Philanthropy in Democratic Societies

October 28th, 2016

A panel discussion and book launch event with Lucy Bernholz, Paul Brest, Woody Powell, Rob Reich and Leif Wenar

Thursday, October 27

7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Paul Brest Hall, 
555 Salvatierra Walk, Stanford, CA 


Philanthropy is everywhere. In 2013, in the United States alone, some $330 billion was recorded in giving, from large donations by the wealthy all the way down to informal giving circles. We tend to think of philanthropy as unequivocally good but philanthropy is also an exercise of power. And like all forms of power, especially in a democratic society, it deserves scrutiny. Yet it rarely has been given serious attention.

Philanthropy in Democratic Societies brings together expert philosophers, sociologists, political scientists, historians, and legal scholars to ask fundamental and pressing questions about philanthropy’s role in democratic societies. The contributors balance empirical and normative approaches, exploring both the roles philanthropy has actually played in societies and the roles it should play. Together, they offer a vital assessment of philanthropy at a time when its power to affect public outcomes has never been greater.

This special book launch event features contributing authors in a broad and engaging conversation about the role of philanthropy in democratic societies.


Lucy Bernholz is a Senior Scholar at Stanford PACS where she is the Co-Director of the Digital Civil Society Lab. She writes extensively on philanthropy, technology, information, and policy on her blog, philanthropy2173.com.

Paul Brest is former Dean and Professor Emeritus (active) at Stanford Law School, a faculty co-director of Stanford PACS, and a Lecturer at the Graduate School of Business. He was previously president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. His teaching and research focus on philanthropy and impact investing.

Woody Powell is Professor of Education at Stanford Graduate School of Education and a faculty co-director of Stanford PACS. His research spans organization theory, economic sociology, the sociology of science, and institutional analysis.

Rob Reich is Professor of Political Science and a faculty co-director of Stanford PACS. His research focuses on contemporary political theory, and his most recent work examines the relationship between philanthropy, democracy, and justice.

Leif Wenar holds the Chair of Philosophy & Law at King’s College London. He is the author of Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence and the Rules that Run the World (Oxford, 2016).


This event will also be available globally through live-stream and video archived on the Stanford PACS event webpage and on Vimeo, courtesy of Perpetual.



Paul Brest Hall is located at 555 Salvatierra Walk, Stanford, CA, 94305.

The nearest parking lot to Paul Brest Hall is Parking Structure 6. It is an underground parking lot.


“Philanthropy in Democratic Societies begins an urgently needed discussion of the ethical questions raised by the changing role of philanthropy in the United States and elsewhere.”

– Peter Singer, philosopher and author of The Most Good You Can Do

Copies of Philanthropy in Democratic Societies will be available for purchase at the event.