Sinister Philanthropy

It may be a neologism. I have never come across it but an awareness of its significance and relevance has grown in me these past few years. Has any of you encountered the word ‘technarchy’?

Monarchy is the rule of one; oligarchy the rule of a few. Plutarchy is the rule of the wealthy; hierarchy the rule of priests. Anarchy is the rule of no one. Technarchy would be the rule of technology.

In a technarchical world a ‘perfection of means and confusion of goals’ (Einstein) gives rise to soulless and rootless atheism. There is no system of belief because there is no contemplation – only action. The sole purpose of life is production. The only absolute is efficiency and the only shared commonality among men is their capacity to produce and compete. There is no theology because there is no ‘theos’. No metaphysics because nothing transcends the physical. Philosophy and religion are disregarded and eventually vilified as hostile to technarchy’s destiny which in fact is an absence of destiny. The virtues of faith, hope and charity are jettisoned as antique relics vitiated by their own irrelevance.  Other than the seduction of affluence there is nothing to respond to, nothing to believe in, nothing to hope for, and no reason to care.

Because it is totalitarian a technarchy sublates the unique dignity of each individual and imposes uniformity, a uniformity above which only the powerful (the most technologically adept) can rise and therefore control. These technocrats see themselves as ‘masters of the universe’ (Wolfe).

In his collection of essays titled “The Age of Secularization” the Italian philosopher Del Noche has written: “The death of God is followed by the will to power, unabated under the masks of altruism, humanitarianism and philanthropy”. These words written a half century ago seem chillingly prophetic when we consider how wealth, power and philanthropy can be conflated today. Readers, I expect, will relate to Del Noche’s prediction.

Philanthropy can indeed mask a will to power. But, as heirs to the Judeo-Christian heritage and more specifically as adherents to Catholic dogma, the trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation regard philanthropy more as a ministry than as a means. Not as masters of our lives but as ministers to God’s will we aspire to be infused by (dare I say ‘graced by’) faith, hope and charity as we facilitate the intention of our donors to participate more fully in the advance of the Kingdom.

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  1. A similar term is technopolis, the title of an excellent and prescient book by the late social critic Neil Postman. More hopefully, we should note that (surprisingly enough), younger Catholics and even non-Catholics are creating a critique of technarchy–please see the work of Nathan Schneider (he writes for America magazine, among numerous others). And digital visionary Douglas Rushkoff, himself a secular Jew, ends his most recent book (Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus) with a chapter laying out and defending Catholic social teachings as guideposts for a new digital economy. Signs of hope!

  2. I just finished reading a book called “The Givers” by David Callahan, subtitled “Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age”. It speaks to the issue you’ve addressed – that there is a group of influential wealthy that use their resources in supposedly philanthropic, humanitarian efforts to effect change in society. They are incredibly diverse, focusing across the arts, education, environment, social issues, etc. What they all have in common is the elite, using their resources to work outside government or public domain, to accomplish their personal agendas.
    What you correctly point out, is that the mentality of a “kingdom focus” is missing, which would unite all efforts under a ministry heading that is an extension of our faith, as opposed to “how can we further our own legacy or agenda”. Thank you for always cutting through the fog to provide clarity in a few words.

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