Ten years ago this month, on September 12, 2012, the Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal hosted a panel discussion on “What Is Conservative Philanthropy?”
The participants were James Piereson, president of the William E. Simon Foundation; Steven Teles of Johns Hopkins University; Lenore Ealy, editor of Conversations on Philanthropy; and Gara LaMarche, who had been vice president of the Open Society Institute and president of The Atlantic Philanthropies, then went on to become president of the Democracy Alliance in 2013. Hudson’s William A. Schambra, now co-editor of The Giving Review, moderated.
Conservatism and conservative philanthropy, Piereson said during the discussion in ’12, “grew “from a movement generally at the margins of political debate to one that has fought its way into the political mainstream. Having done so, it has rendered the mainstream more contentious and unstable.”
“Conservatives have entered into a period in which they are somewhat less optimistic about and morally obligated to claim that they can better vindicate liberal ends,” Teles said at the 2012 event.
[T]hey no longer have to engage in fancy feinting and attacking maneuvers of the kind that neoconservatives did, but can actually destroy it. Destroy liberalism. I think this explains why many conservative donors have lost interest in the larger longer battle of ideas and are putting more of their money, as the Kochs have, in hardball political organizing.
Ealy said she had “two critical points to make. First of all, conservatism is not a coherent body of ideas.” Second, “despite its belief in its rectitude, conservative movement philanthropy has neither adequately defined nor necessarily improved American philanthropy as a whole.”
And at the end of his remarks, LaMarche said,
one of the things that I most appreciate about the Bradley Center in general, but also particularly Lenore’s and Jim’s comments today, is that there is a candor and a self-criticism that I don’t see too often in philanthropy on the whole and that I don’t see that often on my side of the spectrum. That is both refreshing, but also the only way that you’ll have an honest conversation; taking a step back and looking at what you’re doing with some candor and some honesty is the only way obviously to get to a better place.
Audio, video, and a transcript of the entire discussion all remain available online.
A lot has happened in the decade that has passed since the Bradley Center panel in 2012, including much that requires clarification or redefinition of what conservatism itself means. And a lot likely will happen in the coming years—within, and to, both conservatism and philanthropy, some of which was insightfully presaged in “What is Conservative Philanthropy?” The question, while asked in the past, has not passed.
This article originally appeared in the Giving Review on September 8, 2022.