Civil Society, Philanthropy, and the Fate of the Commons

Bruce R. Sievers

Among the greatest challenges facing humanity in the twenty-first century is that of sustaining a healthy civil society, which depends upon managing the tension between individual and collective interests. Bruce R. Sievers explores this issue by investigating ways to balance the public and private sides of modern life in a manner that allows realization of the ideal of individual freedom and, at the same time, makes possible the effective pursuit of the common good. He traces the development of civil society from the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic and the eighteenth-century Scottish Enlightenment, analyzes its legacy for modern political life, and explores how historical trends in the formation of civil society and philanthropy aid or impede our achievement of public goods in the modern era.

Paper: $29.95 | E-book: $27.99
ISBN-13: 9781584658955
Pages: 224 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: March 9, 2010

“Bruce Sievers has made a distinctive contribution to our understanding of civil society.”

James Allen Smith, Rockefeller Archive Center


  • This book will be considered important reading for political philosophers, doctoral students, and theorists interested in the connection of civil society and philanthropy. It outlines more clearly than most previously published work the implications of the conception of philanthropy as pursuit of the common good by private means.

    Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
  • Bruce Sievers has made a distinctive contribution to our understanding of civil society. With seventeenth-century Holland as his point of departure, he discusses the ways in which values and institutions have interacted and melded to shape modern civil society.

    James Allen Smith
    Vice President and Director of Research and Education Rockefeller Archive Center

About the Author

Bruce Sievers

Bruce Sievers, currently a Visiting Scholar at the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University, has worked for more than 35 years in philanthropic organizations, including a decade as executive director of the California Council for the Humanities and almost two decades as the CEO of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. Known to view with skepticism fads that appear frequently in the field of philanthropy (see his article, “If Pigs Had Wings: The Appeals and Limits of …

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