Within hours of the fire that destroyed much of the Notre Dame Cathedral, donors pledged more than $1 billion to restore this magnificent, iconic structure and place of worship. So reports the Washington Post.
In the same article, the Post also reports on a backlash against this amazing generosity. A leader of the Yellow Vest movement says that if donors can give so much money to rebuild Notre Dame, “they should stop telling us there is no money to help deal with the social emergency.”
But the donations to Notre Dame are coming from private donors. No one denies they have money. It’s the French government that’s running out.
Some in the Yellow Vest movement probably favor the government taking yet more money from the wealthy “to help deal with the social emergency.” That’s understandable. There always have been, and always will be, folks who want to take money from the rich. But private efforts to help rebuild Notre Dame aren’t an argument for doing so.
Would the Yellow Vests have a better claim on the wealth of donors if instead of contributing to the Cathedral they hoarded their money or spent it on yachts and planes? Of course not.
The Yellow Vests aren’t the only political faction that feels aggrieved by the generosity of donors to Notre Dame. Right on schedule, some leftists are characterizing the donations as just another example of “white privilege.”
They note the comparatively low amount of Euros that have been pledged to restore Brazil’s National Museum that burned last September. They also point to the lack of donations to restore ancient sites destroyed by ISIS in Syria.
But the donors to Notre Dame are Parisian (or at least French), not Brazilian or Syrian. Notre Dame, the icon of their city, means vastly more to them than a museum in Brazil or a ruin in Syria — not because of “white privilege” but because the Cathedral graces the city where they live and is of immense cultural significance to them personally. The donors might also be serious Catholics which, of course, would be another very good reason to donate to the Cathedral while not donating (or donating much less) to sites not associated with Catholicism.
Just as the complaints of some Yellow Vests are based on implicit socialism, the complaints about “white privilege” are based on the implicit view that one’s nationality and one’s religion count for nothing in particular. This view is probably even more ruinous than socialism.
Finally, the Post reports that some are claiming that the generous gifts of the wealthiest donors are a way of getting tax breaks. Typically, the French government allows corporations a 60 percent tax deduction on donations that further culture. This fact led one economist to tweet:
Billionaires should pay taxes, not give when they feel like it, benefiting from enormous tax breaks.
Two of the biggest donors, Bernard Arnault ($224 million) and Francois-Henri Pinault ($112 million), promptly shot down this bit of knee-jerk leftism. Arnault told shareholders that his family holding company had already maxed out on tax deductions for charitable contributions. Pinault said that his donation, similarly, will not be subject to any tax deduction.
Like every tragedy these days, the burning of Notre Dame is bringing out the best and the worst in people. It has generated an outpouring of interdenominational sympathy and generosity, but also envy, specious claims of victimhood, and contempt for both religion and the West.