Satan was the First Philanthropist

Today’s Big Philanthropy tends to substitute humanity in general for real, individual human beings as the primary object of benevolence. This idea lies at the core of the development of the first modern philanthropic foundations. As William Schambra, among others, has shown, from their beginnings in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the major charitable foundations (Russell Sage, Rockefeller, and Carnegie) and their progenitors consciously sought to abandon old-fashioned attempts to alleviate immediate distress for a more focused scientific, expert-driven approach that would provide permanent solutions to vexing social problems (via williams). At its creation, the Rockefeller Foundation devoted itself to serving the “wellbeing of mankind throughout the world.” Rockefeller himself insisted that “the best philanthropy involves a search for cause, an attempt to cure evils at their source.”[8]

For the wealthy simply to provide aid to those particular men, women, and children who needed it was no longer good enough. It was time to change the world—just as Rockefeller and the other captains of commerce who started many of these foundations had seemingly done with their railroad, oil, munitions, and other business ventures. It was time to attack problems like crime and disease at their roots. Schambra has shown that eugenics and sterilization programs were vigorously funded for decades by many large foundations precisely because such programs were prototypically “philanthropic” in their focus on the elimination of poverty rather than on helping real, existing poor people.[9]

In this intellectual milieu the term “charity” gradually became discredited. It came to refer, for the most part, to small, reactive, and/or nonstrategic efforts to assist the suffering. Charity was the province of simpletons. Sophisticated entrepreneurs, professionals, and scientific experts engaged in philanthropy.

Since launching Community Groups at my parish, which is a weekly small group ministry where people host their friends and neighbors in their homes instead of yet another on-campus event, I have been diving through a lot of Catholic reflection on community and its lack in modern life. Thanks to a friend who is working towards his Doctorate in Thomistic Studies, he has sent me a plethora of articles and essays on this topic.

Three weeks ago my wife and I hosted 50+ people in our home for an Inclusion class. Inclusion is my branded title for a modified RCIA class only for those who are already baptized and well-formed. There are currently 30 people in the class, and we invited their families to come to my house for a potluck social and a short teaching on the Sacraments.

Their kids played with my kids. We all shared a meal together in the chaos and loudness of my not-too-big house filled with over 50 people. Wine was had, as was dessert. In the end we prayed for one the participants and her chronic pain. In short, we got to know one another, celebrate with one another, explore our faith with one another, and pray for one another.

It was about a week afterwards that this article was sent to me. Sure, it is long, but it is definitely worth it. The breakdown of our community, which is always local, is reflected in the modern, wealthy disposition towards Philanthropy, the paying of huge sums for global causes, while literally neglecting those who are right next door. What if we redirected the $300-billion Big Philanthropy industry towards the neighborhood? What would it look like if we cared for the single mom down the street?

Instead of the grandiose projects and utopian visions too often pursued by today’s Professional or Big Philanthropy—usually in league with highly centralized, bureaucratic, impersonal government—we need a smaller, humbler philanthropy. A philanthropy of accountability and human relationships. A philanthropy of place. Let us call this alternative vision “philanthrolocalism.”

Philanthrolocalism is a philosophy of giving that prioritizes the use of resources to help one’s own place, including one’s neighbors, community members, churches, businesses, cultural institutions, civic associations, and ecology. Philanthrolocalists seek to deploy resources to promote human flourishing and civic life in their own local communities. That—not changing the world via systemic management—is their primary concern. If philanthrolocalism sounds as if it is rooted in the idea of old-fashioned charity, that is no accident.

The first and most basic principle of philanthrolocalism is the common insight that we are not our own. Affirmed in the twentieth century by the Canadian philosopher George Parkin Grant, this insight finds perennial expression in our philosophical heritage and in every one of the world’s great religious and wisdom traditions. It means that every one of us owes, in part, our achievements, successes, prosperity, even our very being to others. Most of us intuit this, which is why our natural response to success includes an expression of gratitude to those who helped make it possible.