'A new tempered spirit to comfort the twenty-first century': individual choices, public policies, and the philanthropic experience in Western Europe
Limoges, Ronald E.
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This essay examines the persistent and penetrating role of philanthropy in the institutional life of Western Europe. Whatever knowledge has been gained in the collective survival of Homo sapiens, our species derives its authority over history from a purpose more significant than simply the survival of the fittest or the maximization of individual utilities. Our shared history expresses surprisingly consistent levels of organized compassion. Altruism and philanthropy, born of individual need, persist in collectivities. This is a study of public policy outcomes at those interstices where religious, political, and economic forces have taken shape, however transient, as human institutions or collectivities. The analysis yields a more comprehensive understanding of how public policy is made, particularly the unique comparative context of the new European Union. The individual and social choices made within this continuing process tell us a great deal about both the philanthropic impulse and the major institutions which comprise European life at the end of the twentieth century. The description of each important institutional intersection—religion and philanthropy in France, politics and philanthropy in Germany, and economics and philanthropy in England—is framed within the institution of social welfare. The modern European welfare system illustrates the acceptance of public obligations and commitments by the collective institutions of governance has altered over the course of time. Such adjustments, it seems, culminate in our own time in a fuller sense of collective and public responsibility for relationships. The role of altruism, charity, and philanthropy in that institutional shift—from a private to a public conscience—is at the heart of this essay. The "new tempered spirit" which can come to "comfort" the next century may be found in an unexpected intimacy between near and distant obligations as well as in the startling connectedness between ourselves as private individuals and ourselves as an increasingly diminutive portion of national and transnational institutions. The very limited human and institutional possibilities within what we now know as the modern nation-state may well come to an end with this century. The possibilities for new forms of both obligation and commitment to the endless variety of human needs and aspirations are unlimited. In much the same manner that the dissolution of the medieval life of old Europe permitted the discovery and construction of a new spirit of individual human potential, the dissolution of the political boundaries of contemporary Europe should permit the discovery and construction of a new spirit of human interdependence.
- Doctoral Dissertations