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chapter 1 American Generosity: Philanthropy in Henry James One of the challenges in studying philanthropy is that the word is used to encompass so many varied forms of voluntary aid. Robert Gross’s historical definition, which I rely on throughout this book, defines philanthropy historically as an ‘‘innovation of the market revolution’s joint stock company of the seventeenth century’’ (37) and thus as those practices that seek ‘‘to apply reason to the solution of social ills and needs’’ through ‘‘abstract and institutional forms’’ (31). However, when Gross tries to account for the different forms such aid takes, clear problems emerge. He separates modern philanthropy from charity, saying that while charity is a premodern phenomenon, it continues in modernity. In contrast to philanthropy , Gross argues, charity is linked to religious strictures and is characterized by face-to-face interaction (44–45). In the eighteenth century, charity cannot be fully distinguished from philanthropy; however, a noticeable divide between the two forms of aid emerges in the nineteenth century and becomes acute by the early twentieth century. Gross represents this divide between charity and philanthropy figuratively as that between Jane Addams and Andrew Carnegie, arguing for a reconciliation of the two forms of voluntary aid. Gross’s distinction between charity and philanthropy is hardly definitive, and it is certainly problematic in regard to the two central figures he uses to represent it in the modern period.1 On the one hand, and despite Addams’s rhetoric of personal, sympathetic interaction, the settlement house movement had carefully reasoned commitments and was a significant transatlantic institutional phenomenon with close connections to other institutions, including the university. On the other hand, and despite Carnegie’s rhetoric 40 Chapter 1 of impersonal managerial expertise, he not only handed out money directly to individuals he deemed worthy, but also engaged in highly ‘‘whim[sical]’’ (Zunz, 23) solutions to social ills uncoupled from any attempt at rationalization . Nonetheless, if the differences between Addams and Carnegie cannot be summarized as those between charity and philanthropy (as Gross defines them)—between religiously or ethically driven, personal involvement and rational, impersonal managerial expertise—there clearly are distinctions to be made between different kinds of aid in modernity. Part of the reason that even so careful a historian as Gross creates a problematic divide between charity and philanthropy is that he relies on what in the Introduction I called the de Tocquevillean origins myth of philanthropy . Gross ends up describing charity and philanthropy as different expressions of the same American spirit. He begins his essay this way: ‘‘Americans like to think of themselves as a generous people. We take pride in the multitude of benevolent groups constantly at work to help the needy and uplift society, both at home and abroad. Such generosity, freely given by ordinary individuals, is commonly deemed the natural expression of democratic life’’ (29). While others have usefully challenged this origins myth in terms of the uniqueness of American generosity, I would suggest that we also need to trouble this myth in terms of the ways it prevents us from seeing the very different philosophies and institutional forms that philanthropy in and of itself has taken in modernity. In this chapter, I focus on two kinds of philanthropy, which can be figuratively embodied by Addams and Carnegie. Indeed, both philanthropists sought ‘‘to apply reason to the solution of social ills and needs’’ through ‘‘abstract and institutional forms’’ (31); however, two very different kinds of reasoning about institutions are evident in their work, and as a result, there are two different systematic approaches to aid and reform. Thus, while founded by elites, Hull-House relied on and fostered the growth of mutual aid associations, unions, and cooperatives. In other words, philosophically (if not always in practice or effect), Hull-House’s philanthropy worked to support the development of horizontal forms of voluntary aid. By contrast, Carnegie advocated solutions developed by a managerial elite. In other words, philosophically (if not always in practice or effect), Carnegie embraced a vertical or ‘‘top-down’’ form of organized philanthropy, as Judith Sealander describes it.2 Neither Addams’s nor Carnegie ’s philanthropy should be confused with grassroots activism. Nonetheless , philanthropy created by elites which advocates for horizontal social Philanthropy in James 41 solutions, and that which insists on vertical ones, can have different relations to grassroots activism and quite different politics. Certainly Addams’s and Carnegie’s philanthropy had different relations and politics. This distinction between horizontal and vertical philanthropy is central to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812290035
Related ISBN
9780812246308
MARC Record
OCLC
884615827
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2014-08-16
Language
English
Open Access
No
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