Francesca Sawaya. American Quarterly. Volume 60, Issue 1. March 2008.
Philanthropy is big news these days. Media attention has focused on new trends-dot.com philanthropy, profit-oriented philanthropy, microlending–and on sensational individual gifts–Ruth Lilly’s $200 million to Poetry magazine, Sanford I. Weill’s $150 million to Carnegie Hall, and most famously, Bill and Melinda Gates’ $30 billion foundation devoted to health and education, which was augmented last year by $31 billion from Warren Buffett. Academic interest in philanthropy has anticipated this recent mainstream attention, but since 1978, when Yale’s Center for Non-Profit Studies was founded, this field of study has grown dramatically, with publications appearing regularly and new centers established across the country. Why such interest in the “third sector” right now in both the mainstream and the academy?
At one level, the answer is obvious. Following the collapse of Soviet-style communism, we repeatedly hear, capitalism has unequivocally triumphed. Even those offshoots of communism, socialism and the liberal welfare state, are supposedly in retreat. Philanthropy-voluntary, individualist, nongovernmental- steps into the breach left by the absence of an activist state. A question nevertheless immediately rises: Why is there a breach to fill if the invisible hand regulates market society so efficiently and well? The evident human and environmental failures of capitalism are placed in bold relief by voluntary philanthropic action. As billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett put it simply when making his contribution to the Gates Foundation, “A market system has not worked in terms of poor people.” Philanthropy cannot help but reveal the tensions and contradictions in liberal capitalism. These tensions and contradictions date back to Adam Smith, who, as every primer on philanthropy notes, wrote not only The Wealth of Nations but also The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
There is, however, something specific about the current interest in philanthropy. Media coverage of Buffett’s gift, and of philanthropy more generally, suggests there is a marked sense in the United States that triumphal liberal capitalism is currently experiencing a legitimation crisis. While such crises are neither new nor necessarily threatening, in this current version philanthropy serves as a flashpoint for debates about liberal capitalism. For scholars in American studies, philanthropy raises questions about two other interrelated issues: American “exceptionalism” and imperialism/transnationalism. Since Alexis de Tocqueville, the philanthropic mode has been associated, rightly or wrongly, with the United States. The relative weakness of the U.S. state has meant that philanthropy has been seen as central in funding not only social welfare, but also intellectual and aesthetic work. Equally important, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, but particularly in the wake of World War II, the philanthropic mode has been associated with the involvement of the United States in global politics or, others would say, with its economic and cultural imperialism. For scholars in American studies, therefore, philanthropy represents an important conceptual field with which we must engage.
Such a statement, however, begs the question of what philanthropy is. In his introduction to Philanthropy, Patronage, and Civil Society, Thomas Adam writes that “on both sides of the Atlantic, scholars have failed to develop a united theoretical concept of philanthropy. This has resulted in a confusion of terms and in many misunderstandings” (4). In an effort to reduce this misunderstanding, Robert A. Gross identifies a characteristic form of modern philanthropy that emerged in the seventeenth century and sought “to apply reason to the solution of social ills and needs” through “abstract and institutional” forms. I rely here on Gross’s definition, which helpfully narrows the scope of focus to the large-scale, nonprofit institutions that have played a prominent role in civil society in modernity. For many, however, Gross’s definition of philanthropy would be a misnomer. Philanthropy has traditionally been defined as the disinterested expression of a “love of mankind,” so why associate that term with organizations, like the Carnegie or Rockefeller Foundations, whose financial histories and activities have not been seen as disinterestedly beneficent by their critics on either the Left or the Right? In other words, philanthropy, like aesthetics, is a term that has embedded in it critical and utopian-and thus also debatable-longings for transcendence of the contemporary economic and political scene. In the current moment, philanthropy has not just become a flashpoint for discussions about liberal capitalism; it also provides a Rorschach test of sorts for reading the possibility of disinterested or beneficent action more generally within liberal capitalism, that is, within a framework which presumes self-interestedness. In different ways, the books I review here return to another historical moment in which liberal capitalism was in crisis, namely the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in order to debate the possibilities of disinterested or beneficent action within liberal capitalism. Such a debate is animated by the contemporary pressures just outlined.
Two new biographies of turn-of-the-century robber baron philanthropists by prominent historians demonstrate these issues well: David Nasaw’s Andrew Carnegie and David Cannadine’s Mellon: An American Life. Both books are meticulously researched, and, while directed toward a mainstream audience, provide scholars with ample material for future study. Both also reveal a fascinating hesitancy on the issue of their subjects’ philanthropy. As opposed to Ron Chernow’s biography of John D. Rockefeller (1998), which analyzed that robber baron’s activities through Max Weber’s notion of ascetic Protestantism’s determining influence on modern capitalism and philanthropy, Nasaw and Cannadine seem to want to avoid theorization. Admittedly, their hesitancy may stem from the difficulty in dealing with their subjects. Carnegie presents a challenge because of his endless energy and desire to explain every one of his thoughts and actions. Andrew Mellon presents the reverse challenge, because, as Cannadine shows, he was deeply committed to a policy of reserve and secrecy.
Facing Carnegie head on, Nasaw begins his book with two central and provocative theses. Nasaw’s first thesis is that Carnegie became a philanthropist “not out of shame or guilt or religious motives nor to atone for any sins he might have committed as an employer of men. He was simply, he explained, returning his fortune to the larger community where it rightfully belonged” (x). In this first thesis Nasaw seems to be resisting not only a Weberian reading of philanthropy, but also a now quite standard one, stemming from the work of Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieuvian interpretations of philanthropy can involve anthropological, psychoanalytic, and also Weberian accounts of communal self-disciplining, but in any case they focus on philanthropy as a primarily bourgeois phenomenon, which has nothing to do with a disinterested love of humankind and everything to do with elite, intraclass struggles over status or “cultural capital.” Nasaw’s attempt to discredit Bourdieuvian and Weberian readings is surprising because, first, Nasaw shows how difficult it is to read any of Carnegie’s reflections “simply”; and second, Nasaw effectively demonstrates the ways Carnegie embraced elite cultural values and how his philanthropy often seemed to emanate from shame or guilt. In his essay “The Gospel of Wealth,” Carnegie himself argued that “he who dies rich dies disgraced.”
Nasaw’s second and more powerful thesis, therefore, is that Carnegie’s philanthropy “paradoxically, encouraged him to be even more ruthless a businessman and capitalist” (x). The implications of such an argument are far-reaching. Nasaw points out that Carnegie was one of the early proponents of the now commonplace claim that capitalists are philanthropists by creating work and wealth, thus ensuring, as Carnegie put it, “the welfare and progress of the people.” But Carnegie went further by arguing that capitalists were philanthropists not only because they created wealth, but also because they dispensed their wealth wisely (353). Nasaw supports his second thesis by connecting Carnegie’s consistently stated desire to be a philanthropist with his consistent brutality as an employer (despite public prolabor statements to the contrary). While this proof is necessary, it is not sufficient for demonstrating Nasaw’s thesis. Why would a philanthropic impulse lead directly to more ruthless rather than more humane labor practices? What did Carnegie’s radical Chartist past, or even his quest for literary fame (which Nasaw intriguingly charts), have to do with his desire to be a philanthropist? Does contempt for capitalism, based on radical values or “higher” literary values, lead naturally to more exploitative forms of capitalism? What mechanism enabled Carnegie to sustain the deep divide between his philanthropy and his business practices, a divide covered extensively and sharply by British and American journalists? While Nasaw argues that Carnegie’s adoption of Herbert Spencer’s philosophy enabled him to sustain contradictory beliefs, one could just as easily argue that Carnegie was convinced that evolutionary progress needed some philanthropic prompting, a belief that was in opposition to Spencer, who maintained a systematic contempt for charity and philanthropy. Most important, while Rockefeller, Morgan, Frick, and other robber baron philanthropists appear throughout Nasaw’s account, he never shows how historically generalizable his claims are about Carnegie. Was a desire to be philanthropic the central mechanism animating monopoly capitalism at the fin de siècle? Whatever the answers to these questions, by the end of the book Nasaw’s second thesis has disappeared, and the story focuses simply on Carnegie’s success within Carnegie’s own terms. Carnegie, Nasaw tells us in his anticlimactic conclusion, “accomplished [his] … most important goal” of giving away the majority of his fortune (801). It is an oddly familiar panegyric, which does not do justice to the many other strands in the Carnegie story that Nasaw has so diligently uncovered.
In a different way, David Cannadine’s Mellon: An American Life likewise finally sidesteps the broader significance of robber baron philanthropy. Although Cannadine’s work is less polemical up front than Nasaw’s, two main argumentative strands nonetheless emerge over the course of the book. The first involves a Weberian thesis about capitalist acquisition and its personal and emotional costs. Cannadine leans heavily on the autobiography of Thomas Mellon to explain his son, Andrew Mellon, and the larger Scots-Presbyterian, Pittsburgh milieu in which Andrew was raised. Interestingly, however, Cannadine makes clear that there are problems with the Weberian thesis of robber baron philanthropy, for if Thomas believed both in acquisition and the corrupting influence of wealth, he did not believe in the disbursement of wealth for the glory of god. Thomas was actively opposed to Carnegie’s libraries (69), and besides a few “grudging charit[ies]” (95) left his wealth entirely to his family (90-95). Cannadine thus argues that Andrew Mellon had no model for philanthropy and came to it late in life and rather inexplicably (607). Similar to Carnegie in believing the businessman was a benefactor to the community simply by being a businessman, Thomas and Andrew Mellon apparently felt no external or internal pressure to go further than that.
Cannadine’s stronger thesis about Mellon therefore follows a somewhat Bourdieuvian logic, though like Nasaw, Cannadine shies away finally from its implications. Cannadine traces the course of Mellon’s art collecting from its conventional and cheap beginnings (130) to his secret acquisition from the Soviets of “half of the Hermitage’s fifty greatest paintings” (425). Cannadine shows the power of intraclass pressure in transforming a philistine businessman into a philistine art collector as Mellon tours J. P. Morgan’s and Henry Huntington’s art collections in the company of former Carnegie associate Henry Clay Frick. Cannadine speculates that an “aesthetic component … [was] probably present” in Mellon’s collecting, but then concludes, in a wonderful locution, that if such a component was present, it remains “largely inscrutable” (601). In fact, to some degree Cannadine’s story challenges a Bourdieuvian reading as much as it does a Weberian one because while intraclass competition may be involved, Mellon never seems even vaguely interested in cultural capital. Art is simply acquisition, as when he writes to his son, Paul, that his Hermitage paintings are of “high quality and quite low in cost” and so he can “make [a] good profit on any that I may let go to be sold” (422). Nonetheless, though more evidently struggling to generalize about Mellon’s life at the end of his biography than Nasaw does with Carnegie, Cannadine avoids the tenor of his Weberian and Bourdieuvian arguments. He concludes that Mellon was an “unimaginative” and “chilling” person (605) but that his gift of a gallery to the nation was “in its way a noble gesture” (606).
Why such hesitancy in theorizing about philanthropy? One feels the pressure of today, of the “new Gilded Age,” as the New York Times now regularly calls our era, in which, as in the past, enormous fortunes in the United States have been sponsored by government, while the gap between rich and poor has grown dramatically. Both Nasaw and Cannadine expertly show how beholden public officials were to big business in the old Gilded Age and how well they served it (especially when they were the government). Cannadine makes this point, saying Dick Cheney’s actions as vice president are comparable to Mellon’s as treasury secretary in that Cheney’s work as a public official has enriched the corporation that directly enriches him (596). As opposed to Cheney, however, whose consistency is striking and whom it is difficult to imagine using his wealth to fund free libraries or collect art for a national gallery, Carnegie and Mellon seem interestingly inconsistent. Neither man was ever forced by the government to make concessions to the public good in their business careers, and neither ever did. Nonetheless, their philanthropy apparently makes concessions that they did not. Their “philanthropy” seems to bow to some conception of a “public good” beyond self-interestedness, even if their philanthropy was based on what is now called corporate welfare. It is in this sense that one feels Nasaw and Cannadine resisting particularly Bourdieuvian generalizations about their robber baron philanthropists and engaging, albeit guardedly, in gestures of recuperation. That something appealed to men like Carnegie and Mellon beyond self-interest-no matter how attenuated and problematic that something was-cannot help but seem compelling today in the apparent absence of alternatives to liberal capitalism. It suggests that whatever exerted pressure on these men-whether it be intraclass community pressure or some kind of vestigial Calvinist opprobrium toward acquisition as an end in itself-might be usefully galvanized to exert pressure today.
The dangers, however, of arguments based on finding usefully progressive possibilities in turn-of-the-century liberal capitalism are all too evident in David Leverenz’s Paternalism Incorporated: Fables of American Fatherhood. Leverenz’s argument does not focus on philanthropy; rather, he is interested in the continuous but changing shape of paternalism in corporate capitalism. Philanthropy, however, is a key part of his analysis, because the corporation’s very legality depends on its being defined as (paternalistically) philanthropic. Leverenz argues that the corporate work that emerged in the post-Civil War period undermined individualist ideology and the biological and propertied bases of patriarchy, and therefore also “hierarchies of gender, class, and race” (12). Paternalism, he says, was a “mediating structure of perception at least for people of privilege,” linking “residual longings for patriarchy and honor with progressive hopes for reform and social uplift” (7). Paternalism was therefore a compensatory but unstable narrative for white elites in a world where their work was undermining the foundations of their privilege.
Leverenz’s central contribution is to show how corporate capitalism’s paternalist ideology, and its claims to philanthropic benevolence, shaped U.S. literature and culture. He identifies and shows the pervasiveness of “Daddy’s Girls” and “Daddy’s Boys” narratives in both elite and popular culture from the late nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century. Leverenz’s argument, however, is marked by many peculiarities, not least of which is that while he explicitly describes himself as demonstrating the “progressive aspects of corporate capitalism” (15), especially through these narratives, his work actually does a better job of charting the opposite. He writes in a characteristic formulation:
Corporate capitalism reinvigorated traditionally manly rhetorics and behaviors, from paternalism and self-control to the Great Father and the warrior ethos. Abstracted loyalties to gender and race intensified, and gestures of remasculinization saturated American culture. Nor have they slackened much in or own post-millennial atmosphere of white male pathos and bathos. Yet it’s not enough to say that manhood developed new forms of contestation and patriarchal performativity as men’s work alienated their gender codes from their gendered bodies. The rise of large-scale organizations threatened manhood’s usefulness. (36)
The yet here functions, as it does repeatedly throughout the book, to encourage us to look on the neglected sunny side of corporate capitalism. Sure, Leverenz says, corporate capitalism enabled and enforced new logics of imperialism, domestic colonialism, racism, sexism, and white male self-pity that are still operative today, but the good side is that white men felt (and feel) more useless. Leverenz’s yet cannot do the work he hopes it can. It neither proves that corporate capitalism’s “progressive” effects counterbalance all the other effects he himself lists, nor does it prove that his argument is irreversible. Couldn’t one just as easily argue, as many have, that a sense of “uselessness” does not of violence that enforce white male privilege? As Leverenz’s book reveals how Daddy’s Boys and Daddy’s Girls narratives saturate U.S. literature and culture, one is not convinced that they are progressive; instead, one’s curiosity is piqued by the enigma of what would make Leverenz claim, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that these creepy narratives represent progressive politics. What would make him select The Little Colonel with Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson as a model text for revealing that “no paternalistic mold can hold them [women and blacks] back for long” (203)?
Leverenz’s aggressively attenuated notions of progressive politics depends on his uncritical acceptance of the contemporary dominant discourse of triumphant globalized liberal capitalism. Unlike Nasaw and Cannadine, Leverenz does not expect even the mildest of concessions from corporate capitalism because, for him, there is nothing beyond it. For example, he admits repeatedly that his claim that corporate work undermines white male privilege may look contrary to facts given that “the white male enclave” of the corporation has only recently begun to diversify. But, he says cheerfully, the slowness of this process reveals “how threatened white men felt” (13, also 140). Nowhere in this picture appears the civil rights and feminist activism that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law that has provided legal muscle to contemporary workplace diversification.
Leverenz’s refusal to acknowledge either democratic or governmental activism in his story is evident in his chapter on philanthropy. Relying particularly on Francie Ostrower’s Bourdieuvian-inspired study of philanthropy as an intraclass phenomenon involving struggles over prestige (1995), Leverenz reads Carnegie as using techniques of “shaming to restore the possibility of harmonious hierarchic community” (148-49). Leverenz’s most useful reading in the chapter is of the ways in which Booker T. Washington exploited Carnegie and other elite whites’ shaming techniques for “power and cultural authority” (166). Even if such exploitation came at great personal cost to Washington and to blacks as a social group, Washington wisely “cast his lot with the new corporate elite” of the north rather than with intractable southern racists (166). This is a helpful if familiar reading of Washington’s predicament and the “choice” he made. It is interesting, however, to see what happens when Leverenz analyzes what he describes as Jane Addams’s “caustic and incisive attack” on George Pullman’s corporate paternalism in “A Modern Lear.” Leverenz argues that Addams “fails” (143) because while she wrote the essay in 1894, she could not find a publisher for it until 1912: “Middle-class institutions of publication protected the industrial elite by censoring shaming from outside or below” (143). To parse Leverenz’s opaque logic here, he seems to be suggesting that Addams failed because she refused “to cast her lot with the new corporate elite,” whereas Washington succeeded by doing so. Of course, one could argue in another direction, that Addams’s critique was not acceptable in 1894, but by 1912 it had made some headway and had gained still more steam in the New Deal and the 1960s. Again, one must ask what logic drives Leverenz’s aggressively attenuated notion of progressive politics such that Addams’s direct critique of corporate capitalism and paternalism is a “failure,” while Washington’s acceptance and exploitation of it is a success?
Joan Roelofs’s answer to this in Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism would be a simple one. To Roelofs, scholars like Leverenz are members of Antonio Gramsci’s “intellectual” class, and as such act on the behalf of the ruling class to create hegemony. The “incorporation” of this class in the United States has occurred, according to Roelofs, through philanthropic foundations and their funding of nonprofit institutions such as universities. These foundations have not only implemented an ideology of professional expertise, Roelofs argues, but more important, have financially supported the professional class to which academics owe allegiance (2). The work of academics and intellectuals, like that of all professionals, is to support ideologically the work of corporate capitalism.
Roelofs’s main contribution is to show how closely linked the university (and hence intellectual work and public policy) is to philanthropic foundations, a link that seems indisputable, even if Roelofs reduces its complexity and the way it was shaped by political activism and governmental intervention. As with all these books’ authors, Roelofs returns to the turn of the century to understand what she sees as the crucial work of philanthropic foundations in mobilizing intellectuals to create hegemony:
The prevailing ideology [of foundations] has roots in the Progressive movement, which absorbed (and transformed) populist and socialist protest of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries … Foundations, social science, and “social engineering” evolved together; the Progressive movement was their political, public arm. (28)
According to Roelofs, radical intellectuals were systematically bought off in this crisis moment of liberal capitalism, as they were again in the 1960s, when philanthropic foundations “fostered genuine reforms.” The result of these “genuine reforms” is a “decline of radicalism” today (127).
Roelofs focuses on a “power elite” interpretation of politics (4). In this she shares much with Leverenz, despite the different polemics that animate their intellectuals is that social change never comes from below or outside. “The defection of intellectuals tends to be more dangerous to capitalism than starving peasants,” she writes (81). Also, like Leverenz, Roelofs sees philanthropy as a simple extension of corporate capitalism. Philanthropic foundations “appear distant from their corporate origins and support, so they may claim a neutral image” (2). But their appearance of “neutral benevolence” conceals their actual aim: to “directly or indirectly protect and promote capitalism” (21). Like Leverenz, she too focuses on “seduction” and the way in which philanthropic foundations play the “sugar daddy” to dissenters (42). Thus, like Leverenz, she reads multiculturalism broadly construed as the product of philanthropic corporate capitalism. “Identity politics,” she argues, in one of her most excessive arguments, was created by corporations and their philanthropies in order to fragment dissent (44-45; chap. 8). Likewise, she sees these foundations as having dissipated dissent abroad and enforced corporate capitalism across the globe (3-4; chap. 9).
If Leverenz’s standards for “progressive” politics are aggressively attenuated because of his acceptance of a dominant discourse of a triumphal liberal capitalism, Roelofs’s quite different standards are shaped by a comparable acceptance. The Sierra Club, Amnesty International, and the anti-apartheid organization Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, among others, are seen by Roelofs as having been bought off by philanthropic foundations. Meanwhile “counterhegemonic” organizations, like the Garland and Haymarket foundations, are shown to be ineffectual (141-55). At one point, Roelofs exasperatedly suggests that corporate capitalists/philanthropists are just smarter and better readers of Gramsci than radicals: “Those who wanted to prevent radical changes in power and wealth … heeded Gramsci by incorporating all new trends and disturbing elements and by turning rebels into honored intellectuals of the establishment” (145). In other words, while Roelofs would have no patience for Leverenz’s sunny view of corporate capitalism, she shares his underlying assumption that nothing can ever transform, or substantially modify, it. What she calls “genuine reform” is not accession to outside pressure, but simply co-optation. Philanthropy does not express anything that exceeds-intentionally or unintentionally-the aims of corporate capitalism.
From Leverenz’s and Roelofs’s respectively sunny and despairing acceptance of the discourse of triumphal globalized capitalism, it is with genuine relief that one turns to the contentious and illuminating essays that Thomas Adam has brought together in Philanthropy, Patronage, and Civil Society: Experiences from Germany, Great Britain, and North America. If there is one book to read on philanthropy right now, arguably this is it. Again, focused largely on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, one of its central contributions is to challenge the notion that philanthropy is largely a U.S. phenomenon, the product of its version of liberal capitalism. Instead the book brings together scholars from the United States, Germany, and Canada to demonstrate the ways in which models for bourgeois behavior, and particularly what is seen as the class-defining activity of philanthropy, crossed national boundaries in the modern period. A second, equally important contribution the book makes is to foreground the contestation over definitions of philanthropy. Adam provides a wonderfully nuanced definition of philanthropy in his introduction, but he acknowledges that “Each chapter in this volume offers a different definition of and perspective on philanthropy” (10).
One of the questions Adam’s book raises is that of the relation of “outsiders” to bourgeois philanthropy. Many of the essays are indebted to Bourdieuvian readings of philanthropy as an intraclass elite phenomenon, albeit a transnational one (Adam, Fuchs, Hoffmann, Menninger, Lässig), but other essays explore the relation between elite philanthropy and lower-class or minority cooperatives and mutual aid organizations. Brett Fairbairn’s essay is described as a “preliminary excursion into … the overlap between two different categories of social action.” Cooperatives are usually defined as organizations promoting “mutual acts of self-help” between “equals,” while philanthropy is seen as “aid from the better-off for the general good or … [the] less-privileged” (55). However, Fairbairn suggests that there was overlap in the nineteenth century in that cooperatives often aimed at social reform, or at a larger social good and were likewise often sponsored by philanthropists. Where Roelofs would see co-optation, Fairbairn uncovers a complex dialogue in which middle-class philanthropic notions of self-help were transformed by lower-class recipients into cooperatives. Middle-class reformers hoped to “spread their own values to the masses,” writes Fairbairn, but “successful cooperative movements were by definition changeable and member directed. Cooperatives were fully capable of drawing on the ideas, resources, or legitimacy offered by philanthropic individuals when it suited them to do so while disassociating themselves actively or passively from whatever they disliked” (74-75).
Fairbairn’s essay on the complex dialogue between middle-class social reformers and lower-class activists is useful for thinking about the three engaging, subtle, and very different essays that focus on Jewish philanthropy. Maria Benjamin Baader investigates the complex shifts in Jewish mutual aid organizations from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, demonstrating the ways these organizations combined features of premodern Jewish associational life with Enlightenment notions of Menschenliebe (love of mankind) in order to help not only fellow Jews, but others, out of poverty. Particularly interesting is her analysis of the ways this combination of premodern and modern conceptions enabled Jewish women to end their exclusion from Jewish associational life, while also challenging the bourgeois public/private divide. Tobias Brinkmann likewise focuses on premodern Jewish traditions of philanthropy, but analyzes differences between their transformation in modern Germany and the United States because of the distinct ways the state functioned in those two nations. He argues for “comparative” and historicist, rather than “essentialist,” readings of modern Jewish philanthropy (181) and likewise for a better understanding of how Jewish philanthropy shaped national versions of philanthropy (192-94). In complete opposition to Baader and Brinkmann, Simone Lässig sees nothing specific in Jewish patronage/philanthropy in modern Germany, describing such philanthropy as “demonstrably not a special Jewish behavior but … an integral part of a bourgeois-liberal concept of power and control” (212). To Lassig, there is “no difference between Jewish and non-Jewish patrons in terms of numbers or the charitable causes patrons chose,” and thus patronage/philanthropy must be seen “as a general bourgeois phenomenon” (214).
The differences of opinion are as sharp and direct in the rest of Adam’s book as they are in these essays. The overall effect of the book is thus not a sense of pluralist relativism in defining and analyzing philanthropy, but instead a renewed understanding of the important stakes involved. As I have argued throughout this review, the demise of Soviet communism and the supposed triumph of liberal capitalism make philanthropy important now. For scholars in American studies, this general assertion converges with a number of specific concerns, including U.S. exceptionalism and transnationalism/globalization. Academic interest, I have also pointed out, preceded mainstream interest, and without accepting Roelofs’s argument unproblematically, it seems more than fair to say that this interest has much to do with the contemporary context in which intellectuals and institutions of higher education increasingly find their work funded by foundations or directly by corporations. While David C. Hammack’s essay in Adam’s collection makes the very important point that the United States is not “exceptional” in its philanthropy, because the state has been as crucial in funding cultural and social activities as anywhere else, many of us work at universities where this argument faces new challenges. If, as I have said, philanthropy is important to historicize and analyze because of its critical and utopian desires for transcendence of the contemporary political economic situation, it is at the same time important for academics and intellectuals in revealing the embeddedness of our own work.