This article maps a way beyond an impasse in today’s treatment of philanthropy in both theory and law by taking us back to philanthropy’s core function, helping the neediest among us and promoting the highest achievements of our best. The standard academic model of philanthropy sees it as subordinate and supplemental to our society’s other public sectors, the market and the state, and uses their metrics, aggregate consumer demand and majority voter preference, to measure philanthropy’s performance. The standard model gives us, as individuals and as a society, no single measure of philanthropy’s traditional goal, the public good, besides consumer and voter preference. This article proposes to reverse the dominant theoretical perspective and reveal a radically different relationship among society’s three public sectors, the market, the state, and the philanthropic. Following both classical western philosophy and the West’s three Abrahamist faiths, this perspective places philanthropy first and measures everything, including our current economic and political systems, by this traditional philanthropic standard: enabling all human beings to participate in what both the classics and the Scriptures take to be the highest human function, governing wisely for the good of all.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/robert_atkinson/9/