Modernity and the Economics of Gift and Charity: On Ivan Illich’s Critique of Abstract Philanthropy

This essay explores the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the work of the radical Catholic social theorist Ivan Illich (1926–2002), via a discussion of the changing meaning of charity in Western thought and practice. It is argued that Illich’s thought is animated by a traditional theological understanding of charity as anchored in local, personal bonds and networks of reciprocity, and that his critique of Western economic modernity has much to do with the gradual depersonalization and institutionalization of charity, theoretically and in society, linked to its transmogrification into “abstract” philanthropy. Drawing on debates around the nature of love and the gift in contemporary theology, philosophy, and social anthropology, the conceptual dynamics of Illich’s account of human sociality are made clear.

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Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory

Telos 174 (Spring 2016): Philosophy, Literature, Theory is now available for purchase in our store.

In this issue, Telos turns to a diverse set of philosophers, contemporary and classical, and questions, concerning ethics and politics on the one hand, and literature and aesthetics on the other. More often than not, those distinctions turn out to be difficult to maintain. A case in point is the opening essay, which examines how statements by Levinas have been subjected to political readings in order to impute to him positions that he did not hold. What are the ethics of intentional misreadings? In their meticulously argued analysis, Oona Eisenstadt and Claire Elise Katz demonstrate how the philosopher’s comments in a 1982 radio interview, in the immediate aftermath of the massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, have been subjected to increasing degrees of misrepresentation, culminating in false accusations that he justified the killings. These insinuations involved fabricating quotations to put words in his mouth. Eisenstadt and Katz expose the poor philology and tendentious politics implicit in such distortion.

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