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June 12, 2008

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tom

Could it be that philanthropy is (increasingly in the real world) the expression of a managerial tradition, of a capitalist, and technocratic, rather than moral tradition?

So, it's an error, a mask, or a fraud - which do you pick?

Phil

A moral tradition expressing itself in a state of mystification.

JJ Commoner

hehehehehe ... sung to the tune of GW Bush's nervous laugh.

JJ Commoner

These business minded philanthocrats don't even miss what they have lost. They feel no pain. They were lobotomized in biz school and highly recommend it to the poor.

So true it hurts (conceptually).

Phil

If it hurts, JJ, there is still hope.

tom

A moral tradition expressing itself in a state of mystification.

If this, as Niebuhr might say, is "what is really going on," then one approach is to look to see if instances, parallels, are to be found that do not fall into the USian blindness. Benefaction is far older than the US. Perhaps some insight can be gleaned by looking at folks like, e.g., Cosimo de' Medici, who most would not recognize as a philanthropist in the USian sense. Why not, though? Could one reason be because in the system in which he had to operate there was no mystificatory option of disinterested giving?

Phil

Patronage in the arts is certainly a recognized form of philanthropy. Aristostle talks in his ethics of magnanimity and magnificance in erecting civic strutures as being an aspect of the good and noble life. Cicero counsels his son against getting too carried away with magnificant civic giving, and bankrupting himself while benefiting Rome and displaying his stature. Naming opportunities with college buildings partake of "glory." Williams, Harvard, Yale weren't they named after donors? Thus, wealth becomes cultivated, cultured, refined and gloried, to the real benefit of a larger community.

What else happens, though, is negotiation of a boundary between the elite institiution, or the source of funding via a foundation, and those who desperately want to benefit but who have to qualify. Somewhere in there you have a grants committee, an admissions department, a sense of who is deserving, who is qaulified, who gets to the scholarship or the grant for "minorities," or "the poor," and how "original" is good, and how original might be too much, how angry is laudable, and how angry is inadmissable. Thus, future leaders from lower income groups or subaltern cultures are brought into a system, and some might say educated and elevated, others might say co-opted and colonized. The ones who get the chance to become "chosen" may be the natural leaders, or maybe the safer of those who might be the leaders, the ones who have an aptitude for playing along, taking tests, and being mixable, teachable, docile.

I am not sure how to sort all this out, but reading the book was bracing, a wind blowing in largely from Mexico and South America, where the people displaced by NAFTA are not going through NGOs, but going out into the streets with slogans like, "Together we know everything," and banging pots and pans in unison, until governments topple.

tom

I'm thinking less of the art patron than of the banker and uncrowned prince - Cosimo the elder (not the duke) was a private cit and a vast corporation. He violated all the borders between private wealth and public affairs even as he observed the appearances. Everyone knew it and somehow this led to three decades of stability. I'll see if I can make this a bit more coherent.

Phil

Ok, well, if you can make it sound good, I may be able to get a few Hedge Fund managers who would be willing to try out for the Cosimo role. What would be your cut, Tom, for polishing this apple?

tom

A few simple gold florins would buy me, Phil. Not sure I'd want to interest your worldbeaters in the prospect - was more going toward what happens when you look at the tradition you write from from another place. Where the mystification crept in - well, where do you see it as being rooted? Would you find the same mystification if you went back to 17th or 16th century England? Just to see what happens in the benefaction that perhaps we can't see quite so clearly thanks to the moderate white accountants.

Phil

Tom, most literary traditions are rooted within an aristocractic culture. That is the historical written record. The literatre people do the writing, and at least until the 18 century with the rise of Grub Street they were aristocratic upper crusty people. Rabelais drew on folk traditions but from within his world as a scholar and physician. Literature was embedded in a world of patronage. Even the old scops would travel about flattering the heroes and warrior kings. Shakespeare wrote of common people, but they may figure as country clowns. The elevated speaches go generally to elevated people on elevated subjects, as Aristotle taught. So, absorbing these traditions, I certainly developled a sensibility supportive of aristocratic values - "not to be crass, money grubby, not to fumble in the till for h'pence." Largesse, noblesse oblige, the proper uses of riches, the civic responsibilities of those called to publc service, good stewardship of those who are not driven by lucre. Giammatti, in fact.

Then against that is a commitment to democracy, which in practice means a commitment to those who are watching American Idol, shopping at Wall Mart, who may be bigotted, and who are supportive of wars, fences, and tribal hatreds.

So, I am honestly torn. Or, better, I am one of those who at Balliol, behind a high wall, manned by a porter at the gates, would raise his voice for egalitarianism as the Scouts (working men) would serve us. We were the Balliol Reds, as our Master was a Marxist historian, Christopher Hill. In that sense, this ambivalance is that of a recognizable social type. Byron and Shelly come to mind. Aristocrat Revolutionaries, generally harmless, since traveling with a loaded carriage, a retinue, and a dancing bear.

tom

a commitment to those who are watching American Idol, shopping at Wall Mart...

How about those who are working at Wal-Mart?

Phil

Thanks, Tom, blogged it. Another grad student of literature acting Greeter at Wall Mart. So much for the liberal arts slogan, "With this degree you can do anything." He took the job, apparenlty, because pays better than being an Adjunct?

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