American Foundations and the Politics of Philanthropy

Book review by Houman Barekat 

An interesting worth reading book review on politics and philanthropy. 

In this well-researched study, Inderjeet Parmar, a Professor of Government at Manchester University, examines the rise of the philanthropic foundations as a political force, first within the United States and later, after World War II, as an unofficial wing of the US foreign policy establishment. Though they are dwarfed today by the dizzying wealth of the Gates Foundation, America’s original ‘big three’ foundations – Ford, Carnegie & Rockefeller – played a leading role in building and sustaining US global leadership in the last century.  While their mission statements invariably made reference to achieving economic betterment for the ‘general population’ or ‘the people’, the foundations largely failed in their stated aims of eradicating poverty and improving living standards for the poor, a failure they readily admitted. As the century wore on, their humanitarian goals were gradually marginalized in favor of a utilitarian, technocratic managerialism. National economic development – rather than social ‘uplift’ as such – was their overriding goal; the distinction is subtle but important, illuminating the broader distinction between a ‘nation’ and its ‘people’. This is, therefore, essentially a book about the relationship between state and society, and about how power works within that relationship.

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