today/Gallup poll found that Americans admired Gates the philanthropist more than they did the Dalai Lama or the pope.
Both articles merit attention. American philanthropy has earned our settled skepticism, even our open suspicion. Only a reorientation back to the ancient principles of charity — the earthy particularity of loving particular human beings, the humility of simple friendship that eschews complete solutions, the discipline of reciprocity, the repudiation of aggrandizing rationalism — can restore a philanthropy worthy of name.