The failure of philanthropy? 1880–1914
in The reputation of philanthropy since 1750
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In the late nineteenth century there began to be an increasing sense that philanthropy had failed. In part this was because of the emergence of a rival, altruism; declaring a religion of humanity, altruism claimed that, shorn of Christianity, it represented a purer form of love of humanity than philanthropy. The bigger challenge, however, came from those within the philanthropic world who did not disguise their feeling that what they called ‘the machinery of philanthropy’ was often doing as much harm as good. Toynbee Hall became the centre of a ‘new philanthropy’ in which the call was not for money but for yourselves. Socialists were wary even of this and called for an increasing role for the state, something that began to be achieved in the Liberal reforms of the early twentieth century. Another possibility that was aired was that millionaire philanthropists could help solve social problems. They were in fact rare on the ground. Bernard Shaw offered them some barbed advice.

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