Along with others, Christopher Caldwell’s important new book The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties is also part of what we’ve described as a “serious syllabus of sorts [that] is now finally forming for the coming clarification of conservatism.” In a section of the book, he explicitly places progressive philanthropy among those to blame for our current period of conflict in America.
“Over the fifty years leading up to the election of 2016, those who found ways to use” what Caldwell calls “newly unleashed powers flourished,” he writes. After overviewing the place and power of the wealthy in America’s social structure, he then turns to their philanthropy.
“Much of the influence that the very richest sought to exercise was in the form of charitable gifts,” according to Caldwell. “It was thus assumed the rich were ‘earning’ their power by providing something useful. …
“Over time, the law evolved so that ‘charitable gifts’ were understood to include not just buying soup for the homeless but also ‘educating’ the public about such contentious political issues as abortion, education, health policy, or gun control,” he continues.
“Harry Hopkins, a top advisor to FDR who was himself a veteran of the foundation world, warned the president that private interests backed charitable organizations mostly as a means of running them, and could take his programs over,” Caldwell recalls. “The Kennedy and Johnson administrations invited philanthropists back.”
Describing the Ford Foundation’s activities during the War on Poverty in particular, Caldwell quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan as writing, “In effect, the Public Affairs Program of the Ford Foundation invented a new level of American government.”
“The most effective giving leveraged private fortunes into government power, and the most effective government power leaned more and more on private fortunes,” according to Caldwell. “Carrying out various progressive functions would, for a half-century after the civil rights revolution, do much to raise the morale of the rich.” He names David Rockefeller, George Soros, Ted Turner, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Oprah Winfrey.
“It would not have surprised Harry Hopkins that America’s elites rallied to the agenda of race and gender equality, and used the institutions it brought as a way of legitimating their own wealth,” The Age of Entitlement’s philanthropy section concludes.
An elite is a minority, too. The Dutch East India Company, the British Raj, the szlachta, the Holy See—these elite minorities were different from historically marginalized ones, such as American blacks, immigrants, or gays. But both kinds of minority, elite ones and marginalized ones, live under threat from democratic majorities, and benefit in the same way from laws passed to constrain majority power. Public political discussion has been slow to draw a connection between the “good” stymieing of democratic majorities by the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and the “bad” stymieing that followed in its wake.