Money

Very awkward to speak politely about money in public, and yet it is so awkwardly at the heart of our culture. Here is Sophocles, in his Antigone. Creon is speaking, ironically misinterpreting the noblest of motives for the basest: "Money! There's nothing in the world so demoralizing as money. Down go your cities, Homes gone, men gone, honest hearts corrupted, Crookedness of all kinds, and all for money."

We also have Timothy from the New Testament: "The love of money is the root of all evil."

Striking a new note, we have Ben Franklin, to an artisan, presumably a Philadelphia artisan: "Remember that time is money."

We have F. Scott Fitzgerald to Ernest Hemingway: "The rich are different from you and me." And Hemingway's reply: "Yes, they have more money."

Money. Central to American society and central to our work. For we also, of course, have Andrew Carnegie, 1889: "The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and the poor in harmonious relationship."

We think of modern philanthropy as an invention by America, brought to life by giants of business during the Gilded Age at the end of the nineteenth century. Arguably, philanthropy is not only by America, but of America, participating along with our society in the inherent tensions and contradictions of the twin ethics by which Americans live. On the one hand, liberty; on the other hand, equality. On the one hand, the right to an entrepreneurial freedom that enables individuals to amass great wealth. On the other, the responsibility to share that wealth for common good in the community.

These two ethics co-exist in great tension and complex contradiction. Neither can take pure form in the presence of the other. The argument I'd like to make is that, inherently and inevitably, philanthropy lives out the tension and the contradiction.

Craig McGarvey, then with The James Irvine Foundation from remarks made on accepting the Robert W. Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking, Council on Foundations, May 2001