Ideas & Insights / All Perspectives / Ideas & Insights

Democracy & Philanthropy: The American Experiment

One of the big debates in the United States today is the uncomfortable role of money in politics, and the concern that it undermines democracy. It’s a question that echoes in many countries around the world.

One hundred years ago, that same question was debated heatedly when John D. Rockefeller proposed devoting a large portion of his wealth to enabling social change and progress. In 1913, when The Rockefeller Foundation was founded, many argued that Rockefeller wealth seemed poised to undermine the democratic character of American institutions. Under the shadow of public concern, the trustees of The Rockefeller Foundation launched programs to strengthen American political institutions, promote equal opportunity in a plural society, and reinforce a shared sense of national identity.

Today, The Rockefeller Foundation releases the fourth book in its Centennial publications series that will discuss this very question. Entitled, Democracy & Philanthropy: The Rockefeller Foundation and the American Experiment, it vividly portrays how the relationship between democracy and philanthropy has been constantly tested over the last century, and offers insights and anecdotes to guide the next generation of American philanthropists on these issues.

The book also includes a beautifully-written foreword by the Honorable Sandra Day O’Connor, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice and former Rockefeller Foundation Board Member. According to Justice O’Connor, “Over a hundred years, the work of The Rockefeller Foundation in the United States demonstrates that philanthropy does not threaten our democracy. It is in fact a safeguard of our freedom. In the diversity of philanthropic institutions in the United States, we find countless community leaders and social entrepreneurs testing new ideas to address the most challenging issues facing our society today.”

This book is one of six that the Foundation is releasing during this, our centennial year. We have already released Beyond Charity, which focuses on the Foundation’s role in shaping modern philanthropy; Food & Prosperity, discussing the lessons learned from our work in the field of agriculture; and most recentlyInnovative Partners, highlighting our almost century-long relationship with the people and government of Thailand. Still to come are books on lessons learned from our work in the field of health, as well as a book exploring the Foundation’s work in Africa.

Download the publication for your computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Leave a comment