How does Andrew Carnegie view charity?

Expert Answers
rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Carnegie saw philanthropy, if not exactly charity, as the duty of the very wealthy. As one of the richest and most powerful businessmen of his era, Carnegie generally opposed attempts to restrain the power of men like himself, whether through labor organization or government action. He thought, in short, that businessmen should be left alone to make as much money as they could. Society, he thought, would benefit from this, because it would foster innovation and the creation of wealth. But Carnegie also believed, according to one of his most famous quotes, that a man "who dies rich, dies disgraced." He claimed, in an essay entitled "Wealth," that the rich should not simply bequeath all of their riches to their heirs or leave them to be donated to charities upon their death. Rather, the rich should, after amassing wealth, see that it is put to good use. Carnegie believed that men like himself were the best suited to determine how their money should be spent, and that they should use it to provide ambitious, hard-working people with an opportunity for advancement. According to Carnegie, "the best means of benefiting the community is to place within its reach the ladders upon which the aspiring can rise." For him, this meant institutions of learning, art museums, and especially libraries, where people could go to educate themselves. He believed that giving money to the very poor was "rewarding vice," because he assumed that the poor were only poor because of their own laziness or wastefulness. So he did not believe in charity per se, but rather in using wealth to create opportunities for future generations of leaders. His philanthropic endeavors, especially his libraries, were aimed at this end.

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Gospel of Wealth," Andrew Carnegie speaks directly on the subject of charity when he declares, "one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity." He goes on to say that the majority of funds given to charitable causes is "unwisely spent."

Carnegie expresses his belief that in making charitable donations, the person doing the donating feels personally gratified by his own generosity, which in Carnegie's view, is actually very selfish and perhaps one of "the very worst actions of his life." 

Carnegie seems to believe that "alms giving" runs the risk of perpetuating the recipient's helplessness. Though he recognizes that some people are actually worthy and their need is temporary, he expresses doubt about the ability to sort out who is worthy and who is not. 

Carnegie concludes that the optimum kind of charitable giving is to public works, what he calls " ladders upon which the aspiring can rise." He supports the creation of works of art and public institutions such parks for recreation.

In disposing of his own surplus wealth, Carnegie donated around $350 million for public schools, libraries, and arts organizations in addition to other public causes. 


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Andrew Carnegie, who was one of the people most closely connected to the idea of the "Gospel of Wealth," believed that charity was something that should be given and administered by the rich.  Carnegie believed in the social Darwinist idea that the rich were the "fittest."  He believed that they were successful because they were simply better than everyone else.  Given this belief, it made sense that the rich should control charity.  They should not give money and let someone else decide how the money was to be spent.  Instead, they should decide for themselves how it would be spent.  If that meant putting conditions on the people who received the charity, that was fine.  It was in the best interests of all concerned if the rich acted paternalistically towards the poor.

Read the study guide:
Andrew Carnegie

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question
Additional Links