(Not) Going Dutch

(Not) Going Dutch

The competition to design the new Peace Palace in The Hague was not without controversy, not least because on May 11, 1906, the jury announced that the winner was … French!

By Fred A. Bernstein

The magnificent Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, built thanks to the largesse of Andrew Carnegie, soars as testament to the American philanthropist’s unshakable belief that for the progress of mankind, the tide had turned at last, and that “even the smallest further step taken in any peaceful direction would soon lead to successive steps thereafter.”


Big philanthropic initiatives on peace and security have become few and far between, according to a recent article in the Nation, ruefully titled “You Never Give Me Your Money.” Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Stephen Del Rosso told the Nation that he has seen a “retraction of funding” over the course of the past 20 years in the area of peace and security, adding, “It’s lonely out here.” But Carnegie Corporation of New York has peacebuilding in its DNA: its programs build on Andrew Carnegie’s efforts to banish war, which he called “the earth’s most revolting spectacle.” Perhaps Andrew Carnegie’s most tangible such effort was building a home in The Hague for the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an intergovernmental organization created in 1899. “At last there is no excuse for war,” Carnegie said of the court in a 1905 speech to the students at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “A tribunal is now at hand to judge wisely and deliver righteous judgment between nations.”


Carnegie Corporation of New York has peacebuilding in its DNA: its programs build on Andrew Carnegie’s efforts to banish war, which he called “the earth’s most revolting spectacle.”


In 1913 Carnegie spoke at the dedication of the Peace Palace, the structure designed as the permanent home for the Court of Arbitration. Financed by Carnegie, it “became the physical manifestation of his desire to bring about world peace, the same desire that fuels the Corporation’s work today,” says Del Rosso, program director for international peace and security at the Corporation. Indeed, the Palace now accommodates not only the arbitration court but also the International Court of Justice (the principal judicial arm of the United Nations, commonly known as the World Court), as well as an international law academy and a research library holding the world’s largest collection of materials on international peace and justice.

To ensure that the building would be as lofty as its mission, the planners held an architectural competition — a tradition dating back at least to 1419, when Filippo Brunelleschi was selected to design the dome of the famed Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. By the 20th century, architectural competitions had become de rigueur for significant public projects. The Peace Palace competition presaged several better-known contests: in 1948, Eero Saarinen’s design for the Gateway Arch, on the St. Louis waterfront, was chosen from among 172 entries (including one submitted by his father, Eliel Saarinen). And in 1957, Jørn Utzon, a young Danish architect, triumphed in a competition to design the Sydney Opera House, known for its iconic, sail-like roofs. Tellingly, the Florence cathedral, the Gateway Arch, and the Sydney Opera House are among the world’s most recognizable structures.


Symbols of Peace The dove has been a symbol of peace at least as far back as the biblical story of Noah. The Dutch artist Herman Rosse (1887–1965) was only 24 years old when he was selected to design much of the interior of the Peace Palace. The Hague-born artist painted doves throughout the building — on the tiles, on plaster ceilings, and even on stained-glass windows (like this one in a courtroom antechamber). Rosse compared his work as a decorative artist to composing for an orchestra: both the aesthetics and the meaning of his decorations, he said, “are to be connected into one ‘symphonic’ whole.” The Palace was only the first of many commissions for Rosse, who enjoys the distinction of being the first Dutchman to win an Oscar — for his art direction of 1930’s King of Jazz. And on a personal “note”: he met his future wife, Sophia Luyt, at the Peace Palace, where she was an assistant to Thomas Mawson, the landscape designer for the complex. (Photo: © Carnegie Foundation–Peace Palace)


At their best, competitions elicit compelling designs, often from little-known architects who wouldn’t otherwise have been considered for such high-profile commissions. To the list of relatively obscure architects who have won important competitions, add the name Louis-Marie Cordonnier (1854–1940) of Lille, France, whose Peace Palace design was selected in 1906 from among 216 entries. More than a century after its completion, the red-brick and sandstone building stands as an “icon of the development of international law,” in the words of Arthur Eyffinger, author of the definitive study The Peace Palace: Residence for Justice, Domicile of Learning (1988). It is also a major tourist draw. Upon entering the building, visitors immediately sense that it “is a ‘palace’ in the true sense of the word. The distinguished impression of the building’s exterior is heightened still by the soberness, the quiet of the interior, which has no room for ‘overcrowding.’ … Even a layman could guess at once that choicest materials from all corners of the earth have been gathered and lovingly made into what they are by artists’ hands,” wrote C. H. de Boer, author of a guidebook to the Palace (1948; 1951).

Such extravagance was made possible by the deep pockets of Andrew Carnegie, whose fondest hope was that the work conducted within the Palace walls would make war obsolete. This aim was shared by Russia’s Czar Nicholas II, who in 1899 convened the Hague Convention to address the problem of international weapons proliferation. Although the 26 nations participating in the meeting failed to reach a significant arms agreement, they did succeed in founding the Permanent Court of Arbitration as a means of resolving future international disputes.

Because the court had no home of its own, in 1900 Russian diplomat Frederic de Martens traveled to Berlin to enlist the aid of the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Andrew Dickson White, in securing funding for an appropriate structure. White immediately thought of Carnegie, whose interest in world peace was well established. Initially, the philanthropist offered to donate a library to the new court, but after protracted negotiations he pledged $1.5 million (more than $43 million in today’s dollars) toward construction. In 1904 the board of the Carnegie Foundation, which is based in The Hague, assumed control of the project, and a year later the Dutch government bought the Foundation two properties, totaling 16 acres, in an idyllic spot alongside the extensive royal woods known as the Zorgvliet. The Foundation, advised by a leading Dutch architect, began planning the competition.

Every architecture competition involves trade-offs, and this one was no exception. As Eyffinger, a classicist, law historian, and former head librarian of the International Court of Justice, recently explained in an email: “Prize competitions are highly interesting, if mostly saddening stories in which, more often than not, human nature and rivalry prevail over technical and strictly professional issues.” However, the ultimate success of the Peace Palace design speaks highly of the process followed by the Carnegie Foundation.

The first thing the organizers of an architectural contest must decide is whether to allow all architects, or only a preselected group, to enter. An open call may bring a flood of submissions, but few from established architects (who are likely to be deterred by the low odds of winning). Conversely, an “invited competition” would exclude lesser-known architects who might have the most original ideas. In the case of the Peace Palace, an additional question arose: Should the competition be limited to Dutch architects, as the Royal Institute of Dutch Architects demanded at the time, or should it be open to architects of any nationality, the view — not insignificantly — of Andrew Carnegie himself?


Stairway to Heaven Cordonnier modeled the building’s main stairway, made of “blanc clair” marble, on the much larger grand stair of Charles Garnier’s Paris Opera (1861–75). The standing candelabras were gifts of Austria. The bohemian crystal lamps flanking the stairway were gifts of The Hague. The statue on the landing at the top, Peace Through Justice by Andrew O’Connor, was a present from the U.S. government, though not given until 1924. O’Connor’s modern version of Lady Justice is without the usual blindfold, scales, and sword. (Photo: © Carnegie Foundation–Peace Palace)


Weighty Matters The huge jasper vase in the entrance chamber to the small courtroom was a gift from Czar Nicholas II, whose initiative led to the creation of the Peace Palace. But then, in a manner of speaking, he almost destroyed it: the urn (together with its base) weighs an incredible 3,200 kilograms; the builder had to reinforce the concrete floor before it could be installed. Gold embellishments include the double-headed eagle insignia of the Romanovs. (Photo: © Carnegie Foundation–Peace Palace)


Eventually, the Carnegie Foundation board decided on a competition that was both open and closed. It would be international — as befits an organization dedicated to world unity — but limited to entrants nominated by the 26 countries that took part in the 1899 Hague Convention. (The single exception was the nomination of American architects, which was left to Carnegie himself; he chose Peabody & Stearns of Boston and Carrère & Hastings of New York.) The Foundation board, besieged by requests from foreign architects and their professional associations that the competition be open to anyone, eventually relented, although only the invited firms were paid a stipend for participating.

Another issue in architecture competitions is whether to solicit fully developed designs or mere conceptual sketches. The former approach, requiring hundreds of hours of work, might discourage all but the best-funded practitioners. The latter, a so-called ideas competition, may result in the choice of an exciting scheme by an architect who then turns out to have little practical experience.

In this case, the board set the bar very high: the “Programme of the Competition for the Architectural Plan of the Peace Palace for the Use of the Permanent Court of Arbitration with a Library,” distributed worldwide on August 15, 1905, informed architects that they had seven months to produce plans, elevations, sections, and perspectives for a finished structure meeting hundreds of precise requirements. The process proved overwhelming, and, as the deadline approached, the participating architects were granted an extra month.

More than 200 entries arrived by the (revised) deadline, April 15, 1906. The six jurors (chosen by the Carnegie Foundation board) included the president-elect of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the architect of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the German emperor’s personal architect, among other grandees of the profession. The one American was William Robert Ware of Milton, Massachusetts, founder of the architecture school at Columbia University.

Altogether, the entries comprised more than 3,000 drawings — so many it was hard to find a place to hang them, until Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands offered the walls of her Kneuterdijk Palace. There, in May, after reviewing the proposals privately, the jurors convened to pick a winner. They began by naming their favorite projects. Forty-four plans received at least one nod, and thus qualified for further discussion. The field was eventually narrowed to 16. Several jurors were unsatisfied with the pool of entries and suggested, to no avail, that the contest be reopened.

The jury took a final vote on May 11. In first place was Cordonnier’s scheme for separate courthouse and library buildings connected by a corridor, with four large corner towers, all in a richly decorated, neo-Renaissance mien. The jury, in a written statement, praised the design for “following the local traditions of XVI Century architecture.” But Eyffinger succinctly notes that this was not the case. “Cordonnier’s design,” he writes, “was in no way linked to Dutch tradition.” Nor did the choice of period make sense to everyone. “Why on earth the 16th-century style?” one critic asked mockingly. “Is it because Holland was engaged in war (with Spain) most of that period?” (In a detailed critique of the completed palace, the New York Times would later peg the style “Sicilian Romanesque,” explaining that the design reflected “in some degree both the Norman and the Oriental influence resultant from the many political mutations of the island of the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages.”)


Grand Illusions This handsome watercolor rendering is part of the submission that won Louis-Marie Cordonnier the Peace Palace commission. But sticking to Andrew Carnegie’s budget meant eliminating many of the flourishes of the original design. Cordonnier’s four corner towers were reduced to two — the highest of which was adorned with a clock donated by Switzerland — and the ornamentation was simplified considerably by the project’s “executive architect,” Johan van der Steur. (Photo: © Carnegie Foundation–Peace Palace)


More positive attention was focused on the fourth-place design, by the Austrian architect Otto Wagner, a leader of the Vienna Secession movement and one of the great figures of 20th-century architecture. In fifth place was the New York firm of Greenley & Olin, whose design hued to the neoclassical style exemplified by The New York Public Library’s central building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. A plan by another highly influential architect, Eliel Saarinen of Finland, didn’t make the top six, nor did any proposal from the Netherlands. Modernism was also nowhere to be seen among the finalists.

The selected plan prompted not just criticism but also litigation. Between 1907 and 1911 a group headed by Hendrik Berlage, a celebrated Dutch architect, fought to annul the result of the competition, claiming, among other things, that the cost of Cordonnier’s scheme would far surpass the announced budget. Although the board ultimately won dismissal of the suit, at one point it seriously considered scrapping the jury’s verdict and going with the Saarinen plan. Not legally bound by the jury’s decision, it also at one point thought of moving forward with the Greenley & Olin proposal.

Make It New — But Not Modern

Fourth Down The eminent Austrian architect Otto Wagner (1841–1918), known for introducing a streamlined modernism to his native Vienna, submitted what today looks like a rather traditional design for the Peace Palace. The jury awarded Wagner’s design fourth prize; still, the eminent judges seemed more condescending than admiring, noting Wagner’s “novel methods of artistic treatment.” Rudolph Schindler, the Viennese architect who went on to great fame in California, considered Wagner one of the three progenitors of modern architecture, along with Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland and Louis Sullivan in Chicago. (Photo: © Carnegie Foundation–Peace Palace)

When the Peace Palace opened in 1913, the critic for the New York Times christened its throwback architectural style “Sicilian Romanesque,” going on to note that many of its graceful but often inappropriately “warlike” details were of a nature to provoke criticism from “the lovers of pure art.”

The Peace Palace was meant to embody the promise of the future. But its style was based entirely on the past. Indeed, oddly for a building dedicated to eradicating war, many of its details were derived from forts and castles. Its architect, Louis-Marie Cordonnier, was accustomed to replicating the work of earlier eras. Born in 1854, he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he was influenced by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, restorer of France’s medieval monuments, and Charles Garnier, architect of Paris’s ornate opera house. But the design of the Peace Palace was backward-looking even within the context of Cordonnier’s career, given its unmistakable resemblance to his Dunkirk (France) Town Hall, completed in 1901. Perhaps it’s understandable that Cordonnier would reuse aspects of past projects — the Peace Palace competition required architects to assemble detailed drawings in a very short time and on a tight budget. (As one of the 26 architects invited to participate in the competition, Cordonnier would have been paid a small fee.) Moreover, the Beaux-Arts tradition encouraged copying the successful elements of older buildings.

But what about the judges? Were they right to pick a design that eschewed innovation, perhaps believing that historical references would give the building gravitas and, thus, legitimacy? Greenley & Olin’s admittedly beautiful and for its time thoroughly “safe” neoclassical design would have fit that bill nicely. Or would they have done better to choose something more forward-looking, given Andrew Carnegie’s desire that the world break with its past?

The New York Times weighed in on September 7, 1913, with an entire page devoted to the new Peace Palace. And though the sub-headline was kind (“It is a superb structure, the interior being especially beautiful”) the article itself was not. It stated:

The Palace of Peace … is far from being such a representative specimen of modern architecture as would have seemed fitting to its object. Indeed, it is wholly imitative of the architecture of another age, without the slightest effort at large symbolism of modern life. This is rather astounding, in view of the character of the man who gave the great fund for the creation of the Palace of Peace and of his adopted nationality, which is significant of the new and progressive, rather than of the old and retardative.

The unnamed critic went on to blame the Dutch (“a downright people as ever they were”) for the failures of the building, which he described as “closely allied in general aspect to the type of some certain much-visited Flemish town halls,” although lacking their “strength and the intensity of idea which some of these latter reveals.”

But could the building, as the Times critic suggested, have served as a “representative specimen of modern architecture”? To be sure, most of the great monuments of the modernist era lay in the future; Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, the German and Swiss-French masters of the International Style, did their most important work after World War I. Still, by the time the Peace Palace competition was announced in 1906, architecture’s future had begun to emerge in singular buildings on both sides of the Atlantic.

Indeed, of the 100 most influential buildings of the 20th century (as determined through an exhaustive survey of the world’s leading architects for the book 100 Buildings (Rizzoli 2017), eight predated the Peace Palace. Three were in the U.S.: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House (Chicago; 1908–11), with its astonishing cantilevers, and his Larkin Administration Building (Buffalo; 1903–6), a kind of cathedral for workers; and the Arts and Crafts style Gamble House by the brothers Greene and Greene (Pasadena; 1907–19). In Scotland, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was developing his own arts and crafts vocabulary with his Glasgow School of Art (Glasgow; 1896–1909). And on the Continent, Otto Wagner was exploring novel facade treatments with his Post Office Savings Bank (Vienna; 1903–12), covered in flat squares of marble. Less than a mile away, Adolf Loos, with his Michaelerplatz House, nicknamed Looshaus (Vienna; 1909–11), had explored ways to make plain materials like stucco beautiful. Peter Behrens looked at the aesthetics of industrialization with his AEG Factory in Berlin (1907–9).

Perhaps most interestingly, in Holland Hendrik Berlage, the architect who in fact sued to overturn the competition results, had completed his stock exchange, the Beurs van Berlage (Amsterdam; 1896–1903), which helped make unadorned surfaces acceptable on significant public buildings. Each of these architects, though not ready to dispense with ornament entirely, pioneered new systems of decoration derived less from the classical orders than from scientific advances, non-representational art, and other contemporary sources.

Were the judges of the Peace Palace architectural competition aware of these new directions in architecture? One of the finalists was Otto Wagner, though it’s true Wagner proposed a design far less modern than the work he was doing in Vienna. Wagner must have understood that the judges — given the location and purpose of the building, and their own backgrounds — weren’t looking for a radical architectural solution. What they wanted was a building that would align the arbitration court, a new untested institution, with powerful institutions of the past, and that’s what Louis-Marie Cordonnier delivered.

In the end, however, the board set out to make the Cordonnier proposal work. So in July 1906, shortly after announcing the winning entry, board members traveled to Dunkirk, France, to see that architect’s town hall. That building so closely resembled Cordonnier’s Peace Palace design that, in Eyffinger’s words, the board members might have felt “downright cheated by the plagiarism.”

Moreover, Cordonnier, busy at his office in Lille, had little interest in relocating to The Hague, or even in making regular visits. The board persuaded him to collaborate with a Dutch architect so as to move the project forward, and eventually Cordonnier brought in the Haarlem firm of Johan van der Steur.


Even with the simplified design, the board had to ask Carnegie for additional funds — which led to his belated discovery that a brick-and-mortar library was to be a major part of the building. (When he initially offered to provide the funds for a library at the Peace Palace, Carnegie explained, he had meant a collection of books, not a library structure.)


Van der Steur’s first task was to cut costs by modifying the original design. As Eyffinger recently noted, “The building was, both on financial and aesthetic grounds, stripped of its all-too-elaborate decorations (Cordonnier was an artist first, an architect second), and two bell towers were cut out altogether. The dimensions were reduced, the ground plan altered, and the overall appearance adapted to the more modest Dutch taste — van der Steur was a very sober architect, the opposite of Cordonnier, but not exactly a creative genius.” The building, now a 234-foot square surrounding a courtyard of 102 by 132 feet, was not universally beloved in its time. Reviewing the finished building in 1913, the New York Times called van der Steur’s interventions “detrimental to a general scheme which already was by far too conventional.”

Even with the simplified design, the board had to ask Carnegie for additional funds — which led to his belated discovery that a brick-and-mortar library was to be a major part of the building. (When he initially offered to provide the funds for a library at the Peace Palace, Carnegie explained, he had meant a collection of books, not a library structure.) “I am positively wounded…. To speak of ‘The Library and Court of Arbitration’ is as if a bereaved husband were to ask plans for a sacred shrine to ‘my nephew and my dear wife,’” Carnegie wrote in a letter to David Jayne Hill, the U.S. minister in The Hague. However, through an exchange of letters and some personal diplomacy, matters were eventually smoothed over.

Meanwhile, work proceeded in the van der Steur offices. The Peace Palace’s cornerstone was laid on July 30, 1907, during the Second International Peace Conference, which was held, like the first conference (1899), in The Hague. This symbolic act preceded the actual groundbreaking by months, and splendid gifts soon began pouring in from around the world. The Russian czar sent an ornate and very grand vase — so heavy that the floor below it needed reinforcement. America’s offering was perhaps less impressive, although today the marble figure of Peace Through Justice is given pride of place at the top of the great staircase in the main entry hall, greeting visitors to the Palace in her own way. As Eyffinger, the Dutch historian, explains wryly:

America’s official gift was the marble statue representing Peace Through Justice, as it was named. After WWI, with President Wilson furious at the profitable neutrality of the Dutch during the war, the U.S. Congress did not vote in favor of a gift to the Peace Palace, and the statue (by Andrew O’Connor, and not produced until 1924) will initially have been meant for different purposes altogether. The marble lady of peace wears a wedding ring and has hands like shovels. Perhaps the records of O’Connor’s life will tell you more of the provenance of the statue!

The result is an edifice rich in allegorical detail and metaphorical allusion. Here’s de Boer, the guidebook author, describing just a bit of the decor of the Great Hall of Justice, the nobly proportioned and beautifully appointed room in which the International Court of Justice sits in session:

Remarkable for this room are its four stained-glass windows, which are a present of Great Britain. They were painted by Douglas Strachan and represent the development of mankind from its primitive days to the period when war as a means of international politics will have been banished. The painting by Albert Besnard is a gift from France. It represents a young woman separating two horsemen to prevent their fighting, while the men standing on the rocks are trying to settle their dispute by arbitration.

A grand opening was scheduled for August 1913, a month during which peace conferences were held throughout The Hague. As Eyffinger writes in The Peace Palace, “All in all, it looked very much as if the whole universe of pacifism had gravitated to The Hague — indeed, the atmosphere … was that of a joyful world reunion.” The high point came on August 28, as hundreds of dignitaries turned out for the inauguration of the Peace Palace. Old world met new, with Andrew Carnegie bowing deeply to the Dutch queen. However, as Eyffinger observes, to the Dutch public that day, it was Andrew Carnegie who was visiting royalty, likening his ride to the Peace Palace to a Fifth Avenue ticker-tape parade. Carnegie was profoundly moved by the occasion. His diary for that day reads:

Looking back a hundred years, or less perchance, from today, the future historian is to pronounce the opening of a World Court for the Settlement of International Disputes by Arbitration the greatest one step forward ever taken by man, in his long and checkered march upward from barbarism. Nothing he has yet accomplished equals the substitution for war, of judicial decisions founded upon International Law, which is slowly, yet surely, to become the corner stone, so long rejected by the builders, of the grand edifice of Civilization.

Taking his turn at the lectern that day, Carnegie predicted that the end of war was “as certain to come, and come soon, as day follows night.”

Tragically, Carnegie’s certainty did not become a reality. Exactly 11 months to the day after the opening of the Peace Palace, World War I — “the war to end all wars” — erupted when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. All seemed hopeless.

And yet …


Goddess Gates The impressive main gates to the grounds of the Peace Palace in The Hague were a gift from the government of Germany. Designed by the architect Bruno Möhring and manufactured by the firm Schulz und Holdefleiss of Berlin, the gates hang off large sandstone columns crowned by putti. Their four central brass medallions, installed in November 1912, feature relief sculptures of the goddesses Concordia, Amicitia, Pax, and Justitia (Concord, Friendship, Peace, and Justice). The government of Germany has twice funded restorations of the gates, most recently in 2010. (Photo: © Carnegie Foundation–Peace Palace)


The Peace Palace endures, and the seemingly never-ending work of the world’s peacebuilders continues.

In late September 2018, at the Peace Palace, Carnegie PeaceBuilding Conversations connected leading stakeholders from various backgrounds and generations, including underrepresented players and those directly affected by conflict and war. Presented by Carnegie institutions worldwide and their partners, the three-day program was designed to generate unexpected insights and routes for progress in promoting world peace.

At the closing event, held in the Great Hall of Justice, the winners of two notable peace prizes were announced and their extraordinary achievements celebrated. Youth-led organization BogotArt received the first Youth Carnegie Peace Prize for its “Letters of Reconciliation” project, which creates a dialogue between disconnected groups in Colombia, addressing the challenges of promoting youth participation in peace transition processes. For Leonardo Párraga, BogotArt executive director, the prize is “a direct demonstration of the power that the youth have to transform conflict and build sustainable peace.”

War correspondent Rudi Vranckx, winner of the 2018 Carnegie Wateler Peace Prize, has for more than three decades put his life on the line to give voice to people caught in some of the most dangerous conflict areas in the world. “Every word has consequences,” Vranckx reminded the audience. “Every silence does too. Silence is not an option.”

Again, old world met new. Next-generation peacebuilders are ready. Dr. Bernard R. Bot, chairman of the Carnegie Foundation–Peace Palace, forcefully invoked Andrew Carnegie, who made both the Peace Palace and the Carnegie Foundation tangible realities. “In all his ideas, he was dominated by an intense belief in the future, in progress, in education, and in a future without war. His spirit as well as his faith in the ability of individuals to better themselves, and thus the society in which they live, is a beacon of light for future generations to follow.”

Fred A. Bernstein studied architecture (at Princeton University) and law (at NYU) and writes about both subjects. He has contributed more than 400 articles, many on architecture, to the New York Times, and is a regular contributor to such magazines as Architectural Record and Architectural Digest. He has also published in journals like the New York University Review of Law and Social Change. In 2008 Bernstein won the Oculus Award, bestowed annually by the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects for excellence in architecture writing.

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A “Fool for Peace”

A “Fool for Peace”

How can we use Andrew Carnegie’s legacy today to strengthen the case for democracy and peace, as well as the values and institutions that uphold those ideals?

By David Nasaw

The Carnegie PeaceBuilding Conversations, a three-day program presented by Carnegie institutions worldwide and their partners, was held at the Peace Palace in The Hague in September 2018. Among the event’s roster of speakers, David Nasaw, the biographer of Andrew Carnegie and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Distinguished Professor of History at the CUNY Graduate Center, examined the great Scot’s legacy both historically and in terms of more recent developments. Here follow Professor Nasaw’s prepared remarks.


September 24, 2018 | The Hague, Netherlands

We are here today because of a funny-looking little Scotsman, who, in his high-heeled boots stood no more than five feet tall, a strange-looking gnome of a man who resembled Santa Claus in a top hat or a miniaturized Karl Marx.

We are here today because that little man believed in evolution, in reason, in humanity.

We are here today because that little man had a big voice and the money to make himself heard and be taken account of.

We are here today because in an age too much like our own — an age of armaments escalations, build-ups, and races, an age where military men were saluted for their bravery and stout hearts and peace activists ignored or ridiculed as utopians, cranks, dreamers — that little man dedicated himself and a good part of his fortune, his welfare, his health, and his reputation to campaigning for peace.

We are here today to celebrate, learn from, and carry on the legacy of a child of the Scottish Enlightenment; a man of the 19th century, the century of light and progress; an enthusiast, a utopian, a fool, a crank, a dreamer, but also a pragmatist and politician who preached the gospel of peace on earth.

Andrew Carnegie had learned from Herbert Spencer that the laws of evolutionary progress guide change over time, that history has both purpose and direction, that the world was getting more prosperous, more civilized, more humane. The age of barbarism had been marked by savagery, the inability of men to settle disputes other than through violence, the organized killing of innocent men by innocent men. The age of civilization would, on the contrary, be marked by the replacement of violence with reason in the settling of domestic, personal, and international disputes.

“You will find the world much better than your forefathers did,” Carnegie declared in his second rectorial address to the students of St. Andrews, delivered just five years into the new century. “There is profound satisfaction in this, that all grows better; but there is still one evil in our day, so far exceeding any other in extent and effect, that I venture to bring it to your notice.… There still remains the foulest blot that has ever disgraced the earth, the killing of civilized men by men like wild beasts as a permissible mode of settling international disputes.”



Carnegie was not alone in campaigning for peace. The first half of the 19th century, in the U.S. and Britain and on the continent, witnessed the proliferation of local, regional, and national peace and arbitration societies, congresses, and campaigns. A major international peace conference in 1849, to which the American peace societies sent as a delegate a former slave, condemned war and called for compulsory arbitration, reduced spending on armaments, the creation of an international “High Tribunal,” and a Congress of Nations.

The early 19th-century peace movement did not end well — it was a victim of the Crimean War, of disagreements about what constituted good and bad conflicts, just and unjust wars, and of unresolved and perhaps unresolvable questions about whether the citizens of enslaved nations in Europe, like the Italians, had the right to fight for their freedom. This organized peace movement did not die — it instead entered on a new phase, one led by international lawyers and statesmen who argued that after centuries of warfare, peace would have to be built, step by step, through the creation of a body of international law and arbitration treaties that called for the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Peace, disarmament, and arbitration activists like Andrew Carnegie had, by the last quarter of the 19th century, come to believe that their cause was not only just, but achievable. They pointed, with pride and hope, to 1872 and the peaceably arbitrated resolution of the “Alabama Case,” which had pitted Great Britain against the United States over the American demand for compensation for the damage caused by British-built confederate warships, and to 1895, when the Americans and the British peaceably settled another dispute over the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana. “Truly,” Carnegie wrote Prime Minister Gladstone, arbitration as a substitute for war “seems to me the noblest question of our time.” The Americans and the British would set the example which the rest of the world would soon follow.


Peace in His Time In this illustration from the French newspaper Le Petit Parisien (August 27, 1905), President Theodore Roosevelt introduces Japanese foreign minister Komura Jutaro to Russian prime minister Sergius Witte at the Portsmouth Peace Conference of 1905. For his efforts brokering peace between Japan and Russia and an end to the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 1906. The Norwegian statesman Gunnar Knudsen’s award ceremony speech read in part: “The United States of America was among the first to infuse the ideal of peace into practical politics. Peace and arbitration treaties have now been concluded between the United States and the governments of several countries. But what has especially directed the attention of the friends of peace and of the whole civilized world to the United States is President Roosevelt’s happy role in bringing to an end the bloody war recently waged between two of the world’s great powers, Japan and Russia.” (Photo: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)


The scaffolding for a new, civilized world order was already in place — here, at The Hague, where a Permanent Court of Arbitration had been established at the international conference in 1899, called by Czar Nicholas II, and attended by the representatives of 27 nations. The promise of peace through arbitration at The Hague was affirmed when, in December 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt persuaded Britain, Germany, Italy, and Venezuela to submit their dispute over Venezuela’s refusal to pay its debts for arbitration by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

“The world took a long step upward yesterday,” Carnegie wrote the president the day after the four states had agreed to arbitration, “and Theodore Roosevelt bounded into the short list of those who will forever be hailed as supreme benefactors of man.” In a “New Year Greeting” published in the New York Tribune, Carnegie declared that Roosevelt, in “breathing life into The Hague tribunal, the permanent high court of humanity, for the peaceful settlement of international disputes,” had moved humanity a step closer toward the “coming banishment of the earth’s most revolting spectacle — human war — the killing of man by man.… The complete banishment of war draws near. Its death wound dates from the day that President Roosevelt led … opposing powers … to the Court of Peace, and thus proclaimed it the appointed substitute for that which had hitherto stained the earth — the killing of men by each other.”

To celebrate the dawn of this new era, Carnegie, in April 1903, committed $1.5 million (about $43 million today) for the erection of a Peace Palace to house the Permanent Court of Arbitration and a library. Mankind was now set on the path to peace — and progress along it appeared inexorable.

In October 1904, U.S. Secretary of State Hay issued a call for a second peace conference at The Hague.

In June 1905 Japan and Russia ceased hostilities and agreed to negotiate peace terms, with President Roosevelt as arbitrator, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Carnegie, buoyed by events, stepped up his personal and now full-time campaign for peace. In October 1905, in his second rectorial address at St. Andrews, he delivered an overly long treatise — how anyone sat through it is beyond me — on the history of peace activism, on the folly, the madness, the immorality, the inhumanity of war, and the need to eliminate it from the face of the earth through “Peaceful Arbitration.” He urged his hearers, university students, to resist the clarion call to arms. There was no glory to be had by putting on a uniform and killing one’s fellow men. “We sometimes hear, in defense of war, that it develops the manly virtue of courage. This means only physical courage, which some animals and the lower order of savage men possess in the highest degree. According to this idea, the more man resembles the bulldog the higher he is developed as man.” It was to educate the public to the true meaning of courage, of heroism, that Carnegie had the year before created his Hero Funds. He was prouder of his Hero Fund than of any of his other endowments. “It grew out of his intense conviction,” his friend and one of the original commissioners Frederick Lynch insisted, “that it took just as much heroism to save life as it did to take it, whereas the man who took it got most of the recognition.”

“Most of the monuments in the world,” Carnegie had discovered, to his dismay, were “to somebody who has killed a lot of his fellowmen.” That was not heroism. His Hero Fund would call attention to, recognize, and reward the true heroes of the world.

With every utterance, Carnegie made new enemies and enflamed old ones. Teddy Roosevelt, whom Carnegie regarded as his partner in peace, was near apoplectic at the Scotsman’s dismissal of the manly military virtues, at Carnegie’s delight that fewer and fewer young men appeared to be volunteering for military service, and his call on university men to resist putting on uniforms and defending their nations. In November 1905 he wrote Whitelaw Reid that he had tried hard to like Carnegie

but it is pretty difficult. There is no type of man for whom I feel a more contemptuous abhorrence than for the one who makes a God of mere moneymaking and at the same time is always yelling out that kind of utterly stupid condemnation of war which in almost every case springs from a combination of defective physical courage, of unmanly shrinking from pain and effort, and of hopelessly twisted ideals.… It is as noxious folly to denounce war per se as it is to denounce business per se. Unrighteous war is a hideous evil; but I am not at all sure that it is worse evil than business unrighteousness.



Carnegie was undeterred by the criticisms, by the caricatures, by the insults to his manhood. What worried him was that, while mankind appeared to be progressing toward peace, there were fearful signs of war on the horizon. The British and the Germans were engaged in an escalating battle to build bigger and bigger dreadnoughts, with other nations now entering the fray. Though Carnegie Steel was making a fortune outfitting new battleships with steel armor, Carnegie insisted that armor was for defensive, not offensive, purposes. And, to his partners’ dismay, he campaigned for an end to this arms race.

Carnegie hoped and expected that the subject of disarmament would be discussed at the Second International Peace Conference in The Hague, which, after postponements, was scheduled to meet in June 1907, or at a disarmament conference in London, which he actively proposed and promoted. In the meantime, in preparation for the Hague conference, he took an active, oversized role in funding, organizing, and convening a massive and massively publicized meeting of the National Arbitration and Peace Congress at Carnegie Hall in April 1907.

The meeting was a triumph — but it was only a meeting, an exhortation, and a prayer. The real work of peace was to be accomplished at The Hague that summer. Carnegie was not content to leave the business of peacemaking to the delegates. In early June 1907 he attended Kaiser Wilhelm II’s annual regatta at Kiel in northern Germany, hoping that he would be able to arrange a personal meeting and a personal connection to the kaiser. He did not get much of a chance to do so — the kaiser was more interested in his yachts than in talking peace to the strange little loquacious Scotsman about arbitration and The Hague.

From Kiel, Carnegie and his wife, Louise, boarded a special railroad car provided him by the kaiser, which, with the Dutch government’s cooperation, arranged for his through passage to The Hague. He arrived — as a private citizen — while the conference was in process and spent the next few days as cheerleader and publicist. The second Hague conference would continue to meet through the fall, long after Carnegie had departed. The fact that little was accomplished on naval disarmament, compulsory arbitration, a League of Peace, or the organization of an international police force neither deterred nor discouraged Carnegie. More nations had participated in 1907 than in 1899 and the conference had adjourned with a resolution to meet again, though no date was set for a third conference. (A date was eventually set: 1915, but by then it was far too late for peace. There would be no third peace conference at The Hague.)

Despite the failures of the second Hague conference, Carnegie remained confident that naval disarmament, compulsory arbitration, and a League of Peace would come to pass, but perhaps not just yet. The nations of the world had failed to bring about the desired end at their conference at The Hague, but Carnegie would succeed where they had failed, through the power of personal diplomacy. He had already established firm connections with the leaders of the U.S. and the U.K., helped along by healthy contributions to the Republicans in America and the Liberal Party in the U.K. He had lesser but still friendly personal relationships with the leaders of France and Italy. He had failed, however, and failed rather spectacularly, to make any headway with Kaiser Wilhelm II. But he did not despair. He would enlist as his surrogate peacemaker a man who would have no trouble gaining an audience with and sitting down with the kaiser. Theodore Roosevelt would be his representative, his agent, his envoy, his liaison to the European heads of state. While president, Roosevelt had been prohibited by custom from leaving the country. His term of office would, however, end in March 1909 and he would be free to travel the world on Carnegie’s behalf.


“Although we no longer eat our fellow-men nor torture prisoners, nor sack cities killing their inhabitants, we still kill each other in war like barbarians. Only wild beasts are excusable for doing that in this, the twentieth century of the Christian era, for the crime of war is inherent, since it decides not in favor of the right, but always of the strong. The nation is criminal which refuses arbitration.”

— Andrew Carnegie, letter to the trustees of the Carnegie Peace Fund (which would become the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), December 14, 1910


Roosevelt’s first priority, however, was not making peace, but shooting as many large animals as he could in Africa. Carnegie made a deal with the ex-president. He would provide the funds Roosevelt needed for his African expedition. When the killing was finished — after the slaughter of over 500 African animals, 55 species of large mammals, and 11 elephants — Roosevelt would leave Africa for Europe to do Carnegie’s bidding. “After Africa, then the real ‘big game,’” he wrote Roosevelt. “Meet the men who rule European nations, then you have a source of power otherwise unobtainable — You promise to become the ‘Man of destiny.’”

Carnegie barely took a breath now — he was more frightened than ever by the escalating naval arms race and tensions in Europe. Bigger and bigger armies and navies did not ensure peace, but rather provoked war. Men with pistols in their hands were more likely to shoot one another; nations with armies and navies more likely to engage in war, he proclaimed at the annual meeting of the New York Peace Society at the Hotel Astor in April 1909. It did not require much imagination to envisage a scenario where a minor incident might lead to world war, perhaps a drunken altercation between British and German marines. “Under the influence of liquor … one is wounded, blood is shed, and the pent up passions of the people of both countries sweep all to the winds.”

In April 1910 Roosevelt arrived in Europe from his African adventures and was greeted like a conquering hero in Paris, then in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway (where he received the Nobel Prize for his role in arbitrating an end to the Russo-Japanese War). Carnegie’s plan was that Roosevelt meet first with Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin and enlist his support for a compulsory arbitration treaty, and then go to London to meet with the leaders of the British government to secure their approval. This grandest of schemes was derailed, temporarily, when on the eve of Roosevelt’s arrival in Berlin, Edward VII of Britain died, and all future diplomatic activity ground to a halt. But even had the king (who happened to be the kaiser’s uncle) lived, Carnegie’s grand scheme was destined for failure. Roosevelt had no intention of doing his bidding.

“Carnegie … had been asking me to try to get the Emperor committed to universal arbitration and disarmament,” Roosevelt wrote his friend George Trevelyan in Britain. “Carnegie’s purposes as regards international peace are good, although his methods are often a little absurd.” Roosevelt refused to present the kaiser with Carnegie’s “absurd” peace proposals. He indirectly raised the possibility of Germany’s slowing the naval arms race with Britain, but indicated he would not be disturbed if there were no movement towards disarmament. Roosevelt assured the kaiser that he was “a practical man and in no sense a peace-at-any-price man.”


“A Laugh from the Gallery” Carl Hassmann’s 1907 cartoon (a detail shown here) for the American satirical weekly Puck shows the visitors’ gallery at the Second International Peace Conference in The Hague. The benches overflow with a rogues’ gallery of tyrants, invaders, and conquerors, including Frederik II, Oliver Cromwell, Ramses, William I, Hannibal, Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great, Richard the Lionhearted, Caesar, Saladin, Napoleon I, Charlemagne, and Theodoric. They are all laughing at the idea of international cooperation. (Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.)


Roosevelt not only failed to secure the agreement of the kaiser to move forward but, in the wake of King Edward VII’s death and the hubbub over succession and the coronation of a new monarch, he gleefully postponed and then canceled his meetings with the leaders of the ruling Liberal Party in Britain.

Carnegie’s plans had fallen flat — there would be no arbitration treaty, no disarmament conference in London, no League of Peace in The Hague. But he did not give up hope. Instead he shifted his focus from Europe to Washington, where he intended, under the leadership of President Taft, to secure passage of a meaningful, near compulsory bilateral treaty of arbitration between the U.S. and Britain, after which similar treaties would be negotiated with France, Germany, Russia, Italy, and Japan, culminating in the creation of a functioning League of Peace.

To help Taft get his proposal through the Senate, Carnegie organized — and donated $10 million dollars to establish — his “peace trust,” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP). He named Elihu Root, former secretary of war and state and now senator from New York, as its first president. His letter to his trustees made clear his intentions: “Although we no longer eat our fellowmen nor torture prisoners, nor sack cities killing their inhabitants, we still kill each other in war like barbarians. Only wild beasts are excusable for doing that in this, the twentieth century of the Christian era, for the crime of war is inherent, since it decides not in favor of the right, but always of the strong. The nation is criminal which refuses arbitration.”

Taft’s treaties ran into trouble almost immediately, when it became clear that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was not going to sign a treaty which obligated the nation to arbitrate issues of “honor” or “national interest” without the Senate’s explicit approval. Teddy Roosevelt, now on the warpath against his successor, declared, in no uncertain terms, that the nation that pledged to arbitrate its differences would end up dishonored and impotent, like the man who, when his wife was assaulted by a ruffian, took the ruffian to court instead of attacking him on the spot. Carnegie wanted to fight back against Roosevelt and treaty opponents by launching a publicity campaign organized and funded by his new Endowment, but Elihu Root refused to do so. Carnegie did not argue — as a matter of principle, he did not overrule the men he had chosen to run his various philanthropic endeavors. Instead he took $10,000 of his own money to pay for clergymen to travel to Washington and lobby their senators. Again, his efforts came up short and Taft’s arbitration treaty bill was eviscerated by amendments.

Carnegie blamed Taft’s lack of political skills for the defeat, refusing to recognize the frightening insularity of America’s leaders. He had never paid much attention to public opinion, believing that he had the money and the skill to educate the public to his thinking. It was a fateful, terrible mistake to build peace from the top down, as Carnegie had attempted to do, without simultaneously working from the bottom up. Carnegie’s trust in the American public and in politicians — his optimism that they too were reasonable men and women — was falsely placed. There was work to be done — then and now — in the United States. He did not do it, but we must. As I wrote the final draft of this talk, the front page of the New York Times carried an article, bylined The Hague: “On War Crimes Court, U.S. Sides with Despots, Not Allies.”

The Hague conference had failed, Roosevelt’s mission for peace had ended in failure, and the treaties of arbitration which Taft had attempted to push through Congress had been destroyed by Congress. The arms race in Europe continued apace.

And still, the “Star-Spangled Scotsman,” as he proudly called himself, refused to give up. In February 1914, bowing to Elihu Root’s wish to keep the Endowment out of political controversies, Carnegie endowed a second agency, the Church Peace Union (known today as the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs) with $2 million, with the understanding that it would take a more activist role than the Endowment could. With the leaders of the new organization, an ecumenical group of churchmen, all peace activists, he planned an international conference to be held in Germany in August.

And then, the unthinkable. Carnegie, as had been his routine for decades, spent the summer of 1914 in Scotland, when, as he had predicted, the spark he had spent the last 20 years trying to extinguish took flame, and absent any compulsory arbitration mechanisms or institutions, the nations of Europe resorted to violence to settle a local dispute between Austria and Serbia. His first task was to rescue the Church Peace Union delegates from Britain and the United States who had been trapped in Germany when war was declared. That accomplished, he returned to the United States and went immediately to Washington, where he implored President Wilson and the American government to do what it could to broker some sort of peace agreement. He failed, the war ground on, the killing accelerated.

Carnegie celebrated his 79th birthday in November 1914. In December he predicted that if a League of Peace were not established at the end of the war now raging, the vanquished would rise up again to renew the cycle of bloodshed.

In March 1915 he was asked in an interview with the New York Times if he had “lost faith in the peace impulse which centers at The Hague.”

“Certainly not. I verily believe that in this war exists the most impressive, perhaps the only argument which could induce humanity to abate forever the curse of military preparation and the inevitably resultant woe of conflict.… This war staggers the imagination.… I do not underestimate its horror, but I hope, and I believe that this very horrible, newly barbaric excess will so revolt human nature against all things of the kind that the reaction will be great enough to carry us into the realms of reason. And the realms of reason are the realms of peace.”


Peace Illusion For Andrew Carnegie, the opening of the Peace Palace was a triumph, and he began 1914 with great optimism, declaring himself “strong in the faith that international Peace [was] soon to prevail.” History had a different idea. Less than a year after the opening of the Peace Palace, World War I — “the war to end all wars” — erupted. This detail from a 1914 postcard shows the Angel of Peace being expelled from the Peace Palace by the Demon of War. For Carnegie’s skeptics, WWI was proof that arbitration — and his beautiful “Temple of Peace” — could not prevent war, and that conflicts between states could only ever be settled on the battlefield. (Photo: © Carnegie Foundation–Peace Palace)

This was to be his last interview.

He retreated into silence, stopped writing, seeing visitors, speaking, corresponding; he refused to read the newspapers. His friends were distraught, as, of course, was Louise, his wife, who did not recognize the once voluble, active little man who could not stop talking. They were convinced he had suffered some sort of a nervous breakdown, brought about by his failure to do anything to stop the Great War. The supreme optimist had in the end been defeated by the reality of man’s inhumanity to man. And had ceased to communicate with the world around him.

On November 10, 1918, the day before the armistice was signed ending World War I, he took up pen again to write a last letter to Woodrow Wilson. “Now that the world war seems practically at an end I cannot refrain from sending you my heartfelt congratulations upon the great share you have had in bringing about its successful conclusion. The Palace of Peace at the Hague would, I think, be the fitting place for dispassionate discussion regarding the destiny of the conquered nations, and I hope your influence may be exerted in that direction.”

Wilson’s response was generous. “I know your heart must rejoice at the dawn of peace after these terrible years of struggle, for I know how long and earnestly you have worked for and desired such conditions as I pray God it may now be possible for us to establish.” While Wilson did not know where the peace talks would be held (they would end up at Versailles, not The Hague), he was sure that Carnegie would “be present in spirit.”

And Woodrow Wilson may have been right.

We are here today because Andrew Carnegie remains with us in spirit. He was a man of the 19th century who hoped for better in the 20th century. We are now nearly two decades into the 21st. Might we not take something away from Andrew Carnegie’s crusade for peace, failed though it was. Let us pause — at this moment, in this grand Palace of Peace, and look back across the desolate dark century that has passed, the world wars, the genocides, the killing fields. Without forgetting the horrors of our recent past and the dismal failures to build a lasting peace, let us remember, celebrate, and build upon this little man’s dreams. Let us renew, with him, our commitment to work towards a future when reason and humankind take the final step forward on the path from barbarism to civilization.

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Philanthropy in America

Philanthropy in America


Giving is part of America’s character, culture, and economy. It is an engine for ingenuity in the United States, and it is part of our nation’s social contract.


On October 3, 2017, members of the family of Carnegie institutions from Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States gathered to honor nine remarkable individuals who have followed in the footsteps of our institutions’ founder, Andrew Carnegie. These extraordinary philanthropists, who collectively have donated several billion dollars to a broad swath of worthy causes, received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in a biennial celebration at The New York Public Library. It was the ninth such ceremony the Carnegie institutions have hosted since 2001.

The Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy provides an opportunity to celebrate Carnegie’s own rich philanthropic legacy, as well as his philosophy of giving, outlined in his most celebrated treatise, The Gospel of Wealth. Even though it was published in 1889, more than a century later this essay still serves to remind the world of the importance and prevalence of philanthropy in all our lives. Today, the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy promotes that same goal.

In the 1830s, decades before Carnegie penned The Gospel of Wealth, the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville coined the concept of American “exceptionalism” in his classic Democracy in America, in which he marveled that Americans “willingly sacrifice a portion of their time and property” to improve the welfare of their fellow citizens. Since that time, American philanthropy has witnessed many extraordinary acts of generosity. During World War I, for example, humanity witnessed one of the greatest philanthropic acts in history: Americans raised more than $100 million to support Near East Relief in its efforts to save hundreds of thousands of orphans, many of whom lost their families during the Armenian Genocide. The monumental endeavor was hardly an incidental event, however. Rather, it demonstrated the roots, range, and depth of American giving.


In 2016 alone, Americans donated some $390 billion to charitable causes, nearly three quarters of which came not from foundations or corporations, but from individuals hailing from all walks of life.


Today, this generosity of spirit continues. In 2016 alone, Americans donated some $390 billion to charitable causes, nearly three quarters of which came not from foundations or corporations, but from individuals hailing from all walks of life. In addition, the United States also regularly ranks at or near the top of the World Giving Index. These numbers do not take into account the nearly 7.8 billion volunteer hours Americans donate to educational, health, religious, cultural, environmental, and other causes, comprising an array of institutions and ideological views.

It is difficult to find a library, hospital, or school that has not benefitted from philanthropy. These institutions make up America’s flourishing and diverse independent sector, and this diversity is part of what makes our nation so strong. Neither government nor philanthropy can sustain our nation’s nonprofit institutions alone—they must work together to help keep our democracy dynamic and thriving.

The prevalence of partnerships between the public and private sectors is unique to the United States. Unlike many other countries, we do not, for example, have a single federal science ministry or a Department of Culture. Rather, we have a broad array of higher education institutions that are the envy of the world; a range of outstanding orchestras, museums, and theaters; and thousands of social service agencies that provide vital programs to the underprivileged and underserved. It is the generosity of American citizens from all backgrounds that makes the contributions of these institutions possible.


All Hands on Deck! Carnegie Corporation of New York staff — as well as a very tall, very special, and very yellow guest at upper right — gathered together for a group portrait on October 3, 2017, in The New York Public Library’s Celeste Bartos Forum, moments before doors opened for the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy luncheon and ceremony. Photo: Filip Wolak


The importance and breadth of public-private partnerships in the United States is perhaps best reflected in our nation’s K–12 education system. It is governed by a patchwork of local, state, and federal bodies, and features an array of schooling options: traditional public schools, charter schools, and private and parochial schools. This system is supported by a broad range of nonprofit education organizations focused on both direct services and reform. Philanthropy, in turn, supports a great number of these institutions’ work. In this way, the philanthropic sector promotes necessary research and innovation for education reform.

Indeed, in partnering with nonprofit agencies, foundations serve as laboratories supporting experimentation for the nation. As the ninth president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, John Gardner, put it, the independent sector is one “in which we are allowed to pursue truth, even if we are going in the wrong direction; allowed to experiment, even if we are bound to fail; to map unknown territory, even if we get lost.”

Of course, the nonprofit world could not exist without favorable public policy, including charitable tax deductions. When Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller originated the concept of “scientific philanthropy” more than a century ago, there were no tax incentives to motivate their generosity. But since their inception, charitable tax deductions have served as a strong driver of giving and a vital source of revenue for much of the independent sector. However, there are those who argue that we should do away with such deductions and that the funds that would otherwise flow to foundations and charitable organizations instead go toward expanding the tax base. Yet removing or reducing the deduction would encourage wealthy individuals to spend more on their families, properties, and idiosyncrasies than on worthy causes. Besides, it is clear that government alone could not support the great array of services the independent sector provides, nor could it maintain the field’s richness and diversity. An independent sector as vibrant as ours can only be sustained by an equally vibrant philanthropic sector. Indeed, philanthropy is the backbone of America’s nonprofit field, which is comprised of some 1.5 million organizations that account for 10 percent of all private sector employment nationwide.

Giving is, in short, part of America’s character, culture, and economy. It is an engine for ingenuity in the United States, and it is part of our nation’s social contract.


Religion is not, of course, the only motivating factor for generosity. Enlightenment ideals—humanism and democratic principles—are also common driving forces, as are social obligations to one’s community, one’s nation, and humanity at large.


My colleagues and friends from abroad are awed by American philanthropy. They often ask me what makes Americans so generous. I give them two answers. For one, more than 75 percent of the population identifies as religious, and every Abrahamic faith, whether Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, demands that the faithful be charitable, that they support the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged. This is reflected in the fact that today more than 30 percent of giving goes to religious organizations and causes. But religion is not, of course, the only motivating factor for generosity. Enlightenment ideals—humanism and democratic principles—are also common driving forces, as are social obligations to one’s community, one’s nation, and humanity at large.

We often fixate on givers’ motivations, but for me what counts most is the act and impact of giving. In our age of cynicism, I am often reminded of Machiavelli, who scandalized many of his contemporaries with his famous political treatise The Prince. In it, the Prince is only interested in the maintenance of law and order and the stability of the realm, not in his subjects’ motivations for obeying the law. He also holds that leaders should be judged above all by their actions, not their beliefs. This remains true today. Whether givers are driven by guilt, redemption, patriotism, religion, self-glory, hypocrisy—all of this is secondary. The fundamental concern is that no one is obligated to give, but so many do. While we cannot always know a philanthropist’s true motivations, we can always measure the outcomes of their giving.

Of course, the giving industry should welcome such questions and scrutiny because, as in every other sector, philanthropy is not immune to excesses and malfeasance. For example, in some instances, donors dive into addressing very complex problems, such as education, the environment, or poverty reduction, with very little expertise in the field and without seeking expert assistance. They also sometimes attach so many conditions to their gifts that they distract or distort an institution and its mission. This is common in the research field, where donors sometimes provide support on the condition that the research produces a predetermined outcome. Finally, some fear that philanthropists and foundations lack accountability to the public, acting, in effect, as unelected officials supervised only by state attorneys general.


In the face of potential abuses, it is fundamental that the philanthropic sector heed three core principles: transparency, accountability, and responsibility.


In the face of potential abuses, it is fundamental that the philanthropic sector heed three core principles: transparency, accountability, and responsibility.

Carnegie Corporation of New York—one of the oldest foundations in the United States and the first to publish an annual report—has always ascribed to these values. Indeed, more than 60 years ago, the Corporation’s board chairman, Russell Leffingwell, coined the term “glass pockets” at a congressional hearing. Later John Gardner expanded on the policy, saying, “A foundation should practice full disclosure. The larger it is, the more energetically it should disseminate full information on its activities.” The Corporation has long understood, as Carnegie did, that the public has granted us the right to exist, and we therefore owe it to the public to be as accountable and open as possible regarding our activities and funding decisions.

Fortunately, we have a healthy free press that can take to task those who misuse their powers, as well as strong democratic institutions to prevent abuses of trust. As president, Thomas Jefferson famously despised newspapers, but he nonetheless allowed that “the only security of all is in a free press.” (If he were alive today, I believe he would say the only security of all is in a free and well-informed press.)

For those who would criticize philanthropy and philanthropists, I caution that it is always easier to fall into disillusionment and cynicism. It is more difficult and, indeed, more courageous—to stand up for and live by one’s ideals. Like the hundreds of thousands of other men and women who donate their time, talents, or personal funds to worthy causes, the more than 50 recipients of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy understand this. They are exemplars of the act and art of giving, demonstrating that generosity is an act of human solidarity. They come from different backgrounds and support different fields, but they all know, as Andrew Carnegie knew, that one’s legacy is not measured by wealth, but by the good one has done for the world. They are, in my opinion, all driven by a common goal: to serve humanity and to make their communities and the world safer and more just for all.


Vartan Gregorian is president of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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