The Right Gifts

A new history of conservative philanthropy offers a timely message.

By Daniel J. Flynn

City Journal – 12 December 2008

Funding Fathers: The Unsung Heroes of the Conservative Movement, by Nicole Hoplin and Ron Robinson (Regnery, 248 pp., $27.95)

Why did the late Paul Newman’s philanthropy get better press than Richard Mellon Scaife’s? Because liberal philanthropists are altruists, while conservative ones are shadowy puppeteers manipulating strings for their own self-interest. At least that’s what you might think if you compared the media’s leperlike treatment of Pittsburgh billionaire Scaife (who has bankrolled the likes of the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation, and The American Spectator, among other institutions), with the glowing portraits of Newman, Ted Turner, Bill and Melinda Gates, and even George Soros. “A damaging blow is dealt by the media when other conservatives considering a donation witness how Scaife and others are treated,” Nicole Hoplin and Ron Robinson write in Funding Fathers: The Unsung Heroes of the Conservative Movement. “They are left wondering why they would take a chance in investing in a conservative cause.”

That “conservative philanthropy” strikes liberal ears as an oxymoron is one reason why a book on the subject has only now appeared. Another reason is conservatives’ own seeming distaste for the subject. Conservative intellectuals chronicling their movement’s past tend to concentrate on other conservative intellectuals, not funding. The definitive work on the conservative movement is George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, while another, John East’s The American Conservative Movement, boasts chapters on professors Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Frank Meyer, Willmoore Kendell, Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, and Ludwig von Mises. This historiography is enough to make an uninformed reader believe that academia was the center of American conservatism. Where are the men of action? And where are the moneymen?

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