The Patriot Post® · Inheritance Welfare Liberals — The Effluent of Generational Wealth and Privilege
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study … mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.” —John Adams (1780)
Note: I have referenced what I call “inheritance welfare liberalism” in columns for two decades. What follows is a long overdue column devoted to this cultural malignancy eroding our nation’s foundational legacy of Liberty. It is especially virulent among affluent millennials (those born between 1980 and 2005) who embrace leftist political and social organizations and policies, and spend their time and money propagating the same. They are the effluent of wealth and privilege – in effect, adolescents of all ages who take the Liberty bequeathed to them by better generations of American Patriots, as a birthright, and are squandering that inheritance.
Founder John Adams, before serving as vice president to George Washington and following him as our second president, was a Boston lawyer and Revolutionary War leader. In 1774, on the insistence of his second cousin Samuel Adams (my favorite of the Founders after Washington), John Adams played a key role in the drafting of the letter of grievances to King George III.
A year later, it was Adams who nominated Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. And in June of 1776, Adams organized and chose the Committee of Five who would draft our Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman, and Adams himself.
Bookending his Revolutionary War role, in 1783 Adams was appointed the American commissioner to negotiate the Treaty of Paris, ending the hostilities between Britain and the newly formed United States. The treaty was signed on September 3, 1783, and American independence was officially recognized.
Countless volumes have been written about Adams, perhaps the best being the 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning epic John Adams by historian David McCullough, which was also the basis for an acclaimed documentary series.
Adams, who was also father to our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, is frequently and fittingly quoted in The Patriot Post, and even a cursory review of his quotes in our Founder’s Quote Database reveals his timeless wisdom.
But for as long as I’ve been a student of American history and its relevance in the present, particularly the history of our Founders and the extraordinary legacy of Liberty they bequeathed to us, there has been one quote from Adams that always caused me consternation.
In May of 1780, before the pivotal battle of Kings Mountain and the surrender of British commanding general Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail in which he asserted: “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
In the context of his time, I understand the sentiments expressed by this esteemed Founder, but later generations proved the substance of his words errant. It was assumed by Adams that successive generations would be imbued with the patriotic virtues required to sustain Liberty.
But there is no such inherited legacy, as Thomas Paine noted in his 1776 pamphlet, Common Sense: “When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.”
And on the degrading influence of generational wealth on virtue, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “As riches increase and accumulate in few hands, as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard.”
In his day, Adams’s words were shaped by a desire for peace and prosperity, for the ability of his sons to be free not to focus on war-fighting but on the sciences, that their children might be free to focus on the arts.
The problem with his perspective on posterity is that the generations following those who have sacrificed much to sustain Liberty know progressively less about the cost of sustaining that Liberty, and they tend to consider it a hereditary right rather than a responsibility. The consequence is a spiral into the fatal cycle of democracy, which follows this sequence: from bondage to faith; from faith to courage; from courage to Liberty; from Liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back into bondage.
This cycle is perpetuated by an abject ignorance of generational history — no sense of the price paid for freedom. The great 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke observed, “The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.” Indeed, that delusion is dependent on erasing the knowledge of the past. As 20th-century philosopher George Santayana concluded in his treatise, The Life of Reason, “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” English writer and dystopian philosopher Aldous Huxley put it more succinctly: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”
James Madison’s Supreme Court justice, Joseph Story, wrote that if Liberty is to be extended to the next generation, then we must teach successive generations well: “Let the American youth never forget, that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils, and sufferings, and blood of their ancestors; and capacity, if wisely improved, and faithfully guarded, of transmitting to their latest posterity all the substantial blessings of life, the peaceful enjoyment of liberty, property, religion, and independence.”
As is the case with Liberty earned versus Liberty inherited, a dollar earned and a dollar inherited are both dollars, but a dollar earned has a very different value to its holder than a dollar inherited.
Among the most influential in each generation are its wealthy. This would include the creators of wealth, but mostly it’s those in succeeding generations who inherited their wealth and its commensurate privilege. They are from “families of means,” not fortune-builders but fortune-spenders, disconnected from the challenges and difficulties most often associated with wealth creation.
I’ve written at length about notable politicians who were what I call “inheritance welfare liberals” — those who inherited their wealth and, by extension, the opportunity and class standing it provided. They are beneficiaries of generational privilege, dependent on financial inheritance and no longer embodying the essential spirit of the self-reliance that created that wealth — the self-reliance that forms the core of American Liberty. The resulting “dependence ethos” is virtually indistinguishable from the dependence ethos of those who have been generationally inculcated with the belief that they’re dependent upon welfare handouts from the state.
Though markedly dissimilar in terms of their power and influence, the underlying similarity between inheritance welfare liberals and generations of poor welfare recipients is that the former depend on investment and trust redistributions, while the latter depend on government redistributions.
The most influential inheritance welfare politician of the 20th century was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who seeded the so-called “Great Society” and the modern welfare state, effectively enslaving generations of poor people.
Of course, it’s not a universal truth that all who inherit wealth and opportunity are condemned to a welfare mentality. In some cases, the first generation has inspired the succeeding generation to work hard — to invest their lives rather than spend their lives.
But in most cases, by the third generation of those who are painters, poets, musicians, or otherwise engrossed in the arts, they have little if any attachment to the first generation which provided them the freedom and luxury of such pursuits. They place little value in their grandparents’ sacrifices to establish and maintain Liberty and the privilege they enjoy. They form today’s liberal elite, who put their time and resources into political and social causes that are antithetical to Liberty and free enterprise.
Because they have little genuine sense of self-reliance and are dependent on the labors of others, they identify with and become outspoken advocates for the dependence of others. They are the primary benefactors of today’s Democrat Party, which is devolving into a socialist party as it attracts ever-greater legions of “useful idiots.”
Ironically, these wealthy elite fund the front lines of class-warfare cadres, the effluent of generational privilege, who hate the very same inheritance welfare benefactors who gave them rise.
I should note that generational welfare-inheritance influencers are not always leftist protagonists. Some also form the core of establishment Republicans. The common denominator between wealthy leftists and establishment Republicans is that both groups are very disconnected from the bedrock grassroots Americans upon whom they’re utterly dependent for their existence.
John Adams’s wisdom on Liberty has been timeless and enduring, but his assertion about sequential generational beneficiaries of what was earned by previous generations has proven to be deeply flawed.
Finally, as it relates to the inheritance of Liberty, this just-past Memorial Day, I offered some advice to those who genuinely want to demonstrate their gratitude to all who gave the last full measure and paid the highest price for their Liberty, and those who, likewise, want to thank active duty and veteran military service personnel for the freedom they have, and continue to defend, at great cost.
That advice: Strive to be, first and foremost, an American citizen worthy of their sacrifice.
Tragically, most young people have no context for understanding what it means to be “an American citizen worthy of their sacrifice,” because their Liberty and privilege was inherited, not earned. Consequently, their ideas have been largely shaped by self-centered social and academic influencers who not only take Liberty for granted but who embrace the statism that progressively suppresses it.
Footnote: After witnessing what too often happens when the estate of a wealthy benafactor funds a foundation controlled by his heirs – who then use those funds for purposes that are antithetical to the values of that benefactor, a wise man who was determined to give away the large fortune he had accumulated in his lifetime, advised, “Do your giving while you’re living, so our knowing where it’s going.”
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776