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Review: The Tyranny of Generosity

March 11, 2022

Book_cover_Theodore M. Lechterman_The Tyranny of GenerosityFrom discussions about philanthropy’s ties to wealth generation and capitalism to its role in perpetuating systems of racial inequality, many important critiques have recently surfaced about the intervention of philanthropic giving in, and its impact on, society. In The Tyranny of Generosity: Why Philanthropy Corrupts Our Politics and How We Can Fix It, Theodore M. Lechterman advances a fresh critique of contemporary philanthropy through an exploration of how it supports, or hinders, the value of democracy. A research fellow at the Institute for Ethics in AI at the University of Oxford, Lechterman draws on political philosophy to thoroughly examine what democracy demands from philanthropic giving and the policies that structure it. The book’s conclusion is that philanthropy and democracy are perhaps intertwined, to the point that the democratic ideal cannot exist without philanthropy, but we must all work to shift philanthropic practice and the laws that shape it so that they support that ideal.

The book’s introductory case study of the Bezos Day One Fund—a $2 billion commitment to address homelessness and preschool education in the United States—is used to showcase how such announcements of mega-philanthropy actually “colonize what are essentially democratic responsibilities.” As the book goes on to show, democracy ensures that goods like affordable housing and education are governed collectively, but donor behavior like that of Bezos undermines the core commitments of a democratic society—“in which people are supposed to determine their common affairs together, on equal terms.”...

Read the full review by Sarina Dayal, research specialist at Candid.

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