Philanthropy is supposed to be a virtue—the “love of mankind” could hardly be a vice. But at least since the 18th century, charitable donors have come in for intense scrutiny and criticism. The Anglo-Dutch philosopher Bernard Mandeville wrote in The Fable of the Bees (1714) about a society of bees that lives in harmony and prosperity until its members decide to throw off their habits of self-interest and live according to Christian virtues. Having lost their appetite for gain or profit, the bees at length reconcile themselves to living the simple life in a hollowed-out tree. Their once-prosperous honey-making enterprise, however, lies in poverty and ruin. Mandeville’s subtitle, Private Vices, Public Benefits, indicated that private selfishness was necessary for public prosperity, progress, and the rule of law. Adam Smith and other writers of the Scottish Enlightenment later picked up this idea and incorporated it into their moral and economic doctrines, passing it along in turn to later generations of conservative and classical liberal thinkers.


Emma Saunders-Hastings, a political science professor at Ohio State University, inverts Mandeville’s maxim in the title of her new book on philanthropy, Private Virtues, Public Vices: Philanthropy and Democratic Equality. For Saunders-Hastings, the private

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