[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[All pictures courtesy L.Q. Summer 2015]
What a great issue. This is exactly what Lapham’s Quarterly is all about. It is food and feast for thought. I’m confident that Man (and Woman) has always found time to think but I am smitten with the luxury of reading selections on a theme from several thousand years of other people’s thinking.
For the uninitiated L.Q. describes itself much better than I:
“Lapham’s Quarterly is a journal of literature and history, edited by Lewis Lapham. Four times a year we collect fiction, non-fiction, poems, and essays from over four thousand years of recorded time, all gathered around a single theme.”
The origins and definitions of philanthropy are well-covered throughout the issue. ‘Generous giving’ works for me. Stingy giving is disparagingly covered also. Don’t forget philanthropic foundations. This is timely with the Clinton Foundation in the news as I write.
Mr. Lapham’s preamble/introduction is titled Pennies From Heaven. Though never lacking in substance he is frequently grandiloquent to the point of loquacious soliloquy. His first paragraph is this issue’s case in point which I won’t bother to reproduce here. It is available online if you don’t have the issue. I am unimpressed, even if his literacy runs circles around me.
Getting past that he references the many nonprofit organizations (1.5 million) that manage vast sums of money ($4.8 trillion in assets). Is it generosity? Is it a write-off on taxes; a down payment on entrance to Heaven? He teases the thoughts that are expanded throughout. Wealthy Greeks and Romans shared their largess as a point of honor. Did Christianity invent the poor?
“Neither Pericles nor Caesar recognized a human life form classified simply as “the poor.” The grouping suited the political ambition of the Christian church rising on the ruins of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the congregations of the faithful drawn from the vast throng of have-nots littering the shores of the Mediterranean and bound together in a commonwealth of suffering.” (p. 16) Food for thought.
Then he notes Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense and The Rights of Man. Am I being callous when I question Paine’s statement “”The strength of government and the happiness of the governed” is the freedom of the common people to “mutually and naturally support each other.”” (p. 17) Is philanthropy a voluntary choice of an individual or a communal duty of a collective of people? Hmm. I’m thinking. (Don’t get me started on income inequality or I will scream. There is no pie. A rich person is not depriving me of my share because he has more than me.)
Even Lapham states: “A democratic society places a premium on equality; a capitalist economy does not.” (p. 23) It does seems like a race to level the proverbial playing field to the lowest common denominator. I’ll have to think about that too.
I thought it was one of the better preambles. Read it carefully.
Next I had to skip straight to the extract from Andrew Carnegie’s The Gospel of Wealth (p. 88). The 19th century industrial giants have always fascinated me. Were they cruel, cheating taskmasters or smart businessmen who singlehandedly lifted the advancement of the entire country?
Carnegie believed that wealthy men should give away large portions of their money ‘for the greater good’ while they are alive. He gave away between 300 and 500 million dollars and contributed more than 2500 libraries. He thought it was better to give big works that the public could use rather than increase wages by a piddling sum that might be frittered away. “…the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor, entrusted for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself.” (p. 92)
Did a laborer in his steel mills work 12 to 14 hour days or more and then go home, and say ‘I think I’ll go to the Carnegie Library and read for awhile’? Might the laborer rather have had a small wage raise and the freedom to choose how he was going to spend it? I also found it curious that in ‘The Gospel’ Carnegie referred to ‘the race’ or ‘our race’ at least eight times. Food for thought.
I saw that Ralph Waldo Emerson has an extract from his essay Self-Reliance (p. 50), said essay brought to my attention many years ago by a good friend. I skipped to that after Carnegie. I applaud Emerson’s objection to feeling obligated to be charitable:
“Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies; — though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold. (p. 50)
Numerous extracts in the first section (The Ask) question the wisdom of being philanthropic in a communal sense. Are we individuals or a collective? A LOT of food for thought here.
The other two sections of Voices In Time are The Gift and The Get. The Ask, The Gift, The Get.
As usual there are too many fine extracts to mention. I thought the pieces by Ralph Ellison and John Dos Passos were particularly beautifully written.
Side-quotes are scattered throughout like Burma Shave signs on the old highways. A few:
“I think the best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.” –Benjamin Franklin, 1766 (p. 14)
“If you pickup a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” –Mark Twain, 1894 (p. 17)
“I’ve been learning how to give. It’s something you have to keep working on, because people like their money the way they do their homes and their dogs.” –Ted Turner, 1997 (p. 102)
“Too many people have decided to do without generosity in order to practice charity.” –Albert Camus, 1956 (p. 145)
Did I mention this is a great issue? (Yes I did.) Read it. Make notes in the margins. (There may be a quiz!) Read it again.
[The by-now-standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. White-covered with very high quality paper throughout, richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, exactly 221 pages up to the Sources index at the back.
2. For more details see my previous-posts link or my Goodreads site for earlier reviews of the 25 issues I’ve read so far. I have 6 archive issues remaining to have read them all once.]