Theodore Lechterman

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Theodore Lechterman
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Theodore Lechterman

1 September 2018 - 31 August 2019

Research topic

»Donors’ Democracy: Private Philanthropy And Political Morality«

Project outline

The practice of philanthropy, which voluntarily releases private property for public purposes, represents in many ways the best angels of our nature. But this practice’s noteworthy virtues often blind us to the fact that philanthropy also represents the exercise of private power. My book Donors Democracy argues that this private power threatens the value of democracy, and the risk is grave. The ability to commit private wealth for public ends rivals the authority of communities to determine their own affairs. And, in societies characterized by wide disparities in wealth, philanthropy combines with background inequality to make public decisions overwhelmingly sensitive to the preferences of the rich. Allowing private wealth to control social outcomes collides with core commitments of a democratic society, a society in which persons are supposed to determine their common affairs together, on equal terms.

But why exactly is democracy valuable? How should these values be weighed against the liberty of donors and the many social benefits that philanthropy promises? Donors’ Democracy aims to explore these questions by examining various aspects of the practice of philanthropy: state support for private giving, the use of donations for political speech, the temporal duration of donor intent, the responsibility for providing public goods, the justification for corporate philanthropy, and the practical ethics of giving. These studies build to a surprising conclusion: democracy cannot survive without philanthropy—but making philanthropy safe for democracy also requires radical changes to law and practice. In the process, the book illustrates how engagement with empirical phenomena challenges leading perspectives in contemporary political theory. (Theodore M. Lechterman)

Scholarly profile

Currently Theodore M. Lechterman is a Interdisciplinary Ethics Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University. In 2016 Lechterman received his doctorate at the Department of Politics at Princeton University with a thesis on »Donors’ Democracy: Private Philanthropy and Political Morality«.

Main areas of research

Contemporary political theory, democratic theory, theories of justice, applied ethics

Selected publications

  • »Being Good in a World of Uncertainty: Reply to Temkin«, in: Journal of Practical Ethics (forthcoming).
  • The Effective Altruist’s Political Problem, Polity (forthcoming).
  • (with Rob Reich) »Political Theory and the Nonprofit Sector«, in: Walter W. Powell and Patricia Bromley (eds.), The Nonprofit Sector: A Research Handbook, Stanford University Press (forthcoming).