May 5, 2004
by Bradley Center
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A complete, edited transcript is now available of the Bradley Center's May 5, 2004 event, entitled
- For a transcript of the discussion only, click here (PDF format, 34 pages, 308 KB).
- For the discussion transcript plus the essay by Kenneth Prewitt that served as the basis for the discussion, click here (PDF format, 46 pages, 413 KB)
On May 5, 2004, the Bradley Center held a small roundtable discussion with Columbia University’s Kenneth Prewitt on a question too seldom considered, namely the place and purpose of philanthropy in a modern liberal democracy. Joining the Bradley Center were fourteen of the most engaging minds on those two subjects—philanthropy and modern liberal democracy. Kenneth Prewitt’s essay “The Foundation and the Liberal Society,” was required reading and served as a basis for the discussion. Veteran University of Chicago senior lecturer and Hudson Institute senior fellow Amy Kass served as the discussion's moderator. A few weeks later, Prewitt presented the essay at a conference in Paris organized by the Social Science Research Council and la Fondation Mattei Dogan.
A summary of the May 5 discussion can be found below.
Alan Abramson, director, Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy Program, The Aspen Institute
Montgomery Brown, vice president, Publications, American Enterprise Institute
James W. Ceaser, professor of government and foreign affairs, University of Virginia
Kimberly Dennis, executive director, D & D Foundation
Charles Halpern, president emeritus, Nathan Cummings Foundation; visiting scholar, University of California School of Law, Berkeley
David Hammack, Hiram C. Haydn Professor of History, Case Western Reserve University
Amy A. Kass, senior fellow, Hudson Institute
Elizabeth Lynn, director, Project on Civic Reflection, Valparaiso University
Wilfred McClay, SunTrust Bank Chair of Excellence in Humanities, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Paul Pribbenow, president, Rockford College
David Reingold, director of Research & Policy Development, Corporation for National and Community Service
William A. Schambra, director, Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal; senior fellow, Hudson Institute
Joel Schwartz, adjunct senior fellow, Hudson Institute
Krista Shaffer, research assistant, Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, Hudson Institute
David H. Smith, professor emeritus, Indiana University
James Allen Smith, Waldemar A. Nielsen Visiting Professor of Philanthropy, Georgetown University
Summary of the Discussion
“The Foundation and the Liberal Society” considers and then dismisses as inadequate five common rationales for the existence of foundations in the liberal society. In their place, Prewitt put forward this idea: The foundation is “an institution uniquely positioned to represent liberal values… [the] attach[ment of] private wealth to public goods without encroaching on individual freedom.”
The first round of questions to Prewitt during the May 5 discussion explored his interest in larger foundations as those most “uniquely positioned to represent liberal values.” Hudson Institute adjunct senior fellow JOEL SCHWARTZ asked if perpetuity and the lack of “any sort of check on the effectiveness” isn’t the key to what is intriguing and unique about foundations—a formulation that has nothing to do with size. Prewitt agreed. Foundations have the ability to change their missions overnight, if they wish, he replied. “Who else can do that in American society—with money?” Clearly, foundations enjoy great freedom.
Then came questions regarding the five common rationales for the existence of foundations that Prewitt dismissed as inadequate. Are foundations really as ineffective at fulfilling the rationales for their existence as Prewitt suggests? The discussion centered around Prewitt’s fourth rationale, the idea that foundations, limited as they are in resources, bring about desired social change.
ELIZABETH LYNN, director of Valparaiso University’s Project on Civic Reflection, and CHARLES HALPERN, president emeritus of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, pointed out that some foundations do do creative and influential things with their endowments: the Lilly Endowment, the Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Foundation, and the Coors Foundation were cited as examples. But in response to a question from Aspen Institute’s ALAN ABRAMSON about “going to scale,” Prewitt responded that most foundations lack adequate funds to accomplish such ambitious goals. The very first foundations and a few of today’s new foundations (first and foremost, the Gates Foundation) did/do indeed have resources to fund significant change, but most don’t.
Even those large-scale foundations are limited to a certain structure and process by the task of giving itself, Prewitt pointed out later in the discussion. “…[T]here is no way that large sums of money can be distributed without many, many constraints coming into existence,” the University of Virginia’s JAMES CEASER paraphrased. “Right,” Prewitt replied. Perhaps it’s just a matter of getting foundations to take these constraints into account when formulating goals, to keep their “rhetorical presentation of self” in line with the resources they bring to bear on society’s problems, he suggested. Perhaps then, “desired social change” will be an attainable goal, one upon which foundations can base the rationale for their existence.
And yet, what can foundations hope to achieve? posed both Ceaser and Rockford College president PAUL PRIBBENOW. In Pribbenow’s words, “What is the metric that allows us to argue for the idea of foundations as part of a healthy liberal society?” To answer this question, Joel Schwartz argued the necessity of “real empirical analysis” to buttress Prewitt’s theoretical case that foundations use private funds to serve the public good. But the fact remains, as pointed out by several participants beginning with University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s WILFRED MCCLAY, that we must also understand what we mean by the term “public good”? Is there such a thing as public good, or can there only said to be private good projected into the public realm? Here, Prewitt pointed out for clarification his belief that “it is correct to say that foundations do have a responsibility to give in the spirit of the public good.” There is public good, Prewitt added, in that there are things that the market doesn’t provide that the society needs.
As the time set for adjournment neared, Prewitt left participants with a reformulation of his initial question: “Is it important in this society at this time to have institutions that are obligated to spend on the public good, but are outside of the enforcement, regulatory, coercive apparatus of the state?” Moderator Amy Kass also had a question for participants to take with them: “Assuming that foundations do really enact a core tenet of liberal democracy.... can we safely assume that foundations can, or will want to, sustain this liberal value?”
For Further Information
To request further information on this event, the transcript, or the Bradley Center, please contact Hudson Institute at (202) 974-2424 or e-mail Kristen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal aims to explore the usually unexamined intellectual assumptions underlying the grantmaking practices of America’s foundations and provide practical advice and guidance to grantmakers who seek to support smaller, grassroots institutions in the name of civic renewal.
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