In 2000, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with Richard Cornuelle, a leading figure in the early libertarian movement who became one of our country’s most insightful analysts of the philanthropic sector. Dick had long believed that the intellectual case for the free society was still most vulnerable where civil society intersected with the welfare state. Could America be both a free and humane society and resist the soft despotism of which Tocqueville had warned?
Dick invited me to help him develop a project that would engage scholars in rethinking the rationale for private philanthropy and in renewing “voluntary welfare,” represented in the American traditions of mutual aid, charity, and voluntary association and in the innovations of the emerging trend of social entrepreneurship. For over a decade, funded almost solely by the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Project for New Philanthropy Studies @ DonorsTrust worked closely with Dick and a small circle of scholars and advisors to renew and deepen the classical liberal understanding of philanthropy as a counterweight to the dominant Progressive paradigm shaping today’s state-based welfare system. Some of that work is represented in our journal, Conversations on Philanthropy, published annually since 2004 and available online at www.conversationsonphilanthropy.org .
After Dick’s death in 2011, we formally launched The Philanthropic Enterprise to continue this important work. The mission of The Philanthropic Enterprise is to strengthen public understanding of the ways in which independent philanthropy and voluntary social cooperation contribute to human flourishing. Our programs (1) inspire conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians to think more deeply about philanthropy and voluntary association, and (2) inspire philanthropy scholars and professionals to think more clearly about the principles of freedom and prosperity. No one else is doing this essential intellectual work.