The Magic of Philanthropy

With all life on Planet Earth in the process of being consumed by capitalism, the literal belief in otherworldly magic is something that concerned citizens should be very worried about.

Curtis White rightly concludes that plutocratic philanthropoids are primarily in the business of “risk management.” Indeed, the institutionalized tax evasion that enables beneficent elites to replenish their philanthropies provides them with the ideal means of undermining the government’s already limited provision of public welfare, and for “managing and limiting the ambitions” of grassroots activists to boot.

Unfortunately though, White fails to point out the central role that such philanthropic elites have played in nurturing supernatural sensibilities within their environmental grantees: an issue of magical dimensions that will be explored in this essay by scrutinizing the philanthropic communities ties to the original commissioning (and then decommissioning) source for his article, Orion Magazine.

Orion has long been a favorite fixture for environmentalists of a deep-ecological bent, which makes it all the more astonishing that so many capitalists support this crusading magazine — a particularly notable one being Google. Likewise for a magazine that regularly publishes the work of anarcho-primitivist Derrick Jensen (Jensen prefers the term anarcho-indigenist) — an individual who forthrightly advocates the necessity of violent action to bring an end to capitalism and modern civilization — it is ironic that they benefit from a philanthropic trust derived from the wealth of the the most infamous of all robber barons, Henry Clay Frick (that is, the plutocrat whom the anarchist Alexander Berkman attempted to assassinate in 1892).

Here the philanthropic body in question is the Helen Clay Frick Foundation (named after Henry’s daughter), and residing on their board of directors is none other than Peter P. Blanchard III (whose mother was the granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick). Peter’s philanthropic location is significant because he is a board member of Orion Magazine.

And as one might expect of a man with such a distinguished ruling-class pedigree, Peter is far from radical. In fact he is highly committed to the type of environmental preservation that is so typical of Big Green (the Sierra Club, et. al.) — having previously served on the boards of both the Maine and New Jersey chapters of The Nature Conservancy, and on the boardroom of the related Trust for Public Land.

Yet philanthropically-speaking the best-endowed member of Orion Magazine’s board of directors is arguably well-heeled art curator Wendy Tarlow Kaplan. I say this because she is married to Martin Kaplan, whose numerous charitable concerns include acting as the Secretary of one of the four major funders of Orion, the Germeshausen Foundation.

Illustrative of Orion Magazine’s philosophical output Martin is a board member of the Thomas Berry Foundation; a foundation that was created in 1998 to spread the late Thomas Berry’s unique brand of deep green eco-mysticism. This brings us back to our friend Derrick Jensen who among radical circles has done more than most to celebrate such magical fashions, devoting a number of recent interviews — including one with Berry — to this endeavor in his book How Shall I Live My Life?: On Liberating The Earth From Civilization (PM Press, 2008).

Recall now that the longstanding and incisive critic of deep ecology, the late Murray Bookchin, was of the opinion that with regards to deep ecology, “no other ‘radical’ ecology philosophy could be more congenial to the ruling elites of our time.” So bearing this in mind it is imminently appropriate that Thomas Berry should have been honored to serve on the Council of Sages of one of Lawrence Rockefeller’s pet projects, the California Institute of Integral Studies; a center which provides an institutional home to the type of unrepentant new-ageism that could only thrive in an era of intellectual irrelevance and post-modernism such as ours. In such a reactionary “academic” atmosphere, Jungian metaphysics are born-again, as mystical (often indigenous) knowledge is welded as a potent weapon to beat back the principles of the Enlightenment promoted by those pesky materialists . . . capitalists and socialists alike.

With all life on Planet Earth in the process of being consumed by capitalism, the literal belief in otherworldly magic is something that concerned citizens should be very worried about, especially those fortunate enough to be detached from the payola of the philanthropic complex.

As a particularly relevant example, Rudolf Steiner’s special brand of Christian mysticism (Anthroposophy) is now very much in vogue in environmental circles, as it has been for some time. For instance, America’s most famous organic farmer, John Peterson — who came to global fame in the award-winning documentary film The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005) — is a vocal disciple of Steiner’s spiritual gardening, biodynamic farming.

Yet despite it’s kooky image, the promotion of such anti-materialistic solutions to the very real material problems facing humanity is dangerous to say the least. And Peter Staudenmaier concludes his exhaustive investigation of the history of Steiner’s spiritual work by warning that the “enduring legacy” of Anthroposophy’s “collusion with ecofascism makes it plainly unacceptable for those working toward a humane and ecological society.”

John Peterson’s farm is often touted as one of the largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms in the United States, but where small is beautiful is normally the order of the day the 310-acre biodynamically run Roxbury Farm certainly rivals its size on the CSA-scene. Roxbury is run by Jody Bolluyt an individual who works closely with the Equity Trust, serving on their board of trustees alongside Orion Magazine’s Managing Director, Madeline Cantwell. Funding for the Equity Trust’s sustainable work comes courtesy of the likes of the Boston Foundation and the RSF Social Finance (formerly the Rudolf Steiner Foundation); the latter of which finance the work of the Orion Society (the publisher of Orion Magazine).

None of this should however be too surprising really as the founding Editor-in-Chief of Orion, George Russell is a practicing Anthroposophist and presently teaches at the Center for Anthroposophy in New York.

Here it is interesting to observe that the founder of Equity Trust, the late Chuck Matthei in-turn helped inspire the creation of the new age hub, the Center for Whole Communities, at the organic run Knoll Farm, in Vermont — a Center which describes itself as “a land-based leadership development organization.” Founded in 2001 by Knoll Farm owners, Helen Whybrow and Peter Forbes (who had prior to this spent eighteen years leading preservation projects for the Trust for Public Land), the Center was legally incorporated three years later with the aid of six other individuals, one of whom is environmental writer John Elder, who is represented on Orion Magazine’s advisory board. The Center was honored to receive their first ever philanthropic grant from the Merck Family Fund whose generosity helped put their venture on the path to financial viability: a philanthropic outlet whose former Executive Director, one might recall from White’s article, was Betsy Taylor (the founder of the Center for a New American Dream).

The wholesome sounding Center for Whole Communities has also received financial support from the Geraldine R[ockefeller] Dodge Foundation, which was set up by our favorite oily plutocrats. Thus in keeping with the Rockefeller families attempts to manage environmental resistance, the Dodge Foundation also helps finance Orion Magazine, and in fact Orion board member David Grant previously served as the head of the foundation (for twelve years no less). While the foundation’s chairman — another Rockefeller heir no less — Christopher J. (Kim) Elliman, works for an assortment of Big Green groups and adds a new age feather to his bow by acting as a trustee of the Garrison Institute: an organization whose web site notes that their work “applies the transformative power of contemplation to today’s pressing social and environmental concerns, helping build a more compassionate, resilient future.” Here one especially notable person sitting alongside Betsy Taylor on the Institutes’ advisory board is the eco-capitalist guru and former Trust for Public Land activist Paul Hawken.

The Hawken-connection is pertinent to this article because although he has authored a number of pioneering books on green capitalism, what is less well-known is the topic of Hawken’s first book, The Magic of Findhorn (Souvenir Press, 1975), which explored the role that angels can fulfill in revising humankind’s destructive relationship with planet earth. This book accomplished this stunning feat by eulogizing the early history of the Scottish-based Findhorn Community, a group which presently describes itself as “a spiritual community, ecovillage and an international centre for holistic education, helping to unfold a new human consciousness and create a positive and sustainable future.”

As mentioned in Curtis White’s article (“The Philanthropic Complex”) Betsy Taylor is the founder of the Center for a New American Dream. But while White uses this group as a sad example of the all too common funding deficit that presents itself for “organizations whose missions foreground the ‘sociological and spiritual’ ”; I would argue that this is not quite true.

Indeed, groups that meet such criteria are actually quite well-funded by capitalists, but of course no-where near to the same extent as the Big Green. Furthermore, the difference between the Center for a New American Dream and the Big Green is not quite as clear as White makes out, as over the years the Center has included numerous individuals on their board of directors many of which are very much part of the established Big Green order. It therefore seems a little disingenuous to suggest, as White does, that an organization that was always very much part of the Green establishment was somehow corrupted by philanthropic funders as late as 2007; the web of “risk management” philanthropy is dense indeed. That said, despite making this point, I don’t doubt the deleterious effect that elitist funders (like the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation) continued to exert on the organizations evolution.

Last of all, while White correctly highlights the fact that “Smaller, more principled organizations” often get “left out in the cold” by the philanthropic complex, he picks a strange example of a grassroots organization — seemingly following the left-liberal lead of Orion contributing editor Mark Dowie — by drawing attention to the work of the Native Forest Council. Principled and small it may be, especially when viewed in relation to the Big Green, but it is hardly a suitable example of a organization that is far removed from the green philanthropic complex.

It is appropriate then, that despite Dowie’s previous efforts to document the anti-democratic activities of liberal foundations that he sees no alternative to the ongoing efforts by philanthropic elites to engage in social engineering, and certainly recognizes no viable alternative to capitalism. Thus his conclusion to American Foundations: An Investigative History (MIT Press, 2001) is: “it seems clear that the only way to make foundations true and effective servants of civilization instead of stewards of plutocracy is to democratize them.” However, Dowie’s liberal conclusions are at odds with not only the author of this article, but also other, more radical critics of liberal philanthropy, which includes Curtis White. For a useful overview of such radical criticism one would do well to read Joan Roelofs’s Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (SUNY Press, 2003).

Either way there is no doubt that from Dowie’s perspective, as from my own and White’s, that the impact of liberal foundations on all manner of progressive social movements is highly problematic. Addressing and resolving this sensitive issue will be difficult given the massive economic and political resources at the disposal of liberal philanthropists, which will certainly be used to undermine any such efforts.

It is therefore vital that concerned citizens educate themselves about the back-room dealings of liberal philanthropists so that they are able to pose an effective challenge to the latter’s ongoing cultural domination of civil society. In this way, it is hoped that this article will help people participate in the perpetual struggle for democracy.