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Private Virtues, Public Vices

Philanthropy and Democratic Equality

 A thought-provoking challenge to our ideas about philanthropy, marking it as a deeply political activity that allows the wealthy to dictate more than we think.

Philanthropy plays a huge role in supporting the provision of many public goods in contemporary societies. As a result, decisions that affect public outcomes and people’s diverse interests are often dependent on the preferences and judgments of the rich. Political theorist Emma Saunders-Hastings argues that philanthropy is a deeply political activity. She asks readers to look at how the power wielded by philanthropy impacts democracy and deepens political inequality by enabling the wealthy to exercise outsize influence in public life and by putting in place paternalistic relationships between donors and their intended beneficiaries. If philanthropy is to be made compatible with a democratic society of equals, it must be judged not simply on the benefits it brings but on its wider political consequences. Timely and thought-provoking, Private Virtues, Public Vices will challenge readers’ thoughts on what philanthropy is and how it truly affects us.

256 pages | 6 x 9

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


"Ms. Saunders-Hastings, a political scientist at Ohio State University, believes that philanthropy is in tension with democracy—may even be harmful to it. Her critique is worth taking seriously. . ."

Wall Street Journal

“The best philosophical illumination of the tension-ridden relationship between philanthropy and democracy. Better still, in exploring the institutional design of contemporary philanthropy, Saunders-Hastings makes original contributions to democratic theory itself, especially as concerns the relationship between ideal and non-ideal theory and the basis of objections to paternalism.”

Rob Reich, Stanford University

“Philanthropy is a hot topic these days. This crisply and clearly written book reframes the ethical discussion focused on rich people/countries’ debt to those less well-off and recasts practical concerns about effective giving to focus on the politics and power of giving. Private Virtues, Public Vices poses challenging questions in this age of global inequality. Saunders-Hastings couples precise arguments with thoughtfully chosen real-world examples to convey a strong sense of urgency.”

Lisa Jane Disch, University of Michigan

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Donations and Deference
Chapter 2. Equality and Philanthropic Relationships
Chapter 3. Plutocratic Philanthropy
Chapter 4. Philanthropic Paternalism
Chapter 5. Ordinary Donors and Democratic Philanthropy
Chapter 6. International Philanthropy

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