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The Ideology of Philanthropy

The Ideology of Philanthropy

by Michael Barker / June 12th, 2010

Massive not-for-profit corporations, like the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations, that were created by the world’s leading capitalists have “gone to great lengths to rationalize the contradiction between democratic principles and elite dominance.”1 Seen through the eyes of their elitist foundation executives, democracy only functions when it is ran by the few for the many. Education thus takes a key place in the successful promotion of elite governance both on domestic and international planes of action; and although not well known, Edward Berman, professor emeritus of the University of Louisville, has written an important book that examines just this subject. By reviewing Berman’s study The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy: The Ideology of Philanthropy (State University of New York Press, 1983), this article aims to publicize his vitally important, though oft neglected, ideas on the anti-democratic nature of liberal philanthropy.

While the history of elite governance is long and troublesome, in Berman’s book we are invited to study the honing of such management strategies from the early twentieth century onwards. Today of course, the Gates Foundation is the most financially powerful philanthropic body in the world (distributing $3 billion in grants last year), but until their relatively late arrival on the scene, the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations (the “big three”) had dominated the philanthropic arena. Indeed, exporting the ideology of the capitalist state has been a key function of these foundations, a care of duty that fell securely on their shoulders as they “represented one of the few sources of unencumbered ‘risk’ capital available during the period from 1945 to 1975.”2

As Berman acknowledges, the interest shown by these foundations in creating and financing “various educational configurations both at home and abroad cannot be separated from their attempts to evolve a stable domestic polity and a world order amenable to their interests and the strengthening of international capitalism.” Their simultaneous promotion of elite governance and massive levels of worker exploitation consequently required the forging of a “liberal consensus” among the ruling class and their allied funcationaries, which would actively prempt radical structural alternatives, and legimitate capitalism – by fostering public acquiesence to elite priorities. To sucessfully facilitate the building of this consenus, the creation of right-thinking educational institutions was essential to generate a “worldwide network of elites whose approach to governance and change would be efficient, professional, moderate, incremental, and nonthreatening to the class interests of those who, like Messrs, Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller, had established the foundations.” Far-sighted elites evidently recognized the popularity of alternatives to capitalism, so in turn advocated progressive reforms which attempted to find the “middle ground between the extremes of oligopoly on the one hand and socialism on the other, while encouraging an atmosphere congenial to increased levels of productivity.”3

This is not to say that the individuals who launched foundation “education” programs during the Progressive Era were not seriously concerned with improving the lot of the poor and downtrodden: just that many of these people with “a deep and abiding concern for the plight of the poor” failed to tackle the root cause of injustice, that is, industrial capitalism. Therefore, as many “charity workers refused to recognize the roots of this mass misery, their palliatives focused more on attempts to reform the existing system and to adjust their clients to it, than to search for alternative organizational structures that might result in a more equitable society less destructive of the immigrants’ communities.”4 (For more on the topic of charitable motives, see “The Russell Sage Foundation and the Manufacture of Reform.”)

Many people, even during the Progressive Era, did however challenge the growing power of foundations to define the parameters of legitimate discussion, but the foundation worlds success in fending off such attacks has meant that today far fewer people are aware of the co-optive nature of liberal philanthropy. This is in large part because “[v]iewpoints and perspectives that support the position of the dominant class are funded by the foundations, while those that are seen to threaten that position are not.” Books critiquing liberal foundations, like Berman’s, tend not to fit comfortably within a society whose educational structures prioritize capitalist growth imperatives. Consequently the strategic funding of certain causes enables major foundations “to legitimate particular viewpoints while simultaneously devaluing others.”5 At this point it is important to note that the ideological orientation of foundations should not be surprising given their capitalist origins, but the lack of sustained critical inquiry from progressive activists is certainly far more alarming. Either way:

The foundations’ influence in foreign-policy determination and in the extension of their worldview into the domestic polity – and beyond – derives from several interrelated factors: (1) their possession of significant amounts of capital, which can be allocated as their self-perpetuating directors deem appropriate; (2) their ability to allocate this capital to certain individuals and groups strategically located in the cultural apparatus (universities, the arts sector, the media, authors, and publishers), who in turn produce works frequently (but not always) supportive of the worldview of the foundations themselves, thereby providing an important source of legitimation for their perspective; (3) their links to and incorporation into the decision-making stratum of the capitalist state; and (4) their shared view that the development of the domestic polity and polities abroad can best be advanced through the aegis of the world capitalist system, dominated by the United States. (p.38)

Berman suggests that one of the key projects supported by the major foundations to evolve a consensus for US foreign policy elites was the War-Peace Studies Project, which ran between 1939 and 1945, and whose “conclusions… present in outline form the basics of United States foreign policy after World War II.” Two “major recommendations” from this project were integral to the propagation of US global hegemony: the first “involved American financial support for and control of” the World Bank (which along with the International Monetary Fund “grew from seeds planted in War-Peace Studies Project recommendation P-1323 of July 1941”); and the second foresaw the need for the development of bilateral assistance agreements, currently operationalized by the US Agency for International Development.6 In this regard, Berman writes that:

Foundation officers have always recognized the importance of [foreign] markets and mineral resources for the continued health of the United States and the world capitalist economy, and… they designed their overseas programs with this in mind. The cornerstone of these overseas activities was the development of educational institutions, particularly universities, in those areas that foreign-policy architects determined to be of strategic economic and geopolitical importance to the United States. (p.66)

The ideology of liberal imperialism, that is “modernization” theory, was “summed up succinctly” in W. W. Rostow’s book The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge University Press, 1960) – a book which was written “during a ‘reflective year’ away from his academic responsibilities, made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation.” And as Berman observes: “An important aspect of this developmental model emphasized the role of the leadership cadres in the new nations.”7 This meant that a new Third World elite had to be developed and courted by the foundation world via the use of educational exchange programs, “whereby students benefiting from their fellowships studied certain subjects at universities whose faculties could be counted on, minimally, to provide the ‘correct’ perspectives.”

Early programs bringing African students to the United States were organized in the 1920s by the Phelps-Stokes Fund and by the Rockefeller philanthropies International Education Board, the latter of which provided funding for bodies like the International Institute at Teachers College, Columbia University. “Such programs provide effective, but generally unrecognized, mechanisms to further the foundations’ cultural hegemony”; thereby “complement[ing] the cruder and more overt forms of economic and military imperialism that are so easily identifiable.”8

Berman points out that subsequent contributions to this important side of the cultural cold war like the Congress for Cultural Freedom included the Ford Foundation’s Foreign Student Leadership Program, which was initiated in 1955 and “designated the National Student Association [which already “worked closely with the CIA”] as the agency responsible for the selection of ‘responsible’ foreign student leaders to participate.”9 Yet here it is important to emphasize that:

There was no apparent coercion involved in these fellowship programs. The foundations have not overtly manipulated potential fellowship recipients. Such blatant methods are unnecessary because of the understanding on the part of fellowship aspirants that their identification with certain methodological approaches or areas of investigation or their demonstration of certain behaviors will serve to stigmatize them as ‘irresponsible’ among the funding agencies, thereby eliminating any possibility of receiving a grant. (p.95)

As I have demonstrated previously, foundations also played a major role in shaping academic research agendas in the United States (and overseas). Berman, for instance, explains how: “The Ford Foundation almost singlehandedly established the major areas-studies programs in American universities.” Likewise, important more general research centers supported by foundations during the 1950s and 1960s included MIT’s Center for International Studies (see footnote #7), Harvard’s Center for International Affairs, the Center for Strategic Studies at Georgetown University, the Institute of International Studies at Berkeley, the Stanford University Institute for Communications Research, and the Center for International Studies at Princeton University. In addition, other foundation-backed educational institutions that worked closely with universities included the Institute of International Education (which “was established in 1919 with a grant from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace”), the African-American Institute (which was founded in 1953 with most of its funding during its early years coming from the CIA), and Education and World Affairs (which was founded in 1961 with $2 million from the Ford Foundation and $0.5 million from the Carnegie Corporation). In 1971, Education and World Affairs “was absorbed into yet another foundation-created organization, the International Council for Educational Development, [a group] whose key officers were former Carnegie vice-president James Perkins and former Ford officer Philip Coombs.”10

By way of supplementing and extending the influence of educational exchange programs foundations quickly moved on to provide direct support for “trusted” Third-World intellectuals, “enabling research to be conducted in Third-World countries on socially and/or politically sensitive topics that United States Policy makers considered important.” In some instances researchers worked based in the US, but more often than not, the foundations extended their philanthropic reach to the Third-World countries themselves by financing local research centers.11 Research findings generated by such regional research networks were then used to better manage those in Third-World periphery states for the benefit of the imperial home state, or metropolitan center.

These networks serve to encourage the production and dissemination of ideas and data deemed important by universities and agencies in the metropolitan centers. At the same time, this arrangement helps to deflect Third-World researchers from concerns that these same agencies are less anxious to have investigated. This is a conscious foundation policy. As [Robert] Arnove notes: ‘[f]oundation support prevents Third-World activists from coping with their domestic problems in their own terms and addressing them with a level of resources consonant with their level of development. Foundation-induced reform efforts, then, tend to divert Third-World nations from more realistic, and perhaps revolutionary, efforts at social change.’ The foundations are as effective in limiting the production of certain kinds of knowledge as they are in disseminating ideas that they consider important.

An important factor in the extension of one group’s hegemony is its ability to encourage intellectuals to investigate certain problems, those which are ‘important,’ while ignoring or devaluing others. Once the selection process assumes an autonomy of its own, the direct presence of the dominant group – the foundations in this instance – decreases while its hegemony increases accordingly. (p.174)

Despite the evident success that foundations have had in shaping ideology in the twentieth century their power is “not monolithic” and they “do allow differing points of view to be expressed, although these never or only infrequently form the basis for policy.” Indeed, most of their power is simply derived from the fact that their hegemony remains unchallenged, even from anti-capitalist activists. Yet with the increasing availability of the internet it is now much easier to break the ideological clout of foundations, and while in the past many criticisms of foundations have been rendered inaccessible to most people, this is no longer the case.

Many people are already familiar with the historical role fulfilled by conservative foundations in driving the neoliberal revolution, and so now is a good time for activists to more thoroughly scrutunize the insidious influence of liberal foundations. This however is easier said than done as many of the organizations that regularly challenge the legitimacy of for-profit corporate power are in fact funded by foundations, and many such groups would actually cease to operate without foundation support. This problematic state of affairs has led some people to describe the domination of the non-profit sector by not-for-profit corporations as the non-profit industrial complex. Yet in spite of these serious obstacles it is vital that concerned citizens break through the humanitarian rhetoric shielding the foundation world from valid criticism, because if their motives are “repeatedly questioned by those for whom these were ostensibly designed… the influence of these institutions could be seriously challenged.”12 As Berman concludes:

The reproduction of a particular kind of cultural capital has historically been the primary activity of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations. There now exists the ironic possibility that some recipients of that cultural capital will utilize part of their capital (in the form of their education and training) to examine in greater detail the foundations’ programs. Such investigations might reveal contradictions between the foundations’ public rhetoric and their institutional activities, thereby presenting a challenge to their continuing cultural hegemony. The foundations’ liberalism, as well as their hopes for continued legitimacy, effectively preclude them from trying to prevent this examination through overt censorship, although they can of course place numerous obstacles in the paths of would-be investigators. It is to state the obvious to say that the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations are powerful institutions. At the same time, we need to understand that they are not omnipotent, nor is their continuing influence as purveyors of capitalist hegemony assured or unassailable. (pp.178-9)

Edward Berman, The Ideology of Philanthropy, p.6. [↩]
Berman, p.38. [↩]
Berman, p.16, p.15, p.16. [↩]
Berman, p.19. [↩]
Berman, p.30. “In a system of state capitalism, for example, where institutions like the foundations are linked to the state, it is fanciful to deny that the foundations enjoy a distinct advantage in their attempts to impose their ideological and cultural hegemony over, say, the American working class, which enjoys very little state support because of its traditional confrontational position vis-a-vis capital.” (p.29) [↩]
Berman, p.43, p.50, p.51. [↩]
Berman, p.67. Rostow had developed the ideas developed in this book, during his tenure at MIT’s Center for International Studies (CENIS) – a research center that was backed by the CIA and the Ford Foundation during the 1950s (Max Millikan resigned from the CIA in 1952 to direct CENIS’s research).
Before becoming a revolutionary writer, Gunder Frank noted: “In 1958 I spent three months as visiting researcher at MIT’s Center for International Studies (CENIS) and met Ben Higgins, W.W. Rostow and the others. Rostow wrote his Process of Development (1952) and Stages of Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (1962). Although Rostow and company dealt with Keynesian type macro economic and even social problems, they did so to pursue explicitly the neo-classical counter revolutionary, and even counter reformist, cold war ends. The quintessential modernization book, David Lerner’s (1958) Passing of Traditional Society, appeared while I was there. At the same time, Everett Hagen wrote his On the Theory of Social Change (1962), David McClelland his Achieving Society (1961), and Ithiel de Sola Pool his right libertarian/authoritarian political works.”

During the 1950s and 1960s: “The major foundations regularly supported the work of … structural or technological functionalists, not least because of their shared ideology. Many of the academic ’stars’ of the functionalist persuasion received funding to enable them to apply their perspectives to developing nations as well as to the United States. In this respect the work of such scholars as Edward Schils, Reinhard Bendix, Daniel Lerner, S.N. Eisenstadt, Seymour M. Lipset, and Marion Levy, among others, on developing nations takes on particular significance.” (p.107) Funding grants tended to be channeled via the foundation created Social Science Research Council. “While an occasional ‘radical’ viewpoint (e.g., [Barrington] Moore or Robert Heilbroner’s) might be funded, generally through the Social Science Research Council, there was little chance that his isolated voice could be of consequence as it contested with the more numerous voices of developmental orthodoxy.” Berman, p.120-1. [↩]

Berman, p.93, p.3. [↩]
Berman, p.94. With regard to creating a trustworthy elite of “learned men” for the United States, Berman writes that the Ford Foundations “concern for nurturing an academic elite, which would play the leadership role in the domestic polity, found its best expression in the work of the Ford-created and supported Fund for the Advancement of Education.” (p.72) [↩]
Berman, p.102, p.129, p.131, p.137. For a critical examination of the role of universities and educational exchanges in South Africa, see “Human Rights Watch Brings Neoliberalism To Africa.”
For a detailed examination of the influence of philanthropic foundations on education in Africa, see Kenneth J. King, Pan Africanism and Education: A Study of Race Philanthropy and Education in the Southern States of America and East Africa (Clarendon Press, 1971). [↩]

Berman, p.173. [↩]
Berman, p.178. It is important to note that many radical scholars have been supported by foundations. Yet while radical scholars like Barrington Moore’s views… have received a polite response from academics, the implications of his work have been largely ignored.” (p.76) Thus, while “an occasional ‘radical’ viewpoint (e.g., Moore’s or Robert Heilbroner’s) might be funded, generally through the Social Science Research Council, there was little chance that his isolated voice could be of consequence as it contested with the more numerous voices of developmental orthodoxy. Indeed, it is conceivable that occasional funding of a study contravening the established position was even advantageous for the foundations. The dissenting viewpoint could be used to counter foundation critics who charged that the organizations only subsidized researchers supportive of the foundations’ preconceived positions on particular issues.” (p.77) “Contradictions occasionally surface within the foundations as well. Examples include the funding provided by the Ford Foundation for the avowedly Marxian interpretation of American education authored by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis in 1976, or the Russell Sage Foundation’s 1972 support of three leftist sociologists to study that foundation’s organization and operations. Other examples might include the funding provided for such “radical” researchers on Third-World development as Denis Goulet, the support afforded several left-wing Latin social scientists, or the support and advice given by the Ford Foundation to enable Tanzania to further its program of African socialism.” (p.39) [↩]

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