Historian David Nasaw on Andrew Carnegie’s “utopian” quest for “a working miracle”

David Nasaw, author of Andrew Carnegie (The Penguin Press, 2006), was the featured speaker at a seminar on August 30th at the Peace Palace in The Hague, reflecting on the centennials of Carnegie Corporation of New York, a philanthropic foundation, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an international think tank.  The event also marked the eve of the 100th anniversary of the construction of the Peace Palace, which was funded by Andrew Carnegie as a symbol of his goal of achieving world peace.

The Andrew Carnegie highlighted in Mr. Nasaw’s lecture “The Continuing Relevancy of Andrew Carnegie’s Legacy” is “not the one we are familiar with, not the genius of iron and steel, not the founder of scientific philanthropy, not the builder of libraries and institutions, not the brilliant writer and social philosopher of capitalism.”

Nasaw, the meticulous researcher and keen analyst whose extensive study of Andrew Carnegie made the self-titled book a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the winner of the New York Historical Society Prize in American History, presents an altogether different Andrew Carnegie.  

This Andrew Carnegie was a man who “refused to stop dreaming, refused to give up his quest for ‘a working miracle,’” or disarmament, and “refused to understand how…realists in government dismissed his utopian proposals with disgust.”  Nasaw calls Carnegie “an enthusiast, a utopian,” a man “who we honor for his vision—still unfulfilled, for his dreams even more than for his accomplishments.”

“Might we not learn from him,” asks Nasaw, “from looking back across the desolate dark century that has passed, the world wars, the genocides, the killing fields, to his dreams, his hopes, his utopian belief in progress and his work for the day when reason and humankind would take the final step forward from barbarism to civilization.”

Read David Nasaw’s lecture.