Billionaire David Koch died today at 79 years old after suffering for 27 years from prostate cancer. During his time as a philanthropist Koch, along with his brother Charles, cultivated a great deal of fame and infamy.
While he’s known almost exclusively for his giving to right-of-center conservative and libertarian organizations, Koch’s extensive philanthropy to hospitals and cultural centers should not go unnoticed. Moved, one would suspect, by his own suffering, Koch gave hundreds of millions of dollars to cancer research—including founding MIT’s Koch Center for Integrative Cancer Research—as well as cultural institutions—including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 9/11 Memorial, the Smithsonian, and much else besides.
Nevertheless, he is most known for his significant investments in the “freedom movement.” As James Piereson describes in Shattered Consensus, after conservatives lost the universities, they rallied around para-academic organizations, building a network of think tanks, university centers, and grassroots organizations.
The freedom movement, and the Koch brothers in particular, are the subject of much slander, bad press, and criticism. From “dark money” to nefarious political and academic manipulations to ruining the global climate, David and Charles Koch were reputedly the cause of unending harm and destruction, both locally and globally.
Whether you are on the left or the right, one should at least have the self-awareness to filter and tone down the undoubtedly overblown criticism of the Koch brothers. Even George Soros—himself a much-slandered billionaire—has demonstrated a willingness to partner with Charles Koch, suggesting that the Koch brothers are not, perhaps, the unrestrained evil forces they are typically made out to be.
And, whether you are on the left or the right, one should certainly have the dignity and the decency to withhold excitement and ad hominem criticism of the deceased—at least until a few days after his death. Political fragmentation is at an all-time high as our civic culture disintegrates and our political and cultural discourse descends to an ever more desperate and shrill pitch. Perhaps you think Koch is to blame for this fragmentation, but fighting fire with fire—and on the day of his passing—is not a constructive way forward, and it should embarrass any decent person of goodwill.
Whatever David Koch’s virtues or vices in this life, one should hope that he rests in peace.