Nothing in common but one word

I’m heading to State College tonight, and I’ve been spending this afternoon in Washington reading and working a bit. Here’s a late afternoon view from M Street near the Key Bridge:

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Here’s a passage from The Road to Serfdom that someone shared earlier today, appropriate for this election season:

There can be no doubt that most of those in the democracies who demand a central direction of all economic activity still believe that socialism and individual freedom can be combined. Yet socialism was early recognized by many thinkers as the greatest threat to freedom.

It is rarely remembered now that socialism in its beginnings was frankly authoritarian. It began quite openly as a reaction against the liberalism of the French Revolution. The French writers who laid its foundations had no doubt that their ideas could be put into practice only by a strong dictatorial government. The first of modern planners, Saint-Simon, predicted that those who did not obey his proposed planning boards would be “treated as cattle”.

Nobody saw more clearly than the great political thinker de Tocqueville that democracy stands in an irreconcilable conflict with socialism: “Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom,” he said. “Democracy attaches all possible value to each man,” he said in 1848, “while socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

To allay these suspicions and to harness to its cart the strongest of all political motives—the craving for freedom—socialists began increasingly to make use of the promise of a “new freedom”. Socialism was to bring “economic freedom” without which political freedom was “not worth having”.

To make this argument sound plausible, the word “freedom” was subjected to a subtle change in meaning. The word had formerly meant freedom from coercion…

We’re living through the playing out of the logic of centuries-old social/political disputes.

David Rubenstein and patriotic philanthropy

Mikaela Lefrak’s portrait of billionaire David Rubenstein is a fitting read for George Washington’s birthday. I’m a sucker for what Rubenstein calls “patriotic philanthropy”:

Rubenstein has shaped the cultural landscape of the nation’s capital perhaps more than any other private citizen in the past century. The Bethesda resident has done it while generally avoiding negative press, putting him in stark contrast with other Washington billionaires – your Jeff Bezoses, your Donald Trumps.

“You know, I get a lot of pleasure out of doing these things,” Rubenstein told me at the top of the Washington Monument. “And if I didn’t do them and I died with more money, would I be a happier person? I don’t think so.”

He calls this type of giving “patriotic philanthropy.”

But in this age of bitter partisanship and vast income inequality, what drives someone to stay out of politics and instead give their money to monuments, museums and historic sites? It’s not even clear that these public institutions are as universally valued today as they once were. And many a presidential candidate would argue that the very concept of being a billionaire is morally suspect. …

So what motivates David Rubenstein to follow this path?

Deciding to give away money is easy. Figuring out how to do it can be much more complex.

First, you need a strategy. Take Andrew Carnegie: The 19th century tycoon spent the last two decades of his life as a full-time philanthropist, building more than 3,000 public libraries across the country and setting up education and cultural institutions. Many of them still thrive today, from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University) to Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Other billionaires set up private foundations and hire other people to give their money away for them. The Ford Foundation was built on the wealth of the founders of Ford Motor Company in 1936. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world, with more than $50 billion in assets.

There’s also a more business-minded approach. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan created a limited liability company that allows them to both make grants and venture investments.

As for David Rubenstein, there’s no foundation, no LLC. Just a check book and a passion for American history.

Rubenstein’s old school approach to public life as a billionaire, seeking to make an impact in a way that is at once deeply political, in the sense that he’s bolstering our national institutions, and yet beyond partisanship, in the sense that he appears to relate to other people first as people, is refreshing.

Dumbarton home

There’s this house on Dumbarton Street. I walk past it a few times every week. It’s one of my favorites because it looks not just like a house, but a real home—with all the old thoughtfulness and attentions to little detail that seems so lacking in more contemporary architecture. And it has some of that country/Southern aura to it, ensconced in a little yard of greenery. In the warmer months the bushes by the fence flower and animals nest in the greenery.

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I think this is what a good home looks like.

Rock Creek Parkway motorcade

A small perk of the habit of walking to/from work in the winter came in the form of last night’s motorcade sighting, heading north up Rock Creek Parkway. We typically get at least one motorcade down Connecticut past our offices every day. I hope I never get so familiar with Washington that I’m anesthetized to how strange and impressive these are, in the way they communicate power and public priorities in this Federal City.

What’s the point of living in a place like this if you become blasé about it?

Sunny Rose Park

I got back to Washington yesterday in the early afternoon after visiting Philadelphia this weekend. This morning’s walk to work from Georgetown to Dupont Circle was beautiful, and the weather today is spring-like mid-60s:

That’s Rose Park, near the M Street Bridge.

Brookland sunset

I was in Brookland last Saturday to meet a friend at Busboys and Poets for dinner. This was my view while I was waiting outside, enjoying the incredibly temperate late January weather. It was one of those evenings, one of those moments, where it feels like there’s electricity in the air.

March for Life 2020

Americans of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs are in Washington, DC this weekend and they came to be a part of today’s March for Life, marking 47 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s imposed Roe doctrine of lawful indifference to human life.

It’s a powerful and hopeful week of events, organizing, rallying, prayer, and companionship when we take stock of the victories of the past year and the work to come. There are incredible reasons for hope, even as threats to the human right to life have expanded across the spectrum, particularly concerning patients’ rights and suicide. There’s always work to be done.

President Trump’s remarks were perfect, and an encouraging sign that political leadership at the highest levels will increasingly participate in the March for Life.