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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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Value vs. Value Containers


Blogger Mark Manson tells the story of a group of recent college graduates who decide to visit their favorite professor at his home during the summer. The graduates had been out of school for a year and were trying to make their way in the “real world”.  As they sat down with the professor, they began complaining about the frustrations and difficulty of making a living and supporting themselves.  They talked of long hours, demanding bosses, wildly different salaries and how competitive the job market was because everyone just cares about money, money, money.


After a while, the professor got up and made some coffee. He then placed one cup for each student on the table.  Some of the cups were paper, some were cheap old mugs and a couple of them were made of the finest porcelain.  He then told the former students to help themselves to the coffee.  Immediately the kids started bickering about the cups.  “Wait, why do you get that cup?”  “I drove here”; “I had it first.  “It was my idea to come here”.  When the kids finally sat down after a friendly little battle over the cups, the Professor told them, “You see?  That’s your problem.  You are arguing over who gets which cup, when all you really wanted was the coffee.”


A lot of unhappiness and frustration over money stems from confusing money, which is an arbitrary storage container for value, with actual value. Money is simply a medium of exchange so people can trade their work, skills, time or saved financial wealth for something they value – which is deeply personal.  The container (whether it’s cash, gold, silver, bitcoin, stocks or real estate) isn’t as important as what it is we actually value (like time with family, knowledge and awareness, emotional well-being and happiness, athletic or artistic achievement, helping others, a secure, stable lifestyle with those we love – and many other forms of personal fulfillment).


Not everyone has the same values. And Government should not be in the business of telling families what to value!  Once secured, value must be guarded, stored and maintained over generations in an Estate Planning War Chest, because politicians and other threats to what we value are lurking in the shadows of time, waiting to take it away.  Actual value is a positive emotional experience – living the life we choose.  We don’t buy things.  We buy experiences including the feeling that you have what you want and need, even if it’s in a cheaper albeit fuller cup than your neighbor’s fancy cup, which may only be holding only a few drops of true value.

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Generations and the Living


The 7th and final chapter of Yuval Levin’s book The Great Debate (2014) gets to the very bottom of the intellectual and moral dispute between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke circa 1795, which is about humanity’s relationship with time.  Paine argues that the only concern in politics, law and economics is the now – the current living generation he refers to as the “eternal now”.  Prior generations had their chance and they have no authority or legitimacy to burden or oppress the present.  Each generation should be free to remake itself in accordance with democratic principles of equality and consent.  He believed that inheritance is immoral, which doesn’t sit well with an estate planning attorney like me.


Burke knew better. Generations cannot be separated.  They are inextricably linked together.  We flourish not by having each generation freed from those that precede it but rather by tightly linking them together to form a permanent chain.  If the “chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken and no one generation could link with the other, men would become little better than the flies of a summer”.  Burke’s philosophy protects the current generation, which is not served by naked freedom and having our rich historical wardrobe of knowledge and morality stripped away.  NO – we have a valuable inheritance that cannot be taken away from us by arrogant thinkers who resent the way our economic and legal institutions formed and then evolved.


Edmund Burke and like-minded thinkers are defenders of the past, present and future – warriors battling radical thinkers who would rob us of our inheritance. Burke writes:  “Perhaps the only moral trust with any certainty in our hands is the care of our own time. With regard to futurity, we are to treat it like a ward.  We are not so to attempt an improvement of his fortune, as to put the capital of his estate to any hazard.”  This capital, to which those who control wealth are entitled, is the accumulated knowledge and morality passed down to us.  And it will be vigorously safeguarded from attack.


Burke gives our tribe (my clients, friends and family who are fortunate enough to control some wealth and share values) a nod that has traveled through 223 years for our eyes to read:

You people of great families and hereditary trusts and fortunes are not like such as I am, who are….but annual plants that perish with our season, and leave no sort of traces behind us. You, if you are what you ought to be, are in my eye the great oaks that shade a country, and perpetuate your benefits from generation to generation.


An Estate Planning War Chest protects families who can and will perpetuate their economic security and moral values for many generations to come.


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Revolution vs. Reform


Chapter 6 of The Great Debate is Thomas Paine’s argument for total radical revolution in the name of justice – which is answered by Edmund Burke’s cautionary retort that reforming a regime is vastly superior to trashing the whole system.  Burke writes:

An ignorant man, who is not fool enough to meddle with his clock, is however sufficiently confident to think he can safely take to pieces, and put together at his pleasure, a moral machine of another guise, importance and complexity, composed of far other wheels, and springs, and balances, and counteracting and co-operating powers. Men little think how immorally they act in rashly meddling with what they do not understand.  Their delusive good intention is no sort of excuse for their presumption.


Burke was ahead of his time articulating a lucid, effective socio-economic political philosophy. He even predicted the rise of Napoleon after the impetuous, intellectually arrogant revolutionaries in France disassembled the French government.  A regime based on faith in pure choice, equality and individualism is doomed to fail.  Revolution should always be the last resort after reform efforts fail to redress only the most abominable conditions.  Abrupt revolution is almost always impractical and immoral extremism.  Here’s another of Burke’s illustrative metaphors:  “He that sets his house on fire because his fingers are frostbitten can never be a fit instructor in the method of providing our habitations with cheerful and salutary warmth.”


Paine and other revolutionaries seem to derive macabre pleasure in thoughts of destruction. They were practically giddy as French nobles got their heads chopped off.  Burke believed that this hunger for ruin and violence is a function of a lack of appreciation for the given world – an ungrateful, conceited worldview focused not on gratitude for what works in society but rather bitter outrage at what does not work.  More importantly, opting for radical revolution instead of gradual reform places an unhealthy emphasis on the present and the living, while ignoring the respect and obligation that we so clearly owe to countless deceased generations and to generations yet to be born.  The Estate Planning War Chest turns to them next week.

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Reason and Prescription – Part 3 (The Primacy of Inheritance)


Chapter 5 of The Great Debate, contains a vicious attack by Thomas Paine against inherited wealth and power.  He argues that a hereditary system is unprincipled – “a mere animal system with no rationale component attached.  Its advocates could never persuade the people to establish such a system were it not already in place (having gotten there illegitimately long ago).”  Paine argues that nations should be rational, not “governed like animals, for the pleasure of their riders”.


The weakness of Paine’s position is that he responds to counter-arguments by simply accusing those that defend inheritance as clothing it in fancy names and alleging contrived dangers to unaided reason.  Logically, arguing that ‘you’re just saying that to defend the existing system’ is fallible reasoning.  Morally, using the term “unaided reason” highlights Paine’s fallacy when he accuses defenders of hereditary aristocracy of being willfully ignorant.   The term unaided reason, used many times in Chapter 5 referring to Paine’s ideas, is telling.


It’s not easy to stake out a wealth and family values position and then erect defenses against it being destroyed or taken away. Most of us would use whatever assets, resources, means or “aid” available in preparing our family’s War Chest for battle.  The most powerful aid to reason (reason itself is certainly important) is Burke’s “wardrobe of a moral imagination” – sentimental attachment, noble obligation towards the past and future, restrained but embraced passion….. chivalry.  It’s Paine who is willfully ignorant of the many aspects of human nature beyond and above reason.  Paine would lose in a Court of Law because he goes out of his way to ignore precedent in favor of “unaided reason”.  Attorneys know, as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, that a page of history is worth a volume of logic. Inheritance (in all its forms – inherited assets, values, wisdom, customs and mores) is the preeminent component of our Estate Planning War Chest.  Next week, we move on to Chapter 6 of Yuval Levin’s book.

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Reason and Prescription – Part 2 (Entailed Inheritance)


Chapter 5 of The Great Debate, “Reason and Prescription”, opens our conceptual War Chest to see something left for us by prior generations.  Anyone with even a modicum of wealth has inherited a defensive weapon – what Edmund Burke calls Prescription.  Prescription is a Roman property law concept whereby ownership comes from long-term use, not by formal deed.  Burke uses the term to describe how ancient practices and institutions are given the benefit of doubt against reforms that might undermine them – humility and gratitude before the wisdom of the past.  It keeps our family values and wealth safe from radical thinkers.


Our liberties and private property rights are an entailed inheritance, derived from our forefathers and transmitted to posterity – a life estate enjoyed by each generation, protecting property owners against radial innovation in law and politics.  Burke’s model of inherited wisdom “leaves acquisition free; but it secures what it acquires.  Whatever advantages are obtained…are locked fast as in a sort of family settlement.”   Burke admires the legal profession and its reliance on precedents because lawyers understand that the authority of law depends on its stability so people can build their lives around certain assumptions that should not be needlessly disrupted.


Political problems are not about what is true and what is false. They relate to what is good and what is evil.  A focus on practical and not theoretical allocation of power is morally superior.  Prudence and measuring success by what has worked in keeping people safe, happy and free is what makes our society stable.  Institutions that have developed over many generations may not seem “fair” to some but attempting to force them into a theoretical structure foreign to their development would be disastrous.  “The old building stands well enough, though part gothic, part Grecian, and part Chinese, until an attempt is made to square it into uniformity. Then it may come down upon our heads altogether.”


Our nation has deep roots in common law, customs and moral habits. A working regime with a profound heritage and a history of incremental development should be given the benefit of the doubt and “should not be subjected to the searing light of the Enlightenment philosopher’s misguided investigation, driven as it is by an exaggerated notion of the power of reason.”  Radical Leftist thinkers are the opposite of humble and grateful – they want to strip away ancient wisdom and construct a utopian new world.  The arrogance of their pretension is astounding.


We’ll conclude our War Chest journey through Chapter 5 of Levin’s book next week by looking at Thomas Paine’s attack on inheritance rights and why he was so logically and morally wrong on that issue.

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