The Philanthropic Revolution

The Philanthropic Revolution: An Alternative History of American Charity

Jeremy Beer
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 134
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  • Book Info
    The Philanthropic Revolution
    Book Description:

    When we talk about voluntary giving today, we usually prefer the word philanthropy to charity. Why has this terminological shift taken place? What is its philosophical significance? How did philanthropy come to acquire so much prestige-and charity come to seem so old-fashioned? Was this change contested? Does it matter?

    InThe Philanthropic Revolution, Jeremy Beer argues that the historical displacement of charity by philanthropy represents a radical transformation of voluntary giving into a practice primarily intended to bring about social change. The consequences of this shift have included secularization, centralization, the bureaucratization of personal relations, and the devaluing of locality and place.

    Beer shows how the rise of "scientific charity" and the "new philanthropy" was neither wholly unchallenged nor entirely positive. He exposes the way modern philanthropy's roots are entangled with fear and loathing of the poor, anti-Catholic prejudice, militarism, messianic dreams, and the ideology of progress. And he reveals how a rejection of traditional charity has sometimes led philanthropy's proponents to champion objectionable social experiments, from the involuntary separation of thousands of children from their parents to the forced sterilizations of the eugenics movement.

    Beer's alternative history discloses that charity is uniquely associated with personalist goods that philanthropy largely excludes. Insofar as we value those goods, he concludes, we must look to inject the logic of charity into voluntary giving through the practice of a modified form of giving he calls "philanthrolocalism."

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9247-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: What’s Missing from the Story of American Philanthropy
    (pp. 1-16)

    The Western Soup Society was established by an anonymous group of benefactors in Philadelphia in 1837. Its mission, to help relieve the plight of the poor, was simple, and its method, the establishment of a soup kitchen on Philadelphia’s west side, just as basic. Fifteen thousand quarts of soup were ladled out to all comers—local or transient, black or white—during the winter of 1837–38. Potatoes and rice were added to the menu in 1842, and in 1845 a local philanthropist named Paul Beck left the society a substantial bequest that allowed it to expand further its service...

  5. Chapter 1 Unlocking the Universe’s Secret: The Theological Roots of American Charity
    (pp. 17-34)

    The story of charity in America is a fundamentally Jewish and Christian story. The way that Americans have thought about voluntary giving has been from the beginning decisively shaped by the biblical tradition that has played such a large role in forming American thinking, society, and culture. The practice of charity was, and is, central to that tradition. Thus to understand what was at stake in the critique of charity mounted by the partisans of philanthropy in the modern period, we must first examine what was at stake in the attack on pagan philanthropia by the partisans of Christian caritas...

  6. Chapter 2 Enemies of This Ordinance of God: American Charity from the Colonial Period to the Civil War
    (pp. 35-58)

    It is common for scholars to claim that colonial Americans’ conception of charity was rooted in seventeenth-century English reformed Protestantism.² This claim can be misleading, for it is just as true to say that the American colonists inherited a view of charity rooted in the biblical tradition common to all Christians — and, to a large extent, Jews as well. As we saw in the last chapter, early Reformed thinkers and civic leaders recast traditional Christian teaching concerning charity in the nonsacramental terms that theirsola fideconvictions required, but they did not reject the entirety of the historic biblical tradition...

  7. Chapter 3 Infinitely More than Almsgiving: American Charity from the Civil War to the Great Depression
    (pp. 59-84)

    The critique of humanitarian philanthropy voiced by Orestes Brownson was not his alone. Brownson’s views were more or less those of a wide swathe of Catholics, Jews, and nonprogressive Protestants in postbellum America—which is to say, a sizeable minority. But their resistance to the logic and practices of the new philanthropy was a rearguard action, a countercurrent whose force, at least within the most prestigious cultural and legal institutions, was no match for the power of the main stream.

    The new philanthropy had a special psychological appeal in these decades. Following the Civil War, many Americans sought to definitively...

  8. Chapter 4 To Love and Be Loved: The Growth of Professional Philanthropy and the Case for Philanthrolocalism
    (pp. 85-112)

    By the end of the Great Depression, traditional charity’s partisans were forced to become more creative in making their cases. Technology may have become Americans’ being, but the personal engagement, respect for human dignity, and devotion to community associated with historic charity still had wide appeal. The case for charity needed now, however, to be integrated with philanthropic reasoning—or at least made in full consciousness of that reasoning’s power. It also had to grapple with the significant growth of the state.

    Certainly, the one hundred years that have passed since the beginning of World War I have constituted the...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 113-124)