Nov 10, 2020
In this episode we talk to Paul Vallely, author of
Philanthropy: From Aristotle to Zuckerberg about his new
book and what we can learn from history that can help inform our
understanding of modern philanthropy and our thinking about where
it should go in the future. Including:
- What value does a historical perspective bring?
- Would people working in philanthropy/civil society would
benefit from more historical perspective?
- What is the fundamental distinction between the Greco-Roman
tradition of philanthropy and that which emerged from the Abrahamic
religions, and why it is still important in understanding
- What does history tell us about the relationship between
charity and justice: i.e. do they exist in opposition, or is
charity a means of delivering justice? How is this debate is
reflected in the history of philanthropy, and why does it remain
- How have views on the nature of poverty shaped philanthropy?
I.e. Is poverty seen as a moral failing on the part of the
individual, or a structural flaw in society? Are poverty &
inequality “problems to be solved” or merely part of the natural
order that accords some wealth and some poverty- and what does this
mean for the role of charity? As we see controversy once again
about “Victorian attitudes” towards the “deserving and undeserving
poor”, are these issues that we need to grapple with in thinking
- What can we learn from history about the question of “tainted
donations”, and the extent to which the way in which wealth has
been created determines the legitimacy of trying to do good through
giving it away?
- What is the distinction the book draws between “strategic”
& “reciprocal” philanthropy?
- It is clearly almost impossible to understand the history of
philanthropy without understanding some theology, as religion and
charity were inextricably entwined for a long time. But what role
does religion play in driving and shaping modern philanthropy?
- The freedom that philanthropy and civil society have to run
counter to the status quo or the policies and public opinion of a
particular time has been a key part of driving historic social
change. How do we preserve this freedom, whilst also answering
concerns that unchecked philanthropic power could end up being
- What is the core role of philanthropy within society which
differentiates it from either state or market provision?
- The book speaks approvingly of celebrity activists (making the
point that they are in some ways following the template set by the
original “philanthropist” John Howard). What role can this kind of
philanthropy play? Why is it often viewed somewhat cynically?