Conservatism, Philanthropy and The Dying Citizen


Beginning in the 1990s, the Milwaukee-based Conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation defined its mission as helping to develop and implement an anti-progressive “new citizenship” agenda. Hoover Institution senior fellow and prominent National Conservative commentator Victor Davis Hanson’s new The Dying Citizen: How Progressive Elites, Tribalism, and Globalization Are Destroying the Idea of ​​America shares the underlying themes of New Citizenship and emphatically points to the need – probably more urgent, given the overwhelming progressivism of establishment philanthropy today – for similar thinking now.

Bradley President Michael S. Joyce boldly introduced the language of ‘new citizenship’ and set out to define it broadly, and how it would be reflected in Conservative Bradley’s grantmaking program, while s ‘addressing senior Heritage Foundation officials on December 1, 1992 — less than a month after Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton defeated George HW Bush for the presidency. An incumbent president had been turned away by the voters, as a result of which conservatism was likely to be refined or even redefined.

“Americans are ready for what you might call ‘a new citizenship,’ Who go liberate and empower them ”, according to Joyce, in comments published in Criticism of the gift as “Conservatism, the Imperial City and the Desert” last November, after what many conservatives also saw as a disheartening national political outcome (all emphasis in original).


“What could be the dimensions of such a ‘new citizenship’? He asked. “At the heart of this approach must be the determination to treat Americans as self-sufficient citizens, willing and able to take back control of their daily lives and make critical choices for themselves. Therefore, Americans should not be seen as helpless victims or “passive clients” in the sense that the progressive elitist treats them. The populist hue of the premise, in retrospect, was actually foreboding.

Declaratively, as usual, Joyce described other aspects of Tocquevillian thought, which understands that active citizenship is more than just formal civic or legal status evidenced by the mere fact of being able to vote.

Hanson is historically informed The dying citizen notes that citizenship, even considered in terms of the status it confers, “is not a right; it takes work … [T]too many citizens of republics, ancient and modern, come to believe that they deserve rights without assuming responsibilities…. “

By encouraging this kind of required work and taking responsibility, continued Joyce, “we must seek to restore the intellectual and cultural legitimacy of good citizen sense as a means of understanding and solving problems” and “to revitalize and empower people. traditional, local communities. institutions – families, schools, churches, neighborhoods – which provide training and a space for the exercise of true citizenship, which transmit popular wisdom and everyday morality to the next generation, and which cultivate and strengthen personal character.

Two more: “[W]We must encourage the dramatic decentralization of power and responsibility away from the centralized and bureaucratic ‘nanny state’ of Washington, to states, localities and revitalized ‘mediation structures’, ”continued President Bradley of the United States. period, evoking the notion of subsidiarity in education, and “being ready to question on all fronts the political hegemony of the professionals and the” helping “and” benevolent “bureaucrats who have penetrated so many aspects of our daily lives and who so generously benefit from the “nanny state”. ‘”


Thus, ordinary citizens are and should be actors both in the functioning of the democratic republic and in civil society at large, and they should be accorded more respect both by the government in politics and by their citizens. fellow citizens in politics.

The agenda that Joyce described as “means directing financial support, both private and public, to initiatives that work bottom-up, rather than top-down,” as a former Bradley program executive and current part of the Bradley program. Give its opinion co-editor William A. Schambra describes it in First things in 1996. “This agenda stems from our growing concern that Americans today tend to play an increasingly small role in public life,” Schambra told Independent Sector in a 2001 speech. These Americans are too often just forgotten, someone else said later, and shouldn’t be forgotten.

“The daily local civic institutions by which they once governed themselves – associations rooted in religious affiliation, neighborhood, ethnicity or voluntary impulse – have gradually been replaced by experts with scientific credentials in public policy, located in remote and bureaucratic areas of government. , businesses and the non-profit sector, ”he continued.

“[C]citizenship can increase and decrease – and suddenly disappear, ”writes Hanson in The dying citizen. “History is above all the history of non-citizenship. “

There was a decline, and Bradley wanted to do something, tried and did it. As applied by its policy-oriented grant making, the reasoning has specifically – and successfully – strengthened parents’ choice in education and work-based social protection reform, among others, first in Wisconsin, then nationwide.


Although it is not philanthropy in itself, a lot of The dying citizen substantially overlaps with the same concern about the great “dangers to citizenship posed by a relatively small American elite,” as Hanson trenchantly characterizes in the new book. For Hanson, this elite includes the unelected federal bureaucracy and the Americans who are making a conceptual transition to “citizens of the world” – and, and here is the link, “the great shameless architects of dismantling constitutional citizenship, portrayed vividly. disproportionate by political activists, media greats, the legal profession and academics.

One could certainly also easily include the philanthropy of the progressive and politicized establishment, which directly and indirectly funds much of this dismantling – of the “constitutional citizenship” to which Hanson refers as well as of the New Citizenship active in the Church. civil society supported by Bradley, on whose board of directors Hanson currently serves.

Unfortunately, great philanthropy really has a lot to do with the dying citizen in America.

More than just philanthropic, however, according to the remarks of Joyce’s ’92 Heritage, “the program of new citizenship is intended to be a very broad, expansive and inclusive general program for American conservatism.” It provides “a general picture of what we consider to be a decent, worthy and worthy person. way of life-a broad understanding of how we believe human beings as human beings deserve to be treated, whether by our economic, cultural or political systems, whether at home or abroad.

He concluded,

If we put something like “new citizenship” at the heart of the vision that we develop in our stay in the desert, I cannot say that it will “ensure” conservative victories…. This would mean, however, that our time in the desert will have been well and nobly spent. And that would also mean, I suppose, that our time in the desert will be brief.

Citizenship is dying, Hanson’s typically demanding book shows, with very negative ramifications for all of us. Conservatism and conservative philanthropy should consider putting citizenship back – and probably now more aggressively, given the urgency – “at the heart of the vision we develop during our time in the wilderness.” It should, of course, fully assess and understand all of the ramifications first, but then use all of the typical tools available to donors – primarily, perhaps singularly ?, including the clear controls.

The dying citizen should definitely be part of this analysis. It’s work for the new Wilderness – the shorter the better.

This article originally appeared in Giving Review on September 22, 2021.

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