Stephen Hawking and Wealth Redistribution


Captain’s Log – supplemental: This is an extra post – a brief timeout from our trek through Deneen’s new book, which continues next week.  After the death of Stephen Hawking, some writers cited a flippant Hawking comment to assert that Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) technology is making wealth inequality so bad that more redistribution is necessary – IT IS NOT! We argue this point here every week and will continue to do so for many years to come. Why?  Because it’s your (my client’s and family’s) wealth that would be confiscated – and this is not just a defensive self-interest point; radical redistribution is rationally and morally wrong and would have drastically dire unintended consequences.


Here’s the Stephen Hawking quote from an internet question and answer session (not from a well-reasoned or researched book or article):

“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”


The economic problem (Hawking was a brilliant scientist, not an economist or lawyer) is his use of the word “distributed” – it implies a central planning authority empowered to decide how much wealth to steal and then dole out to the masses.  If you confiscate wealth from the “machine owners” they will stop inventing new machines and the old ones will become obsolete.  You can only confiscate the fruits of wealth; wealth itself is entrepreneurial innovation and production in the free market.  Hawking touted the potential benefits of A.I. for humanity in alleviating poverty but warned of the danger of “new ways for the few to oppress the many.” The greater dangers for humanity, however, lie in new ways for the many to oppress the few.  Fortunately, the U.S. Constitution, our legal and economic systems protect us from redistributive tyranny of the majority.



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Technology and the Loss of Liberty


We humans have mixed emotions about technology. Chapter 4 of Why Liberalism Failed explores both the triumph and terror that we experience because of the accelerating impact that technology has on our species.  Daneen fleshes out two aspects of the exponentially growing influence computers have on all of our lives:  1) Technology is changing us, often for the worse – making us into something that we should fear becoming; and 2) We feel powerless to stop or alter this inevitable transformation.


Deneen relates both of these aspects to his overarching thesis: Liberty, properly understood, is personal discipline and virtue – freedom from enslavement to one’s basest desires, which can never be fulfilled.  Liberty redefined (liberty improperly understood) is the freedom to do whatever you want, to be unrestrained in one’s activity and choices.  It’s the permeating infection of this pathological idea in politics, law and economics that seeps into how we deploy technology and it’s the source of our anxiety and feeling of powerlessness.  A variety of manifestations of this fear and helplessness are explored in the chapter “Technology and the Loss of Liberty” of Deneen’s book.


He sees “pop-culture” (movies, mainstream media, etc.) as a kind of Cassandra, seeing the future but unable to get anyone to believe it.  Cassandra was a princess cursed by Apollo, who gave her the power of prophecy along with a curse that no one would believe her.  Here she is pulling her hair as the City of Troy burns:



While mainstream thinkers ignore warnings from Deneen (along with centuries of admonitions from Alexis de Tocqueville and Edmund Burke and others) there are a hand full of observers who see the writing on the wall concerning technology and our “anti-culture” liberal democracy.  It’s both the reason why liberalism has been so wildly successful and also the cause of its utter, devastating failure.  Our more thoughtful, disciplined citizens can see the current economic and moral crisis as a sign of an unstoppable systemic quake – the Pyrrhic victory and then dismal failure of liberalism.  For those with eyes to see, it’s no prophecy; it is an obvious, unfolding, undeniable reality.  We’ll see in the coming weeks why liberal elites self deceptively refuse to see this reality.

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The Destruction of Culture


Chapter 3 of Why Liberalism Failed (2018) explains how liberal political philosophy has actively worked for centuries to destroy human cultures and replace them with what Deneen calls “anti-culture” – a homogenized, pervasive, all-encompassing, dark mono-culture.  Terms like “pop culture” and “multiculturalism” are, in fact, evidence of the evisceration and destruction of actual human cultures.


The three conceptual victims of this cultural apocalypse are nature, time and place: 1) the conquest and dissociation of humans from nature; 2) timelessness – a redefinition of time as a pastless present; and 3) placelessness – a view of reality as abstract individuals in abstract locations.  These three pillars of human experience form the basis of cultures, which are being uprooted and replaced by fake substitutes – invasion of the culture snatchers!  Culture is the vessel of the human experience of time.  Progressive philosophy is weaponized timelessness based on a deep hostility toward the past and disregard for the future – it views past traditions and customs as sources of oppression and fosters a brutish indifference toward the future.


Custom is a tangible inheritance of the past that is being attacked by mainstream liberal thought. Deneen writes that true culture is:

An education in the full dimension of human temporality, meant to abridge our temptation to live within the present, with the attendant disposition of ingratitude and irresponsibly that such a narrowing of temporality encourages. Preserved in discreet human inheritances – arts, literature, music, architecture, history, law, religion – culture expands the human experience of time, making both the past and the future present for creatures who otherwise experience only the present moment.


As an attorney reflecting on all of this, I have a front row seat to an expanding spectacle of timeless lawlessness. The current crisis in human morality and destruction of culture that our War Chest shields us from is best summarized by a 1978 quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint or a renunciation of these rights, call for sacrifice and selfless risk: this would simply sound absurd. Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of:  every one strives toward further expansion of the extreme limit of legal frames.


Next week, we turn to whether the technology that we think we control actually controls us.

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The Specter of Statism


Chapter 2 of Patrick J. Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed (2018) is “Uniting Individualism and Statism”.  The superficial battle between “conservative right” and “liberal left” masks a much more profound alliance between those two “sides” by which both advance a Statist agenda.  The philosophy of liberalism, for both progressives and conservatives, is grounded in the idea that people should be liberated from the limitations of birth, time, place, tradition, culture and any other unchosen relationship. Individualism is not the opposite of Statism, it’s the very cause of it.  Fighting Statism with free market individualism is like throwing gasoline on a fire in an attempt to put it out – surprising news to conservatives.  Deneen writes that the political left and right are two sides of the same counterfeit coin.  He probes deeply down into the philosophical basis of why this is true in his book.


Government and its out of control spending, interference with and degradation of private relationships is an increasingly menacing monster. By 2011, government spending as a percentage of GDP grew to more than it was in World War II!  We may not be fighting Nazis but families who control wealth are fighting a costly war against Statism.



Daneen’s work is important to us (moderately wealthy, intelligent, hard-working, successful families with traditional moral values) because it frames the enemy – Statism, Hedonism and politicians hopelessly advocating for economic losers – more and more Government redistribution of wealth just makes it worse. We are in a multi-generational war entrenching a new aristocracy that is much more durable than European feudalism.  Today’s societal economic and moral woes are not technical problems that we can overcome; they are symptoms of the underlying pathology of liberalism’s philosophic commitments.


Frédéric Bastiat observed that “government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” A majority of Americans are being economically eviscerated by the philosophy of Statism; unfortunate chumps on the wrong side of the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in world history. It’s critical to construct and thoroughly pack a defensive estate planning War Chest.  Next week, we move on to how enemy forces of liberalism seek to destroy our family cultural creed of responsibility, work ethic, duty and honor.

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LIBERTY is Personal Discipline – Not Freedom to Self Indulge


Patrick J. Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed (2018) is divided into 7 chapters.

Ch. 1 Unsustainable Liberalism

Ch. 2 Uniting Individualism and Statism

Ch. 3 Liberalism as Anticulture

Ch. 4. Technology and the Loss of Liberty

Ch. 5. Liberalism against Liberal Arts

Ch. 6 The New Aristocracy

Ch. 7 The Degradation of Citizenship


Deneen’s thesis is that political liberalism has run its course, having been wildly successful for humanity but now collapsing in on itself.  The concept of Liberty was deliberately altered 500 years ago for political purposes rendering liberalism a completely unsustainable pursuit.  This is true even though capitalism/liberalism conquered the competing ideologies of communism and fascism – as Francis Fukuyama pronounced the end of history when the Berlin wall fell.


The notion of Liberty was developed in ancient Greek, Roman and Christian thought as fostering the virtues of temperance, wisdom, moderation and self-limitation of desires. This definition of liberty was then undermined starting with Machiavelli (1469-1527) who rejected aspirations to “the high” or good as paternalistic and ineffective and instead based politics upon the reliability of “the low”.  Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) viewed the cultivation of self-limitation as a source of oppression and arbitrary rule from unexamined tradition and religious belief.  Francis Bacon (1561-1626) began a new philosophy of modern science overturning ancient emphasis upon stoic “acceptance” in favor of a belief in the potentially limitless human capacity to control nature.


Liberalism was a revolution based on two assumptions about humans: 1) individualism with a focus on personal choice; and 2) human separation from and opposition to nature.  The idea of voluntarism means that all relationships from governmental to familial ones are a matter of choice.  John Locke (1632-1704) acknowledged that the relationships between children and parents are not entirely voluntary but eventually they are subject to consent, even if that consent is tacit.  This broke from ancient philosophy because the basis for evaluating all institutions and personal relationships were now to be based on individual choice and calculations of self-interest, without the broader considerations of duty and obligation.


What’s wrong with the world today? Deneen writes:  In this world, gratitude to the past and obligations to the future are replaced by a nearly universal pursuit of immediate gratification… hedonic titillation, visceral crudeness, and distractions, all oriented toward promoting consumption, appetite, and detachment. As a result, superficially self-maximizing, socially destructive behaviors begin to dominate society… no truly hard choices need be made.  There are only different lifestyle options.


The War Chest moves from Hedonism on to Chapter 2 of Deneen’s book next week – the specter of Statism.

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Into Our Fortress


Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed (2018) is an important book.  He sees an economic and political reality that many refuse to see.  Daneen’s arguments are searingly relevant because he is brutally honest about the nature of private wealth and political philosophy.  I wrote about his prescient ideas here last year as a noble warrior defending aristocratic virtues (5/2/17), inherited moral values (5/9/17), the rule of law (5/16/17) and Edmund Burke’s notion that we all live in “little platoons” (5/23/17).  Deneen writes about the truer, ancient concept of liberty, which has been hijacked by dishonest enemies in pursuit of political ends.


Our wealth demographic, or tribe or families similarly situated (i.e. my family and client base) should be aware of just how fortunate we are because only a minority of humans can control enough material resources to secure a flourishing lifestyle. Everyone else is being left behind and a lot of people are angry about it.  Some want to confiscate your family’s wealth or otherwise fundamentally upend the political and economic regime that we currently occupy.  Don’t worry – it’s not going to happen – for the many reasons set forth in this Blog every week.  The U.S. meritocratic hereditary aristocracy cements families into multi-generational losers (for whom the system seems oppressive and unfair) and winners (lucky beneficiaries of a harsh global economy) and there is nothing politicians, academics or media pundits can do about it.


Deneen’s philosophy is useful not just to feel humble gratitude and a Burkean sense of duty, but more practically, it creates a sense of security inside our castle of existence, which has very sturdy moral, intellectual and practical fortifications. As we travel through the chapters of Deneen’s new book, the War Chest enters a fortress of reason and moral habits that keep our enemies outside at a safe distance.  The uncultured, evil enemies kept at bay are Statism, Hedonism [the “grand enemy of truth and peace”] (5/30/17) and “querulous and contentious” (6/6/17) people who want to attack our blessings. We shall nonetheless remain secure, prosperous, rational and industrious in defending our way of life across generations to come.

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Perceiving the War


An important defensive weapon in our Estate Planning War Chest is simply an awareness of the socio-economic war that humanity wages against each other. Mainstream writers just don’t see it, or simply ignore the truth.  The majority of thinkers aware of the true nature of human economic struggle and discontent are dead, but there are a handful of living authors who get it.  We just explored Yuval Levin’s superb analysis in his book The Great Debate (2013) on the origin of the political right and left for the last 9 weeks.  And this Blog started 3 years ago with the conceptualization by Northwestern Univ. Professor Jeffrey A. Winters’ book Oligarchy (2011) of economics as an inherently conflictual phenomenon.


More recently, Notre Dame Professor Patrick J. Deneen’s new book Why Liberalism Failed (2018) is a brilliant articulation of our brutal political economy and why mainstreamers are ignorant about it or willfully disregard the bloody economic and moral battles being fought.  We took an 11 week cognitive voyage through Deneen’s ideas last year while examining his Conserving America? Essays on Present Discontents (2016).  Deneen’s new book builds on those same thoughts.


Government, the media and academia* are clueless about this reality and will not protect your family.  Those arrogant institutions want you to think they care and that they can help, but they do not and cannot – most of the “elites” in them are self-aggrandizing, power grubbing enemy know-it-alls.   The only ones who give a damn about your family are you, your family and, perhaps, honest financial and legal advisors – like me.  Let’s embark again into the mind of Patrick J. Deneen in the coming weeks.  His work is fascinatingly provocative.

* Deneen is certainly not mainstream – in fact, many university administrators and professors are likely aghast at his book’s pointing out their failures and misconceptions.

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