What Is Conservative Philanthropy?

Report Political Process

What Is Conservative Philanthropy?

August 2, 1993 15 min read Download Report
Michael Joyce, Heather Richardson

(Archived document, may contain errors)

What Is Conservative Philanthropy?

By Michael Joyce and Heather Richardson

Michael Joyce: I would like to examine the question of whether or not there is a distinctive, conservative philanthropy. I suggest there are real and substantive differences in the perspectives of those engaged in organized philanthropy in the United States today. The differences in outlook, the different way@ of conceiving man's nature and the world, lead not only to different conclusions about the philanthropic enterprise in general, but to quite differentiated, even conflicting conclu s ions across the wide range of major issues of interest, not only to agents of philanthropy, but to society generally. This is because the social problems that consume the interest of grant-makers are, at bottom, political; they arise from differences in o p inion and interest. The social problems are rarely pure and simple problems amenable to easy solutions; rather, they tend to be enduring human difficulties to be reckoned with, reformed, tolerated according to the opinions and interests of the grant-maker s themselves. It is in this understanding of problems and programs that differences in political outlook manifest themselves in philanthropy, as well as in most other human endeavors. These differences are rooted in postulates about human nature and social causation, so that disagreements about the proper role of philanthropy arise much in the same way as do political conflicts more generally. In an incisive analysis of the ideological origins of political struggles entitled A Conflict of Visions, Thomas So w ell has written, "Different ways of conceiving man in the world lead not merely to different con- clusions, but to sharply divergent, often diametrically opposed conclusions on issues ranging from justice to war. There are not merely differences of vision s , but conflicts of visions." He has defined these competing visions as: 1) the constrained vision, and 2) the unconstrained vision. Those familiar with Thomas Sowell's work will immediately recognize in what I am about to say my indebtedness to his though t . The great issues of our day which interest those engaged in philan- thropy-war, poverty, education, crime, for example-are viewed very differently by those with liberal and conservative habits of mind. In the view of the liberal foundations, the challen g es and op- portunities for philanthropy are presented in the form of social problems, problems which, accord- ing to this view, are not necessarily inherent in the human condition. This is the reason that most liberals see social problems as manifestly re q uiring explanation, direct intervention, and finally solu- tion. But if the limitations of human nature are central to the persistence of social problems, then what requires explanation are the ways that social disorders have been avoided or minimized. Th i s is why liberals seek to discover and explain the social causes of war, poverty, crime, and so forth, while conservatives look to the special causes of peace, wealth, or the conditions of law-abiding so- ciety. In the liberal view, there are no obvious i n tractable reasons for the recurrence of social problems, and, therefore, no particular reason why they cannot be solved with sufficient moral commitment and knowledge. But in the conservative view, projects or programs designed to restrain or alleviate in herent social disorders have real costs, often expressed as unhappy consequences of the very pro-

Michael Joyce is president and CEO of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Heather Richardson is director and a trustee of the Randolp h Foundation in New York City. They spoke at The Heritage Foundation on March 11, 1993, as part of the W.H. Brady Lecture Series on Defining Conservatism. ISSN 0272-1155. 01993 by The Heritage Foundation.

grams; so that in the conservative view the best that one can realistically hope for is what Sowell calls a prudent tradeoff. Views of Human Nature. These different conceptions rest ultimately on assessments of the na- ture of man, not simply as he is seen to behave at some moment in time, but also as r egards his natu- ral potential and limitations. A liberal who understands human nature as having potential far beyond what man's history up to now has demonstrated takes a position quite different from a conservative, who sees human beings as limited crea tures with selfish impulses that require institutions of re- straint, which themselveEi pre always less than perfect. In the conservative conception, social pro- ZV cesses are descri e not so muc in tdrriis* of int6Tntio'n's,"but"i-n'teii-iig bf th6'\u223 \'a7y9f6mi c factors necessary to achieve limited goals-property rights, the price system, and judicial restraint, for ex- ample. Liberal philanthropy looks directly to desired results. Conservative philanthropy operates in terms of processes, intended to produce de s ired results-not directly and not without unintended side ef- fects and anticipated social costs. Central to the outlook of the liberal philanthropist is the belief that unenlightened or immoral choices explain the presence of social problems, and that wi s er or more moral and compassionate so- cial policies are therefore the solution. By contrast, the conservatives understand serious social prob- lems as rooted in the imperfect choices confronting humans with limited natures and insufficient knowledge. As S owell puts it, for amelioration of these evils and the promotion of progress, they rely on the systernic characteristics of certain social processes, such as moral traditions, the market- place, the family. They conceive of these processes as evolved rath e r than designed, and rely on these general patterns of social interaction, rather than on specific policy designed to direct or pro- duce particular results for particular individuals or groups. The liberal view of philanthropy favors the creation of more equalized economic and social condi- tions in the society generally, even if the means chosen involve great inequality in the processes em- ployed to produce that outcome. Consider the debate over judicial activism. According to liberal understanding, lea r ned and compassionate jurists should strive to shape the best outcomes in particu- lar issues that come within their jurisdiction. In the conservative view, the inherent limitations of the individual judges provide that each jurist's best contribution to t he civil order is to adhere to the sworn duty of his institutional role as custodian of the constitutional content, and let established, sys- temic processes in the duly elected legislatures determine the law. Obligation to Duty. Just as the liberal viewp o int encourages judicial activism by judges, it advo- cates social responsibility for businessmen, that they should conduct their enterprises with the inten- tion of producing specific benefits to society-in hiring practices, investment policy, and in the r vative out- form and content of their corporate philanthropy. What is morally central in the conse look is the obligation to fulfill one's duty in one's role in life. There, within the sphere of his own competence, the individual can make the greatest con t ribution to the common good by serving sys- temic processes, which deterinine outcomes. This is an entirely different conception of obligation from that of the liberal, where one's obligation is direct-direct beneficence to mankind. But from the conservat i ve viewpoint, the individual exercising decision-making power lacks the confidence continually to make ad hoc determinations of what specifically is good for mankind, however compassionate or morally motivated one may be. According to the conservative vie w , the businessman's obligation is primarily to the stockholders who have entrusted their investments to him, not in the pursuit, however sincere, of the public good through certain charitable works. In a like manner, the judge's obligation is faithfully t o carry out the law he was sworn to uphold, not compassionately to change that law in order to produce better results as he sees them. The conserva-


tive does not believe that the law will be improved by the judge's fresh insights being substituted for the systemically evolved legal precedence. Tom Sowell, in A Conflict of Visions, discusses the engineering analogy as an element of what he calls the u n constrained vision and what I am referring to on this occasion as the liberal viewpoint. In my opinion, the engineering analogy has great import in any discussion about organized philan- thropy, for it is the favored method of what has been indisputably t h e dominant tradition among the major foundations in the liberal tradition. As Sowell pumit,in-theengineering analogy -one.-can:begi-n-with..society-'s needs, because it is possible to have "an objective analysis of what is really desirable." The public in t erest can be speci- fied, and therefore pursued rationally. It is then a question of assembling the relevant facts and articulating them, a full presentation of the items we can choose among to determine how to achieve the resulting goals. Social issues t h us reduce to a matter of technical coordination by experts, unlike the systemic vision, in which there are inherent conflicts because of the multiplicities of conflicting values in the populace at large. The conservative is convinced that the engineering a nalogy is flawed because no single philanthropist or foundation can master the complexities inherent in social transactions, so that systemic institutions -market economies, social and constitutional traditions and the like-are relied upon instead. The li b eral, observing people living below some economic level defined as poverty, favors pro- grams to subsidize such persons in some way to produce directly a higher standard of living for them. But the conservative concentrates on the process incentives creat e d by such programs and their consequences, both for the intended beneficiary and for the society as a whole. I think the topic of citizenship and civic society illustrates very well the profound differences be- tween the conservative and the liberal conce p tions. Through our vast, complex web of civil institu- tions we grow and develop into complete human beings, learning to suppress our often chaotic and disruptive impulses, to express our connectedness and mutual obligation to each other, to reach be- yon d ourselves, so to speak, to higher aspirations, reflecting nobler impulses. Those institutions sus- tain us, but we, in turn, must sustain them, for without unremitting, steadfast citizen involvement, they are doomed to wither and die. That America was bl e ssed with a robust, vigorous, civil society was once understood to be vital to its success. Tocqueville's Democracy In America is, of course, the classic expression of wonder and admiration at the incredible energy generated by the vast array of civic ins t itutions spread across the face of our young nation. Everywhere he looked in America he noted our citizens had formed asso- ciations, committees, and clubs to tackle one or another of the problems facing them in this undevel- oped wilderness. Through such citizenly activity, Tocqueville believed Americans expressed and sustained their civil freedom, accomplished an enormous range of tasks and most important, devel- oped fully as rooted, connected human beings. Dominant Elites. Conservative admiration for t h e liberty-sustaining, life-affirming energy of civil society is, of course, by no means shared by the intellectual and cultural elites that dominate foundations today. Instead of citizenship as vigorous, multi-faceted participation in civil society, we ar e urged to constrict our view of citizenship to the lonely, sporadic act of the isolated voter. To ex- plain how this came about would require a lengthy discourse on the modem project, that great philo- sophical enterprise launched by Machiavelli, Hobbes, a nd Locke, and carried on in various decadent and corrupt forms today. I spare you that discourse at this time. Suffice it to say that what to conservatives appears as a vast, pluralistic up-welling of groups ex- pressing boundless civic energy appears to our liberal elites to be a wasteful, chaotic, misguided jumble of amateurish groups meddling unwelcome in social policy. What to conservatives appear as


vigorous, coherent, value-affirming civic associations, appear to our elites as oppressive, stult ifying, retrograde, rights-violating social tyrannies. To such elites, the virtue of the limited citizen-as-voter notion is clear; it quietly and neatly lifts the public business, so to speak, out of the messy world of active citizens and civic institutio n s, shifting it instead into the neat, rational, smoothly humming world of centralized, professionalized bureaucracies, wherein the elites themselves prevail. In these remarks I have simply tried to show that there are substantive differences between liber a l and conservative views in organized philanthropy. I have not attempted to explain how these view- points have come..to be.dominant.in. this orthat particular. foqndation;.,nor@_have-. I discussed the fairly trus ees ten common circ,uini@'e- w-h&ie',@ift liiii-the saiiie fbuiniditioin" "'t d t6*afd'@ conservative world view, while staff people favor a liberal philanthropy.

Heather Richardson: The topic today is: "What is Conservative Philanthropy?" I shall present my remarks in three sections. The first, which Mike in large part has addressed, defines the term "conservative." The second examines approaches to philanthropy. And the third looks at the structural problems inherent in foundations as they currently exist. The word "conservative" has been defin e d by the media and by the public at large as meaning ei- ther the status quo, and a retention of that irrespective of its problems, or some sort of return to the 1950s and the nostalgic vision of a perfect, white America. I would argue that we need to eit h er redefine the word or come up with a new one, because that is not at all what conservatism is about. As Mike has so eloquently put it, conservatism is a philosophy derived from its core belief about the nature of man. Liberals believe that man is good, a nd that ills must therefore come from external forces; conservatives believe that man is flawed, possessing the capacity for both good and evil, so that in addition to external forces we must concern ourselves with the consequences of individual character and behavior. Following quite logically from those alternate constructs of the nature of man are some extreme .contrasts in beliefs: emphasizing, for example, groups over individuals, rights over responsibilities, entitlement (read: dependency) versus emp o werment, welfare bureaucrats over strong families and communities, government solutions instead of subsidiarity, quotas as opposed to merit, multi- culturalism. and cultural relativism in contrast with transcendent ideas and ideals, and most import- ant i n some sense to the way foundations operate (and liberals generally operate as opposed to conservatives), good intentions as sufficient and defining criteria, rather than concerning oneself with the consequences of actions. In these polarities you see what has been the operating principle of the Left: if you believe in fact that man is inherently good, then, as David Horowitz has elo- quently explained, all you need to do to change society is to have sufficient will. Moreover, you do not need to look at any t hing beyond that-just add more detem-iination if it isn't working yet. Good intentions are sufficient. Positive Vision. Thus, one of the key battlefronts going forward is for us to force an examination of consequences; you can already see some of this hap p ening. Where we lose is when some conser- vatives talk about returning to the "good old days." We must always remember that the reason things changed is because someone was ill-served by the status quo, and that much of what we suf- fer from are the exces s es and byproducts of policies which were formed with the best of intentions, based on some half-right idea. We must have a vision, and that vision needs to be positive and for- ward-looking. The second point I wished to discuss was: how do we approach phi lanthropy effectively? There are several underlying principles which should guide conservative philanthropy. First, of course, is understanding your philosophical base. However innocuous a given project seems, addressing it


through the lens of, for e xample, the role of the individual versus the role of government, will have a profound effect on how you shape your grants and how you spend your giving dollars. Second, as I said before, conservatives need to espouse a forward vision and articulate what t hey are for, not just what they are against. This is useful in both defining and defending the policies they are pursuing, as well as in looking for new ideas which help advance that agenda. In fact, as Newt Gingrich has argued, we must think through syst e matically where, ideally, we would like to be twenty years from now, and what we'd like society to look like, and then think backwards from that to the steps necess@ary to.achieve.' those goals. It is central tQ.this. endeavor to understand the process of the progre' ss '. o f i d'ea s' Wh a t bb -o k smust be wiiitt6h, Whiit'Audid\u223\'a7 and'bfn-pifical data would be constructive, what networks and coalitions must be formed, and then the process of implementation itself. Because, frankly, foundations have been v ery neglectful about the implementation of ideas. And if we don't implement them, I do not see what the point was in the first place. Leveraging Ideas. Tactically, something we need to focus on more is effectiveness, or what I call leveraging ideas. This b ecomes even more critical as our limited resources become increasingly stretched. Let me give you some examples of leverage: if you have a book written, then insist the book be marketed effectively; if you support a magazine, you want to enable the magazi n e to in- crease its circulation; if you are working on a venture that is a local project somewhere on a specific issue, try to make it a replicable pilot project; if you are supporting an organization which relies on its membership to have impact, then he l p it bolster its membership, since those numbers are often ul- timately what matter. All these ideas are important because they increase the impact of what already exists, and hopefully, as well, make it more self-sustaining. I do not know if Willa Johnso n is here, but I believe Capital Research Center's numbers show that roughly 75 percent of foundations with an ideological bent qualify as center to left, while 25 percent count as center to right. This means that conservative philanthropists must allocate their re- sources as wisely and effectively as possible, and should furthermore look for ways to make the enti- ties they are supporting as self-financing as possible, both through their own activities and in finding alternate sources of funding. Finally, though, one must ask: why are foundations so left-wing? (Particularly when most of them were founded by arch-capitalists.) What is the structural problem which produces this eventuality? I am not a legal scholar, but armed with that caveat, let me tell yo u how foundations, which actually are a modem phenomenon, came into being. Chesterton said, "Tradition is the democracy of the dead." One of our greatest forms of democ- racy is common law, and common law always argued that you should not have any contract enforce- able in perpetuity, save with very rare exceptions-such as charters for hospitals and municipalities. Charitable organizations were not an exception; they were all pretty much a form of charitable trust, which means they had limited lives. (Gener a lly, I gather, it was "lives in being plus 21 years," which means the charitable trust would exist for the duration of the life of the last person, out of a given class of people, who was alive at the time of the donor's death, plus 21 years beyond that.) Be- yond that point the assets had to be paid out, dissolved, or go on to something else. In 1913 the Rockefellers tried to get a national charter from Congress which would create a foundation in perpe- tuity. Congress at that point seems to have been a l i ttle wiser than it is now and understood the pur- poses of common law, and why this was not a good idea. It turned the Rockefellers, down. The Rockefellers, however, went and bought the New York State Legislature, got their charter, and thus foundations w e re bom. What are foundations? Pardon the analogy, but all too frequently foundations bring to mind noth- ing so much as the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. These are pod people. Think about it: They look like the original donor and they soun d like they are supposed to have similar purposes


to the original donor. But they are radically different from the persons you knew, and the ideas they espoused. Worst of all, they just keep on going-nothing can stop them. They exist in perpetuity, a nd with very rare instances have no real accountability. Incorporation documents are written with the best of intentions, but there are myriad ways of interpreting how best to implement and direct different program areas. As you get away from people who k n ew the donor and shared his views and intentions, the programs begin to drift. This is then compounded by what I think of as the "third generation problem." These heirs hardly knew the founder, are spending money they did not earn and do not appreciate, g e nerally are long on guilt and short on depth, often want accolades without the trouble; -and Almost.-always.-rdly increasingly-on professional stiiffs..The staffs.themselves are under great pressure to conform with their peer community (it helps get the n e xt non-profit job), and so whatever is politically correct at the moment tends to be the direction in which foundation staffs go. As so many examples illustrate, donor intent is ignored in exchange for the accolades of the staffs', and heirs', immediate c o nstituencies. We consequently have increasingly large amounts of untaxed dollars that do not recirculate into the system as they ultimately used to, and what does get out goes for purposes the founder would consider anathema. I would suggest several respo n ses to this. First, if you know anyone who is thinking of setting up a foundation, suggest that they first craft a very specific mandate, that they then attach the entity to people whose political and philosophical judgement they admire, and that they for m not a perpetual foundation, but an entity with a limited life. Never establish a foundation. However wonderful you and your ideas may be, however clever the people you know, they will all eventually die, and this behemoth will continue; it will be captur e d, and there is a 99 percent proba- bility that it will eventually wind up doing things that will make you spin in your grave. The next proposal to address this structural deformity is to create a concerted effort to get Con- gress to repeal this misguide d law creating foundations, while perhaps encouraging the creation of limited-life charitable trusts. Existing foundations, once they were 99 years old, could be sub ect to a radically increased payout requirement, causing them to pay down their capital an d get it to even- tually recirculate in our economy. Foundations, in the best common law tradition, should have lim- ited lives, to better adhere to the intentions of their founders. Congress may barely recognize the philosophical and practical arguments, b ut they will surely be inspired at the sight of all those un- taxed dollars. Much like vouchers or term limits, we need to think about changing the structural incentives for certain behaviors. Foundations have become the perpetual life support of the ever -multiplying pod people. There's only one way to stop them: unaccountable institutions, like Congress, need limited terms.




Michael Joyce, Heather Richardson