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The Death of Expertise


Tom Nichols’ book, The Death of Expertise – The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (2017) is important because it magnifies a disturbing new reality.  He explains exactly what expertise is, and is not, and why our culture has recently and radically devalued expert advice.  I became aware of this trend over the last few years but underestimated how bad it has become.  Professor Nichols articulates the sad developments for all to see.


He carefully constructs his argument in 7 chapters, each one offering a logical cause for why a majority of the public has become arrogantly stupid.

Ch. 1 – Experts and Citizens

Ch. 2 – How Conversation Became Exhausting

Ch. 3 – Higher Education: The Customer is Always Right

Ch. 4 – Let me Google That for You: How Unlimited Information is Making Us Dumber

Ch. 5 – The “New” New Journalism, and Lots of It

Ch. 6 – When Experts Are Wrong

Ch. 7 – Conclusion: Experts and Democracy


The book is entertaining, alarming and, for me anyway, somewhat comforting in that I know my clients have not descended into the morass of militant ignorance into which a majority of Americans have sunk (read the book if you don’t believe that we are now mostly a country of angry morons).

Here’s a couple quotes to give you a flavor:

“I wrote this because I’m worried. We no longer have those principled and informed arguments.  The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that it has crashed through the floor of ‘uninformed’, passed ‘misinformed’ on the way down, and is now plummeting to ‘aggressively wrong’.


“Most causes of ignorance can be overcome, if people are willing to learn. Nothing, however, can overcome the toxic confluence of arrogance, narcissism, and cynicism that Americans now wear like a full suite of armor against the efforts of experts and professionals”.


It’s a shame that our society has reached this point. Awareness is our Estate Planning War Chest defensive weapon against the enemy of ignorance.  Let’s explore the ideas contained in this illuminating book.



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A Civic Great Awakening


Charles Murray concludes Coming Apart (2012) with an awakening light beam of optimism.  He predicts that the European Welfare State model will implode.  It is wrong and financially unsustainable.  The U.S. will watch it fall and thus avoid the same fate.  More interestingly, he describes how the intellectual foundations of the Welfare State are collapsing.  The founders of America knew that certain aspects of human nature are fixed – so they tightly constrained what Government can do with our Constitution.  Advocates of the Welfare State, on the other hand, reject this view, believing that human nature can be changed.  Marxism is founded on this belief.


Murray sets forth 4 operational implications of the Welfare State:

  1. A welfare system can be designed so people will not exploit incentives and inefficiencies (i.e. free money for everyone won’t make people lazy and dishonest)
  2. Government intervention in people’s lives can correct the problems of human behavior;
  3. People are equal, not just with equal legal rights, but equal in their latent abilities and characteristics. If people are equal, so are groups of people and if one group has more success, social justice and identity politics can rectify the unfairness;
  4. The biggest underpinning of Welfare State philosophy is that humans are not really responsible for what they do. People who do well do not deserve it. People who do badly do not deserve it either.


This leads to the misguided morality requiring the economically successful to hand over most of what they have for redistribution to others. With these implications in mind, you cannot say that those who don’t work hard are lazy or irresponsible – it’s not their fault!

Murray shows us (and I also try to here by exploring books on the topic) that the above 4 intellectual foundations of the modern Welfare State are collapsing. They are being “discredited by a tidal change in our scientific understanding of human behavior that is already under way. The effect of that tidal change will spill over into every crevice of political and cultural life”.

American ideals are strong and resilient. Murray predicts:

  • The principle of equality of opportunity vs. the imposition of equality of condition will be reinstated
  • We will be able to say out loud what we believe, unstifled by political correctness
  • Widespread American industriousness, neighborliness, humility and lack of class envy will return – everyone will feel like they’re part of a secure middle class
  • Murray points out: We have been the product of the cultural capital bequeathed to us by the system the founders laid down: a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government’s job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government’s job to stage-manage how people interact with one another.


The Estate Planning War Chest will stand for these ideals for decades to come.

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The Collapse of Honor

The Dubbing Ceremony

The book Coming Apart (2012) by Charles Murray exposes important cultural developments.  Today’s elites espouse a weak, hollow, leftist worldview because they’ve lost moral confidence.  He points out that Arnold J. Toynbee’s book A Study of History (1934) foresaw what is happening to Western civilization right now:

The growth phase of a civilization is led by a creative minority with a strong, self-confident sense of style, virtue, and purpose. The uncreative majority follows along.  Then, at some point in every civilization’s journey, the creative minority degenerates into a dominant minority.  Its members still run the show, but they are no longer confident and no longer set the example.


 The wealthy and powerful are still in charge, but a once sturdy code of honorable morality has collapsed. Today’s upper class “dominant minority” now share a mushy ethic to just be nice.  They practice some important virtues (e.g. marriage and industriousness) but they fail to preach what they practice and instead sheepishly advocate nonjudgmentalism.  Murray explains how and why this is hurting people on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.


Nonjudgmentalism sounds like the new upper class just wants to keep the good stuff to itself. They know the secret to a happy life but refuse to admit it or share it.  But it’s no conspiracy.  The loss of a strong code of honor (moral confidence) leads to traditional concepts losing their power to constrain behavior.  Murray discusses unseemliness – “not in keeping with established standards of taste or proper form; unbecoming, inappropriate.”  Private flaunting of wealth, outrageous CEO pay and, worst of all, obscene Government lobbying and pork barrel legislation are all perfectly legal but they’re unseemly; elites just don’t care about unseemliness anymore*.


Murray’s conclusion is that our hollow elite is as dysfunctional as the growing lower class (most of his book is about those poor slobs) but in a different way. The upper class becomes “successful” by trading on the perks of their privileged positions with no regard to the unseemliness of their behavior.  They’ve lost all sense of honor and selfless civic duty.  Next week, Charles Murray shows us a brighter future.


* I wrote of this syndrome on 3/13/18 using 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.

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Leftist Philosophy is Bad

crumpled paper symbolizing different ideas with one highlighted as a faulty one

Leftist ideology has always been a bad idea. That fact is growing increasingly obvious and painfully blatant.  It’s remarkable that even in the short 4 years that I’ve been writing this blog, the faulty assumptions and immorality of progressivism have grown measurably more difficult to defend.  Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart – The State of White America 1960-2010 (2012) is an example of an ongoing anti-Leftist thought trajectory.


Murray contrasts the American Project against the “advanced European welfare State”.  His indictment of the European model and view of the intellectual and moral superiority of the American Project is a minority position, for now, but one that I very much share. Our view is derisively attacked by mainstream intellectuals – but that is changing.  Murray writes that the restrictions the European model imposes on freedom are substantial, but, in return, Europeans supposedly get economic security.  As we’ve seen here week after week – that’s a bad trade.  The security (assuming they get it – which is dubious) – is the security of the barracks.


(Remember my 1/17/17 post of F. A. Hayek quoting Ben Franklin?).


The view of life that has taken root in Western Europe is, frankly, inferior to our American values. Murray writes; European thinking goes something like this:  “The purpose of life is to while away the time between birth and death as pleasantly as possible, and the purpose of government is to make it as easy as possible to while away the time as pleasantly as possible.”  The alternative to this lazy, morally inferior worldview is to acknowledge there is so much more to life than that, which gives us a higher, more transcendent purpose. Time should be spent doing important things – raising a family, supporting yourself, being a good friend and a good neighbor, learning what you can do well and then doing it as well as you possibly can.

Let’s spend some War Chest time reinforcing the reasons why Murray’s minority view is so right and why the progressive agenda is so wrong.



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Business orientation and indicationsThis blog requires an occasional orientation for the reader. Let’s take a breather big step back and look at what we’re doing – where we’ve been – where we’re at and where we’re going.  This is not a weekly rambling rant – although it may seem like it some weeks given the esoteric breadth of my subject matter.  The posts have a consistent purpose and thematic structure.  My objective is to assure the moderately wealthy that their assets and lifestyle are secure, despite our viciously turbulent legal, political and economic environment.


My blog was born after being unexpectedly befuddled by the one year repeal of the federal estate tax in May 2010. I spend my professional days advising clients on estate planning and was completely and embarrassingly caught off guard by this legislation.  After extensive research, I found the answer – the rather unpleasant reality of our political economy described in Jeffery A. Winters’s book Oligarchy (2011).  I now follow the ongoing war in real time here.


Week after week I re-articulate the ideas of on point authors, with occasional breaks and tangents (like this one), most recently we explored:

Patrick J. Deneen – Why Liberalism Failed (10 weeks)

Yuval Levin – The Great Debate (11 weeks)

Steven Pinker – Enlightenment Now (4 weeks)

George Gilder – Life After Google (10 weeks)

Lukianoff and Haidt – The Coddling of the American Mind (5 weeks)

Francis Fukuyama – Identity (5 weeks)


We’re next going to venture into Charles Murray’s mind in Coming Apart (2012).  Then we’ll learn why so many know-it-alls deny reality and want to fight about the truth of targeted ideas in Tom Nichols The Death of Expertise (2017).  My goal is to amass so much incontrovertible argument that if some future force, powerful enough to do it, considers confiscating and redistributing my client’s wealth, we will have a ready defense.  “Why shouldn’t I impose a new, fairer economic order by breaking up family fortunes to share them with everyone?”  Why not?  Because of the rational and moral arguments gathered in the Estate Planning War Chest.


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Lost Souls – Part 2

Lost in the sea

So what’s wrong with each individual creating his or her own moral values? Fukuyama points to two big problems:

1.) Shared values and common culture are important to social cooperation; without them we will not regard the same institutions as legitimate [and we clearly do not – government, academia and mainstream media have become pathetic – hijacked by self-deluded elites hiding behind a thin veneer of fake social justice ideology].

2.) We are not all Nietzschean Overmen (Übermenschs). When a shared moral horizon disappears, most people do not rejoice at this expanded new liberty. Rather, they feel intense insecurity and alienation. They then turn to collective identity for meaning and purpose.


This leads to a departure from self-responsible, disciplined, moral individualism to pathological collectivism resulting in: A) Nationalism –Trump/Brexit; and B) Politicized religion – Islamism. But politics cannot provide us with moral values or identity. Those who are consumed with political hatred are lost souls. They can only be saved by recognizing (as Patrick Deneen explained to us here on 3/6/18) that the superficial political battle between the “conservative right” and the “liberal left” is illusory. They are different sides of the same counterfeit coin. Our grand moral enemies are Statism and Hedonism; both advance under the false dichotomy of collectivism vs. individualism.


But there is hope. There are a handful of living minds who understand all of this. We need not each invent our own Nietzschean moral order. It’s already here; it’s an inheritance of ancient wisdom and stoic, honorable, noble family values.  Collectivist forms of government (socialism and fascism) attempt to hand down from high morality to a population whose culture cannot support economic vitality, cultivate morality or provide people with dignity – socialism has never worked and it never will.  Friedrich Hayek explained why.  A political leader who has to get others to agree on morality via socialist propaganda must sink down to the lowest common moral denominator and then force it on everyone.  That’s bad.  People define moral order – not The State.


It’s sad to see the learned helplessness and angry resentment from all those hateful lost souls. Meaning and identity are not found in individualism or collectivism or the State.  True identity and dignity come from within and among us all – not from politics. Next week, the War Chest moves on to a socio-economic book that shines a little light of hope on the future.


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Lost Souls – Part 1


I am intrigued by dichotomy – good vs. evil, liberal vs. conservative, collectivism vs. individualism, science vs. art.   I was fascinated by Baruch Spinoza’s notion that science is a universe of specifics summarized in generalities, while art is a universe of generalities summarized in a specific (a specific painting, piece of music, sculpture or literary work).  Some people look at me when I say that and go, huh?  But it makes sense to me.

Anyway, Francis Fukuyama’s Identity – The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018) is remarkably stark portrait of a vast number of Americans who are lost moral souls. He explains why they are so alienated in my favorite chapter of his book – Ch. 6 – Expressive Individualism, in which he describes how we are all heirs to historical and ongoing moral confusion – a break-down of moral consensus – an identity crisis and loss of dignity for a majority of humans.

There are two forms of identity/dignity according to Fukuyama:

  1. The political demand for the recognition of individual dignity
  2. The political demand for the recognition of collective dignity

The first, individualism, puts equal protection of individual autonomy at the moral center. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) saw individual autonomy as the human ability to make good moral choices.  This human right (the recognition of individual dignity) is inviolable because of each human’s intrinsic worth.  But the morality of equal rights has moved and is moving philosophically deeper.  It’s not just “mere political participation”, as Rousseau wrote, it’s becoming a “plentitude of feeling” – the ability and freedom to fully express our inner selves.  It’s this idea of expressive individualism that’s causing so much political discontent.

We are amid a civilization wide shift in artistic and literary sensibilities that mirrors a fundamental breakdown of moral consensus, which was historically based on religion or Kant’s philosophical reasoning. The moral vacuum was filled by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) in Beyond Good and Evil – On the Genealogy of Morals (1886).  He developed the idea that each individual defines morality for oneself.  Fukuyama points to the direct line between Nietzsche and the Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).  The Court held that liberty is “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”.

Unfortunately, that casts adrift each individual away from a shared morality. Next week, the War Chest wades deeper into this phenomenon.

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