Quotes about philanthropy
We may not agree with all the politics and opinions of the people quoted below, but we do agree that charity only exists because of a lack of justice – and we question, who really benefits from ‘charity’?
The poor are not begging us for charity, they are demanding justice. Human beings should not have to depend upon a rich man’s whim for the right to life.
I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person.
Through their donations and work for voluntary organizations, the charitable rich exert enormous influence in society. As philanthropists, they acquire status within and outside of their class. Although private wealth is the basis of the hegemony of this group, philanthropy is essential to the maintenance and perpetuation of the upper class in the United States. In this sense, nonprofit activities are the nexus of a modern power elite.
The ideological blackmail that has been in place since the original Live Aid concerts in 1985 has insisted that ‘caring individuals’ could end famine directly, without the need for any kind of political solution or systemic reorganization. It is necessary to act straight away, we were told; politics has to be suspended in the name of ethical immediacy. Bono’s Product Red brand wanted to dispense even with the philanthropic intermediary. ‘Philanthropy is like hippy music, holding hands’, Bono proclaimed. ‘Red is more like punk rock, hip hop, this should feel like hard commerce’. The point was not to offer an alternative to capitalism – on the contrary, Product Red’s ‘punk rock’ or ‘hip hop’ character consisted in its ‘realistic’ acceptance that capitalism is the only game in town. No, the aim was only to ensure that some of the proceeds of particular transactions went to good causes. The fantasy being that western consumerism, far from being intrinsically implicated in systemic global inequalities, could itself solve them. All we have to do is buy the right products.
Most large, well-funded NGOs are financed and patronized by aid and development agencies, which are in turn funded by Western governments, the World Bank, the United Nations and some multinational corporations. Though they may not be the very same agencies, they are certainly part of the same loose political formation that oversees the neoliberal project and demands the slash in government spending in the first place. NGOs give the impression that they are filling the vacuum created by a retreating state. And they are, but in a materially inconsequential way. Their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right.
Our charity system is also fundamentally regressive, and works in favor of the institutions of the elite.
As a young woman, I dreamed of changing the world. In my twenties, I went to Africa to try and save the continent, only to learn that Africans neither wanted nor needed saving. Indeed, when I was there, I saw some of the worst that good intentions, traditional charity, and aid can produce…
If I had not grown up in Nigeria – and if all I knew of Africa were of popular images – I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals and incomprehensible people fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and aids – unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind white foreigner.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Charity …is the opium of the privileged; from the good citizen who habitually drops ten kobo from his loose change and from a safe height above the bowl of the leper outside the supermarket; to the group of good citizens who donate water so that some Lazarus in the slums can have a syringe boiled clean as a whistle for his jab and his sores dressed more hygienically than the rest of him; to the band Aid stars that lit up so dramatically the dark Christmas skies of Ethiopia. While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.
When we want to help the poor, we usually offer them charity. Most often we use charity to avoid recognizing the problem and finding the solution for it. Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility. But charity is no solution to poverty. Charity only perpetuates poverty by taking the initiative away from the poor. Charity allows us to go ahead with our own lives without worrying about the lives of the poor. Charity appeases our consciences.
A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.
Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty.
Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.
Martin Luther King
Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.
We have previously suggested that philanthropy combines genuine pity with the display of power and that the latter element explains why the powerful are more inclined to be generous than to grant social justice.
As water collected in a tank gets pure by filtration, so accumulated wealth is preserved by being employed in charity.
When our cup runs over, we let others drink the drops that fall, but not a drop from within the rim, and call it charity; when the crumbs are swept from our table, we think it generous to let the dogs eat them; as if that were charity which permits others to have what we cannot keep.
Henry Ward Beecher
Charity degrades those who receive it and hardens those who dispense it.
Amantine Lucile Dupin aka George Sand
It is more socially injurious for the millionaire to spend his surplus wealth in charity than in luxury. For by spending it on luxury, he chiefly injures himself and his immediate circle, but by spending it in charity he inflicts a graver injury upon society. For every act of charity, applied to heal suffering arising from defective arrangements of society, serves to weaken the personal springs of social reform, alike by the ‘miraculous’ relief it brings to the individual ‘case’ that is relieved, and by the softening influence it exercises on the hearts and heads of those who witness it. It substitutes the idea and the desire of individual reform for those of social reform, and so weakens the capacity for collective self-help in society.
John A Hobson
They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive. But this is not a solution. The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.
Charity as ordinarily practised, the charity of endowment, the charity of emotion, the charity which takes the place of justice, creates much of the misery which it relieves, but does not relieve all the misery it creates.
Philanthropy, as far as I can see, is rapidly becoming the recognisable mark of a wicked man. We have often sneered at the superstition and cowardice of the mediaeval barons who thought that giving lands to the Church would wipe out the memory of their raids or robberies; but modern capitalists seem to have exactly the same notion; with this not unimportant addition, that in the case of the capitalists the memory of the robberies is really wiped out. This, after all, seems to be the chief difference between the monks who took land and gave pardons and the charity organisers who take money and give praise: the difference is that the monks wrote down in their books and chronicles, “Received three hundred acres from a bad baron”: whereas the modern experts and editors record the three hundred acres and call him a good baron. Of late, however, I am happy to say, some candid voices have been heard about the corruption and cruelty of the men who are the pillars of public benevolence; and if such voices have been raised, you may be sure that they have been severely rebuked.
GK Chesteron (1909)
Having leveled my palace, don’t erect a hovel and complacently admire your own charity in giving me that for a home.
It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world.
Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.