“There is no frigate like a book,” says Leslie Lenkowsky, quoting the poet Emily Dickinson. A small group of philanthropists have made a specialty of supporting public policy books—and in doing so these donors have shaped and improved American life more than they probably thought was possible. “Books are the best way to affect how people think,” says Lenkowsky, who helped support many important books as research director of the Smith Richardson Foundation in the 1970s and 1980s. “A book sails around the world, reaching people in ways that are lasting and incalculable.”
This specialized form of giving is necessary because serious books rarely turn a big profit—certainly not enough to support an author and his family for the length of time it takes to write a whole manuscript. Yet a book’s impact can go far beyond mere sales figures. “Books bring new ideas to the public square, where they affect the climate of opinion, change the cultural milieu, and move policy,” says Dan Schmidt, executive vice president of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, another organization with an impressive history of supporting books and the public policy thinkers who write them. “We think ideas are important, and so are the authors who can articulate these ideas persuasively.”
Some of the most significant books of the last 25 years simply wouldn’t have been written without philanthropic help. The following is not an exhaustive list of outstanding books. Instead, it’s a close look at eight great ones and the philanthropists who made them possible. The accounts are based on a close examination of each book and its fallout, as well as interviews with each author and many of the donors.
Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, by Charles Murray (Basic Books, 1984). In any given week, the New York Times will print two or three dozen unsigned editorials imparting the collective wisdom of American liberalism. The top editorial of the Sunday paper is usually reserved for especially important statements, and on February 3, 1985, this valuable space was devoted to attacking a book whose total hardcover sales, had they occurred in a single week, might not have sufficed to make the paper’s own best-seller list. Losing Ground by Charles Murray is “deeply flawed,” “unlikely to survive scrutiny,” and “troubled by some big holes,” complained the Times. Twelve years later, the same paper would call Losing Ground the “book that many people believe begot welfare reform.”
The book came about in a “classic case of philanthropic entrepreneurship,” Murray ex- plains. An article he had written for The Public Interest sketched out the arguments he would make in Losing Ground, but Murray did not think a book was in the offing until he received an unexpected phone call from the Manhattan Institute, a think tank where his ideas had won an audience. They proposed that he turn the article into a book, and Murray accepted. The John M. Olin Foundation provided $30,000 in support, and the Smith Richardson Foundation kicked in $25,000 for promotion when the book came out. “The amounts of money were small, but they were critical to me,” Murray recalls.
He was exactly the right author, coming to the project with a firm grasp of social science and a solid understanding of how welfare programs really operated. And the tone of Losing Ground was perfect. Rather than taking a perverse delight in the failure of government to ameliorate the suffering of the poor, it approached the subject with heartfelt regret and unyielding resolve. “When [social policy] reforms finally do occur, they will happen not because stingy people have won, but because generous people have stopped kidding themselves,” Murray wrote.
New York Times editorialists weren’t the only ones to pile on. Early in 1985, an article by Robert Greenstein in The New Republic asked: “Is Charles Murray a fraud?” Losing Ground sold about 30,000 copies in hardcover—impressive for a policy book, but not the sort of numbers that excite publishers. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t embraced by Ronald Reagan’s White House; Murray, in fact, was denied a job in the administration because Losing Ground was viewed as too right-wing.
Yet within a decade of publication its claims were conventional wisdom. In the tenth anniversary edition, Murray was able to write a passage that was remarkable because it was true: “It is now accepted that the social programs of the 1960s broadly failed; that government is clumsy and ineffectual when it intervenes in local life; and the principles of personal responsibility, penalties for bad behavior, and rewards for good behavior have to be introduced into social policy.”
Much had changed in just a few years, and Losing Ground was a big part of the reason why. In 1984, Murray proposed ending welfare; a dozen years later, a Democratic president signed a law to do something very much like that.
Free to Choose, by Milton and Rose D. Friedman (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980). Before Bob Chitester began to raise money for the television documentary “Free to Choose,” from which the book by the same title emerged, he had an important question for Milton Friedman, the man who would host the show. At a meeting long before any of the filming started, Chitester pulled out his copy of Friedman’s classic book Capitalism and Freedom, turned to a passage he had marked with a little white tab, and read aloud: “One topic in the area of social responsibility that I feel duty-bound to touch on, because it affects my own personal interests, has been the claim that business should contribute to the support of charitable activities. Such giving by corporations is an inappropriate use of corporate funds in a free-enterprise society.”
“Are you serious about this?” Chitester asked.
“I do believe it,” Friedman replied. “But as a practical matter we should pursue money where it’s available.”
Over the next two years, Chitester, probably the world’s first and only libertarian PBS station manager, raised about $4 million for “Free to Choose.” Two of the biggest donors were the Sarah Scaife Foundation ($500,000) and the John M. Olin Foundation ($250,000), but private businesses, from major corporations such as General Motors, Pepsico, and Reader’s Digest to the mom-and-pop members of the National Federation of Independent Business, also played a major role. “These big gifts were critical,” says Chitester, “but lots of our donors were relatively small contributors.”
What united them all was an interest in helping to secure a high-profile platform for a Nobel Prize-winning economist and plainspoken man who was also one of the world’s most forceful advocates of free-market principles. In January 1980, the ten-part “Free to Choose” aired on nearly 150 PBS stations in the United States to great acclaim. Millions of viewers had never before been exposed to such a compelling enunciation of the workings of market capitalism. “We have been forgetting the basic truth that the greatest threat to human freedom is the concentration of power, whether in the hands of government or anyone else,” Milton and Rose Friedman wrote in the companion book. “We are as a people still free to choose which way we should go—whether to continue along the road we have been following to ever bigger government, or to call a halt and change direction.”
The book Free to Choose, based on transcripts of the PBS series, appeared in bookstores as the documentary aired. The Friedmans explained in the preface why they wanted their popular TV series also made available to readers: “Television is dramatic. It appeals to the emotions. It captures your attention. Yet, we remain of the opinion that the printed page is a more effective instrument for both education and persuasion.” But former Delaware governor Pete du Pont pointed out in a 1999 newspaper column that the book was also successful because Friedman has “the ability to express economic principles in terms non-economists can understand.”
The contract to publish Free to Choose was a straight financial transaction between the Friedmans and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, but the philanthropists who made the documentary possible also deserve credit for the book, which became the best-selling nonfiction work of 1980 and has sold more than a million copies in hardcover and paperback. “The book would never have existed had we not done the TV program,” Milton Friedman says.
The Naked Public Square, by Richard John Neuhaus (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984). “I have the fortune and misfortune of my book titles really catching on,” says Richard John Neuhaus—the author of two books, The Catholic Moment and The Naked Public Square, whose titles really have caught on. Both are noteworthy, but the latter has the distinction of probably being the most important book written on religion and public life in the last quarter-century. It is simply not possible to enter a serious discussion on American church-state relations without accounting for this work.
“The naked public square is the result of political doctrine and practice that would exclude religion and religiously grounded values from the conduct of public business,” wrote Neuhaus, who was then a Lutheran minister and well known for his antiwar activism in the 1960s. (He is now a Catholic priest and editor of the journal First Things.) The book is ostensibly a critical but sympathetic look at the rise of the Religious Right in the 1970s, back when it was called the Moral Majority—but it’s much more besides.
The Naked Public Square is vintage Neuhaus, at once chatty and highbrow, mixing colloquial expressions with philosophical allusions. Neuhaus can take his time to make a point, but when he makes it, he makes it with force and vigor. “It is a perverse mindset that insists that the relationship between church and state must always be one of conflict and confrontation,” he writes. And yet this is indisputably a prevailing mindset among many of America’s culture setters.
“This is the cultural crisis—and therefore the political and legal crisis—of our society: the popularly accessible and vibrant belief systems and world views of our society are largely excluded from the public arena in which the decisions are made about how the society should be ordered,” Neuhaus continues. “The answer lies in a more public role for religion . . . . Specifically with regard to the law, there is nothing in store but a continuing deepening crisis of legitimacy if the courts persist in systematically ruling out of order the moral traditions in which Western law has developed and which bear, for the overwhelming majority of the American people, a living sense of right and wrong.” The consequences of leaving the public square naked, he adds, are grave: “Where there are no transcendent sanctions, positive and negative, there is no final inhibition against evil.”
Neuhaus wrote The Naked Public Square shortly after concluding a project in 1982 on mediating institutions that was funded by the Lilly Endowment. By the time the book came out the next year, Neuhaus had founded the Center on Religion and Society with the assistance of the Bradley and Olin Foundations. As every author knows, the success of a book depends upon the quality of its marketing almost as much as upon the quality of its writing. “We used the Center’s facilities, coordinated efforts with the publisher, pushed the book and its argument in our newsletter—the usual promotional racket,” Neuhaus quips.
The promotion paid off. “The book’s basic argument has been mainlined,” Neuhaus says. “Even those who subscribed to exaggerated notions of church-state separation must say they don’t want the naked public square as Richard John Neuhaus describes it.”
The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties’ Legacy to the Underclass, by Myron Magnet (William Morrow & Co., 1993). If ever a book demonstrated that it’s not necessary to sell hundreds of thousands of copies to make a difference, it’s The Dream and the Nightmare by Myron Magnet. Sometimes a book can make an impact by reaching only a single reader—as long as that reader becomes President of the United States.
Shortly before George W. Bush announced in 1994 he was running for governor of Texas, his political advisor Karl Rove slipped him a copy of The Dream and the Nightmare. Magnet’s central idea—that the moral revolution of the 1960s was a cultural disaster for the poor—resonated with Bush. After his election, Bush bought copies for his top-level staff, urged them to read it, and invited Magnet to Austin for a day of meetings in 1997. “When I sat down with his cabinet—the heads of all his departments in the state government—we had a substantial discussion. It was clear that they had read the book, and a few of them carried around marked-up copies,” Magnet says. Since then, Bush has called The Dream and the Nightmare the book that has influenced him more than any he’s ever read, apart from the Bible.
It would not have been written without the Sarah Scaife Foundation, a supporter of the Manhattan Institute’s books program in the early 1990s. At the time, Magnet was writing social-policy stories for Fortune but growing disenchanted with his magazine’s leftward tilt. The Manhattan Institute encouraged him to take a leave of absence and become one of its fellows; two-and-a-half years later, The Dream and the Nightmare was done. “They had the confidence to structure a book project around the talents of a particular author, rather than picking a topic they wanted written about and trying to find a suitable writer,” says Magnet, who returned to Fortune but later went back to the Manhattan Institute, where he now edits City Journal.
The Dream and the Nightmare reveals the vital importance of good writing, especially in its depiction of American society split between two groups Magnet labels the “Haves” and the “Have-Nots.” The cultural crisis of the underclass springs out of this division: “The Haves are implicated because over the last 30 years they radically remade American culture, turning it inside out and upside down to accommodate a cultural revolution whose most mangled victims turned out to be the Have-Nots.” In the aftermath of the 1960s, Magnet wrote, “poverty turned patholog- ical . . . because the new culture that the Haves invented—their remade system of beliefs, norms, and institutions—permitted, even celebrated, behavior that, when poor people practice it, will imprison them inextricably in poverty. It’s hard to persuade ghetto 15-year-olds not to get pregnant, for instance, when the entire culture, from rock music to upscale perfume commercials to highbrow books, is intoxicated with the joy of what before AIDS was called ‘recreational’ sex.”
This state of affairs arguably has not changed much since The Dream and the Nightmare was published—except that Magnet’s thesis has caught the attention of America’s leadership. When the President declares, “For too long our culture has said, ‘If it feels good, do it,’” as Bush did in this year’s State of the Union address, it’s almost as if he were reciting a passage, chapter and verse, from Magnet.
Politics, Markets, & America’s Schools, by John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe (Brookings Institution Press, 1990). School choice was not a new idea when John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe came out strongly for it in Politics, Markets, & America’s Schools. Yet their book, in the words of the Chicago Tribune, “rocked the education world.” They had done nothing less than produce what is probably the most influential book on K-12 education of the last generation.
Some 30 years before, Milton Friedman had proposed a system of education vouchers. Chubb and Moe’s achievement was to turn an intellectually appealing theory into an argument backed by extensive empirical data which showed that public
schools, shackled by bureaucratic and political meddling, were incapable of performing as well as private ones. Using exhaustive data provided by the Department of Education, the authors concluded that public education’s problems were so fundamental that solving them required a totally new set of institutions dependent on free markets and parental choice. “Reformers believe the source of [educational] problems is to be found in and around the schools, and that schools can be ‘made’ better by relying on existing institutions to impose the proper reforms,” Chubb and Moe wrote. “We believe existing institutions cannot solve the problem, because they are the problem—and that the key to better schools is institutional reform.”
By “institutional reform,” Chubb and Moe meant school choice. Their arguments were persuasive on their own terms, but Politics, Markets, & America’s Schools mattered more than it might have otherwise because it was published by the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning Washington think tank with an establishmentarian reputation—in other words, exactly the sort of place that isn’t supposed to favor school choice. Yet Paul Peterson, then the director of research at Brookings, backed the project from the start, drawing Chubb and Moe away from their perches at Stanford University and seeking funds from philanthropists attracted to school choice. “I remember visiting the Olin Foundation with a portfolio of our projects,” he recalls. “When I began describing this one, their eyes just lit up.”
The Olin Foundation provided $50,000. “We were interested in getting these ideas ensconced at liberal places,” says Jim Piereson of the Olin Foundation. “A Brookings Institution publication carries weight with Democrats and moderates. It can’t be written off as conservative propaganda.” The Bradley Foundation also donated generously, with two grants worth a total of $375,000.
The authors themselves had virtually no contact with Olin or Bradley. “From a research perspective, it was a fabulous way of dealing with a foundation,” says Peterson. “No micromanaging.”
Politics, Markets, & America’s Schools also benefited from appearing the same year Wisconsin approved a groundbreaking school-choice program for students in Milwaukee, an event that focused national attention on an innovative reform. In the decade that followed, school choice made a number of significant strides. In June 2002, the movement secured a major legal victory when the Supreme Court, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, ruled that vouchers are constitutional. Some advocates have been frustrated that school choice hasn’t made more political progress, but one thing’s for sure: Without the pioneering work of Chubb and Moe, it wouldn’t be where it is today.
Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, by Dinesh D’Souza (The Free Press, 1991). Dinesh D’Souza arrived at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow in 1989, but he was not sure what kind of research he wanted to pursue. While having lunch one day with journalist Morton Kondracke, he regaled the fellow Dartmouth alumnus with horror stories of political correctness on campus. “He was skeptical,” recalls D’Souza. “He kept asking me, ‘Are you saying Dartmouth is weird or that this is happening everywhere? ’” D’Souza knew it was happening everywhere, and right then he also knew he had an idea for a book.
There is no shortage of important books on higher education and its problems, and a handful of them, including Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, have enjoyed critical and commercial successes. Yet probably no author is more responsible than D’Souza for making “political correctness” (or “P.C.”) an everyday expression describing rigid left-wing orthodoxy. “The current academic revolution is being conducted at the highest levels of the university establishment,” warned D’Souza in Illiberal Education. “It is crucial that the arguments for the revolution be made [and] objections to them offered.”
D’Souza offered plenty of objections—against speech codes, low academic standards, and rotting curricula—and his book forced consideration of issues that previously had been ignored, both on campus and off. Illiberal Education lit a fire in the media. It was excerpted in the Atlantic Monthly and sparked dozens of respectful reviews from liberals frustrated by campus leftists (in publications that don’t often review conservative books favorably, such as The New Republic and the New York Review of Books). Plus it generated many more newspaper and magazine articles on a phenomenon that the public had not yet appreciated in full. D’Souza also spoke to standing-room-only audiences on the college-lecture circuit and became a fixture in debates on television. He was the public face of a burgeoning anti-P.C. movement and a hero to embattled conservative students.
Illiberal Education might not have been written but for the support of the Olin Foundation, which agreed to fund D’Souza’s position at AEI without knowing precisely what he would do there. “He had several book projects in mind, including one on higher education,” recalls the foundation’s Jim Piereson. “We felt Dinesh was an important young talent and decided to invest in him, rather than in a particular cause.”
The relationship between D’Souza and Olin continued for many years and produced several other books, including The End of Racism and Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. “The wonderful thing about Olin is that they don’t try to choreograph the work they fund,” says D’Souza, who is now affiliated with the Hoover Institution. “They pick good people and support what they do.”
D’Souza probably would have been a success at anything he did, but the Olin Foundation helped channel him, at the age of 28, toward a book-writing career that continues to thrive today—and which, more than a decade later, is still young and holds much promise.
The Tragedy of American Compassion, by Marvin Olasky (Regnery Gateway, 1992). Many authors talk about how they hit turning points in their research, moments of epiphany when their thoughts crystallize and everything seems to fall in place.
When Marvin Olasky was writing The Tragedy of American Compassion, his turning point came at the Library of Congress. “I had been researching the book for about a month before I received permission to go into the stacks,” he says. “I found some dusty old records from the nineteenth century. They weren’t in the card catalogue, and it was obvious that nobody had looked at them in a long time. I wouldn’t have seen them myself if I hadn’t been living in Washington.”
At the time, Olasky was professor at the University of Texas at Austin on a one-year leave. He had come to Washington in 1989 at the invitation of the Heritage Foundation, which made him a Bradley Scholar—a position funded by the Bradley Foundation—and urged him to turn his thoughts on poverty and compassion into a book. Five years later, right after the GOP election sweeps of 1994, Newt Gingrich was encouraging everybody who would listen to read it. “Our models are Alexis de Tocqueville and Marvin Olasky. We are going to redefine compassion and take it back,” said Gingrich in his first address to the country as Speaker of the House. Interest in Olasky didn’t end with Gingrich, either. As governor of Texas, George W. Bush labeled Olasky “compassionate conservatism’s leading thinker.”
In The Tragedy of American Compassion, Olasky argued that nineteenth-century models of religious-based charity were preferable to the liberal welfare state—a view that clearly has left its imprint on the Bush administration and its faith-based initiative. “Only two kinds of books on the overall history of poverty-fighting in America are now available. A few of the books argue that the free market itself solves all the problems of poverty. The more conventional approach stresses government intervention to restructure economic relations,” Olasky wrote in the introduction. “But neither kind emphasizes the crucial role of truly compassionate individuals and groups in the long fight against poverty. Neither goes beyond smug rejection or neglect of pre-twentieth century moral understandings.”
By looking to history, Olasky rediscovered an old way of confronting poverty—through private charity rooted in religious compassion—and made it new again. He was able to do this because the Bradley Foundation underwrites a program that allows the Heritage Foundation to provide one-year fellowships for prospective authors, who receive a salary, an office, and the time necessary to tackle an important subject with seriousness and at length. Prior to arriving at Heritage, the closest Olasky had come to writing something like The Tragedy of American Compassion was a paper prepared for the Capital Research Center. It was this work, however, that drew Heritage’s attention and led to the Bradley fellowship.
“I’m not much in the way of giving testimonials,” Olasky says. “Yet my book simply would not have been written—certainly not in the form it actually was written—without the help of philanthropy.”
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, by Samuel P. Huntington (Simon & Schuster, 1996). You know a book is influential when it’s been translated into Albanian. Six years after publication, Samuel P. Huntington’s landmark The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order is available in that language and about 30 others. This comes as no surprise, given that it’s the most important book on international conflict in the post-Cold War world—and one whose relevance has only increased in the wake of the September 11 terrorist strikes.
Before writing The Clash of Civilizations (his seventeenth book), Huntington worked at the National Security Council during the Carter administration, served as president of the American Political Science Association, and founded and edited Foreign Policy magazine. Throughout his career, philanthropy was a vital part of his success as an author and scholar. In the early 1980s, Huntington acquired seed money from the Smith Richardson Foundation and additional support from the Bradley Foundation to establish what eventually became the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, which currently receives about $600,000 per year from the Olin Foundation. Huntington directed the institute for many years and taught graduate students to approach security issues from the standpoint of history and realism. “We’re not model builders,” he says.
He also used the Olin Institute as a base for his scholarship. In 1993, he wrote an article for Foreign Policy advancing the hypothesis that would animate The Clash of Civilizations. With the Cold War struggle between freedom and communism finally over, he said, the world would shift away from ideological showdowns: “The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.” He called this “the latest phase of the evolution of conflict in the modern world.”
With help from the Olin Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation, Huntington expanded these ideas into a book-length manuscript that is required reading for anybody who hopes to understand international relations in the twenty-first century. Among Huntington’s many important observations is a warning not to believe a modernizing world is necessarily a Westernizing world: “Somewhere in the Middle East a half-dozen young men could well be dressed in jeans, drinking Coke, listening to rap, and, between their bows to Mecca, putting together a bomb to blow up an American airliner.” He worried that modernization could actually weaken the relative power and influence of the West and urged the United States to maintain technological superiority, prevent China and the Islamic world from developing military might, and pick its allies with care: “In the clash of civilizations, Europe and America will hang together or hang separately.”
In the confusion over how best to understand the post-Cold War period, The Clash of Civilizations offered a compelling framework for making sense of a complex and dangerous world. As another respected foreign-affairs writer, Robert D. Kaplan, wrote last December in The Atlantic, “If American political science leaves any lasting intellectual monument, the work of Samuel Huntington will be one of its pillars.”
John J. Miller is a writer for National Review, a former Bradley Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and the author of The Unmaking of Americans, which would be the ninth book on this list except for severe space limitations.