Sunday, September 13, 2009

Andrew Carnegie’s Noblesse Oblige

"For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." ~Luke 12:48

He has been labeled as one of the Robber Barons. His defenders would advocate that he has been libeled to be tagged thus. History is filled with many shadows that complicate its accurate portrayal. Though some of his practices as he built his fortune in the steel industry are outlawed today, at the time they were not restricted. Like the other “robber barons” he was an opportunist.

On the positive side of the ledger, he is to be commended for a very strong belief in the concept of noblesse oblige, a French term which is understood to mean that nobility and wealth have moral obligations and responsibilities. Carnegie believed, and publicly stated, that it is morally wrong to die rich. In this matter Carnegie led by example. By the end of his life Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant who made good in America, had generously given back all of his fortune to help the less fortunate.

Before Carnegie died (ninety years ago this summer), he had already given away over 350 million dollars, the equivalent of 4.3 billion in today’s dollars. Upon his death, the last thirty million were given to foundations, charities and pensioners.

I myself am a lover of libraries, as anyone who knows me knows. Carnegie, too, was a believer in the power of books and education to help people improve their lot in life. For this reason, in addition to contributing heavily to many academic institutions he also built public libraries across the country.

When I first came to Duluth, I was struck by the beautiful architecture of the Carnegie Library here, and surprised that Carnegie’s wealth flowed even to this little corner of the universe. (The library moved to a larger facility shortly after.)

Whatever people think of the man himself, a businessman who became the richest man in America, for his example of noblesse oblige Andrew Carnegie should be remembered.


Christella said...

I've always liked Carnegie because of his gifts to libraries, especially since I spent much of my childhood in libraries.

ENNYMAN said...

Thanks for the visit.

I myself have said, more than a hundred times, libraries are the one thing I don't mind paying taxes for. I have always "lived" in libraries... or visited them since a child.
Best to you