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Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities contrasts Paris as a future-looking city of ideas and London as a city with nostalgia for its past.

But reverence for the past and reaching for the future can be found in the same city—capital cities might be particularly suited to such mixes (commercial centers are oriented more exclusively to the future, as businessmen are looking ahead to the day their ship comes in).

Washington, D.C. houses many of America’s great monuments to its leaders and past—but also is where many ideas that shape the nation’s future direction are hatched. 

Two Washington philanthropists who made their fortune together have focused their philanthropies very differently—in one case, on Washington’s great monuments, in the other case, on Washington as a future-oriented idea center. The two philanthropists are business partners Daniel D’Aniello and David Rubenstein, who, with a third partner, co-founded the Carlyle Group equity company. 

Daniel D’Alinello is the man who sees Washington as a place where the ideas to lead America into the future are found. Earlier this week, the American Enterprise Institute announced a $20 million gift from D’Alinello meant to invigorate a discussion about ideas and public policies.

In contrast, David Rubenstein has been a conspicuous philanthropist of America’s monuments and museums, especially those in Washington. Rubenstien’s philanthropy, which he calls “patriotic giving,” was just profiled in the New York Times—including his gifts to the National Zoo, the Kennedy Center, and the restoration of the Washington Monument.

(Hmmm… Coincidence that the liberal New York Times so flatteringly portrayed Rubenstein’s philanthropy to federal monuments just days before Carlyle-group co-founder D’Aniello’s gift to conservative AEI was publicly revealed…?)

In the New York Times profile of Rubenstein, the one sour note is a question of whether or not it is fitting for philanthropists to spend money on public monuments—ostensibly because such monuments are the responsibility of the government and because such philanthropy diverts philanthropic dollars from charities that traditionally rely on private gifts.

But, Rubenstein’s philanthropy towards public monuments is also traditional—it’s actually a quite recent development to think of the government as responsible for erecting and maintaining public monuments.

Instead, this used to be the responsibility of patriotic citizens. Aristotle supposed that wealthy citizens would expend funds on patriotic missions and monuments—the question for him was only what expenditures were appropriate to what degree of wealth (for example, Aristotle considers how wealthy one must be before it’s fitting to equip a trireme—is that for the somewhat wealthy Athenian or only the wealthiest?)

And, praiseworthy as Rubenstein’s funding of the Washington Monument’s restoration is, it’s worth noting that the very first Washington Monument—not the one on the National Mall but the Washington Monument near Boonsboro, Maryland—was built and financed by local citizens as a patriotic project. The project was begun on July 4, 1827, with work that day rounded off with a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a salute fired by Revolutionary War veterans. That first Washington monument—as so many monuments, museums, and institutions financed by private, patriotic citizens—is now publically owned and maintained. Until recently, public monuments depended just as much as charities on private philanthropy.

Moreover, in their different ways, gifts to both aspects of Washington—Washington as a future-oriented idea center and Washington as home to monuments to our great past—might both be seen as “patriotic giving” that aims to help the commonweal from private funds, however different the philanthropic priorities of these business partners might seem at first glance.

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