Almost instantly after the devastating fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris captured world-wide attention, French (and other) billionaires started pledging large sums of money towards restoration. That was followed up by countless other pledges, large and small, from rich and not-rich alike, to restore what is both an architectural masterpiece and a seminal element of Western culture.

Alas, no good deed goes unpunished, especially in the hate-filled world of social media. The scolds wasted little time. As Forbes reports, the billionaires largesse has prompted a backlash.

Never mind that people should be happy the (inevitable) restoration is being funded without raiding taxpayer funds (so far). Never mind that we are witnessing people voluntarily donating the fruits of their own labor, rather than trying to pry it out of others’ hands (whether it be insurers, the Church, or the government aka the taxpayers). No, the holier-than thous who populate that cesspool of id-effluvia known as Twitter have to tell the rest of us how everyone but them is getting it wrong. Not only wrong, but “children starving” wrong.

At the heart of this scolding is the rampant narcissism that social media has magnified and multiplied. Today, millions of yutzes with an Internet connection are so confident in their superior knowledge about how other people’s money should be spent that they dump their thoughts out to the public the moment they’re formed. A billionaire decided to part with a chunk of his fortune for what he deems a worthy cause? Can’t have that, because Nattering_Nitwit_8675309 thinks there are better uses for that money.

We should know better than to give any audience to these fools, but there are so many of them that the pressures they collectively apply are hard to ignore. The linked Forbes article speaks of the “Sackler Effect,” where social media scolding is having a dampening effect on charitable giving by the wealthy. That dampening, in turn, diminishes the “me too” effect that big donations have. The billionaires’ pledges have very likely inspired many of the smaller donations that have poured in, and absent them, the restoration fund would not only be diminished directly, but also in the copy-catting. As I recently blogged, publicizing a big gift can inspire others to give.

Also lost on the scolds is the millennia-long history of the wealthy being patrons of art. In the Renaissance era alone, the Borgias, the Medicis, and the Sforzas funded so many of the artists we revere today. In more recent times, the wealthy have produced, inspired, collected, preserved (and, as importantly, made available to the public) vast collections of art. Just last year, Florence Irving donated $80 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The efforts and wealth of Peggy Guggenheim, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Doris Duke, Steven Cohen, Bill Koch, Charles Saatchi, and countless others of current and recent days, were they derailed or curtailed by such scolding as the French billionaires have drawn, would leave our and other cultures immeasurably poorer.

I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts, by the way, that these scolds would scream high holy murder if, at a different time, a politician proposed cutting public funding for the arts, or for public libraries. Consistency is not something we’ll find much of in that sphere.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the most infamous charity scold of the current political landscape: Bernie Sanders. Bernie, back in his less ‘careful’ days as Mayor of Burlington, infamously denigrated private charity, asserting that the things that charities did were more properly the role of the government. Spoken like a true socialist, and I write that both as a hat-tip to ideological purity and as an insult, since socialism is an utterly failed idea that has murdered or impoverished billions.

Both Sanders and the Notre Dame scolds share the same arrogant conceit: the belief that they can do better with Other People’s Money, and the presumption that they’re entitled to. They also share the same tunnel vision: if Notre Dame gets restored with private money, then it won’t be sucking up public money (and only a blind fool could possibly think that the Cathedral would not be restored after the fire) that they and theirs could demand be used for their preferred causes.

No matter what your personal opinions about the Cathedral, whether they be from a religious, cultural, architectural, or artistic perspective, you don’t have standing to deride others for doing as they will with their own money. Others’ charity (real charity, not the false charity of giving away others’ tax dollars) should be an inspiration, even if it’s imperfect or not how you’d do it.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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