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Philanthropy in Democratic SocietiesHistory, Institutions, Values$
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Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli, and Lucy Bernholz

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226335506

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226335780.001.0001

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Contributory or Disruptive: Do New Forms of Philanthropy Erode Democracy?

Contributory or Disruptive: Do New Forms of Philanthropy Erode Democracy?

(p.87) Four Contributory or Disruptive: Do New Forms of Philanthropy Erode Democracy?
Philanthropy in Democratic Societies

Aaron Horvath

Walter W. Powell

University of Chicago Press

Does extensive private philanthropy by the super-rich undermine the democratic processes of state and civil society? In our chapter, we review the history of the relationship between philanthropy, state, and civil society to explore how philanthropists came to be regarded as legitimate providers of public services. We reflect on the implications this shift may have for the practice of democracy. We contend that the modern era has seen philanthropy shift from its contributory role, in which new forms of public goods can be absorbed by the state, toward a more disruptive role, in which philanthropy-backed provisions are alternatives or competitors to those provided by the state. This shift is a product of marked changes in the institutional environment surrounding philanthropy. Among these changes is diminished faith in state bureaucracy to address public needs and expanded faith in entrepreneurialism and markets to solve problems. Thus, the current environment both legitimizes and enables a particular form of philanthropy, which we refer to as disruptive philanthropy. By shaping public conversation about social issues, setting public agendas, and providing public goods in the absence of popular deliberation, disruptive philanthropy runs the risk of eroding democracy.

Keywords:   philanthropy, contributory philanthropy, disruptive philanthropy, Gilded Age, entrepreneurship, third party government, disruption, private provision of public goods, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg

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