Published at The Freeman, August 4, 2014.
Published in The Freeman Online, August 28, 2013
American public discourse is characterized today by predictions of decline and fall that offer little hope to the rising generations. From economic, social, and political critics, there is ample commentary on America’s self-destructive path.
Such prognoses have given birth to a mini-industry of Tocqueville studies, with partisans of all stripes hearkening back both to Tocqueville’s analysis of the strength of American democracy in our habit of association and to his awareness of a young nation’s underbelly, vulnerable to soft despotism.
“Like Tocqueville, I believe that spontaneous local activism by citizens is better than central state action not just in terms of its results, but more importantly in terms of its effect on us as citizens,” writes Niall Ferguson in his current bestseller, The Great Degeneration. So far, so good.
While I share the contemporary fascination with Tocqueville’s powers of description and prognostication, I am cautious about claiming that “civil society” holds the solution to our present decline. The current institutions and leaders of civil society to which so many are looking for answers have themselves been shaped by their partnership with the welfare state. Few are in a position to articulate, much less reclaim, their independence from the State.
One watch set right will do to set many by.
—American folk saying
It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.
—Alfred North Whitehead, as quoted by F. A. Hayek
In a recent presentation to the Hewlett Foundation, Bill Schambra adroitly contests the sensibility of the foundation community’s current fascination with “strategic philanthropy.” For Schambra, the best tool in the philanthropist’s tool kit may be simple common sense. He proposes that instead of filtering grant-making decisions through complex rationalizations involving the development of theories of change and logic models, philanthropists should put more trust in the more pedestrian logic of people and their communities:
with Virgil Storr and Chris Coyne at PhilanthropyDaily
Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal (“How Big Government Co-Opted Charities,” July 17, 2013) James Piereson aptly suggests that one of the fundamental questions to consider in the coming fight over the charitable deduction is whether it is possible to wean the not-for-profit sector from its dependence on the welfare state.
Philanthropists of various stripes have been coming together in recent months around at least one shared conviction, that the charitable deduction is sacrosanct. There seems to be little will to launch a more serious reconsideration of the political, economic, and social rationales that gave rise to the existing law of the charitable deduction and whether reform is needed.
Read the full essay at: http://www.philanthropydaily.com/defending-the-charitable-status-quo/
Review of Fred Inglis, History Man: The Life of R. G. Collingwood
Published in Books and Culture, Dec/Jan 2012
In An Autobiography, published in 1939 on the eve of World War II, English philosopher R. G. Collingwood (1889-1943) reflected on the historical legacy of World War I. “[A] war of unprece-dented ferocity,” wrote Collingwood, “closed in a peace-settlement of unprecedented folly, in which statesmanship, even purely selfish statesmanship, was overwhelmed by the meanest and most idiotic passions.” The war, Collingwood conceded, “was an unprecedented triumph for natural science,” a triumph that also “paved the way to other triumphs: improvements in transport, in sanitation, in surgery, medicine, and psychiatry, in commerce and industry, and, above all, in preparations for the next war.” The Treaty of Versailles had nevertheless failed, on Collingwood’s account, to restore the human side of affairs to any semblance of good order. The “power to control Nature” had overrun man’s “power to control human situations,” and the treaty gave way to a reign of natural sc
ience with the power to convert Europe “into a wilderness of Yahoos.” ….read more
History, On Proper Principles: Essays in Honor of Forrest McDonald
by Steven M. Klugewicz and Lenore T. Ealy
Publication Date: April 1, 2010
Few historians have been as prolific—or as controversial—as Forrest McDonald, who has spent his long career shattering myths and standing athwart the increasingly ideological approach of his fellow historians. Perhaps most notably, he overturned Charles Beard’s theories about the economic origins of the Constitution, which had dominated the historical profession for decades.
History, on Proper Principles is the first book to pay tribute to McDonald’s towering legacy. Here, a distinguished group of scholars honors McDonald with essays on the wide variety of topics the historian has addressed over the past half century—from the Constitution to economics, from Hamilton and Jefferson to Franklin Roosevelt, from the antebellum South to interwar America. Contributors include such noted intellectuals as Bruce Frohnen, Burton W. Folsom Jr., Richard K. Matthews, F. Thornton Miller, and C. Bradley Thompson.
The book also includes an unpublished piece by McDonald himself, which he delivered as his final public lecture. Finally, the insightful introduction by editors Stephen Klugewicz and Lenore Ealy provides the only intellectual biography of McDonald ever penned, covering his approach to writing history, his legacy, and even his apparent contradictions in thought.
History, on Proper Principles is not only a long-overdue tribute to a hugely influential figure in the field of history, but also a fascinating and important historical contribution in its own right.
Liberty and Learning: Milton Friedman’s Voucher Idea at Fifty
By Robert C. Enlow & Lenore T. Ealy
Review of Peter Frumkin, Strategic Giving: The Art and Science of Philanthropy2007
“The desire for human betterment,” observed grants economist Kenneth Boulding, “is part of the genetic potential of the human species.” It is thus remarkable, if we take at face value the centrality to the human experience of giving as a means of pursuing human betterment, that we remain mostly in the dark about the philanthropic arts…. Read more.