Sir Roger Scruton is one of the most prolific and thought-provoking of present-day philosophers. In this "verdict" for the National Association of Scholars, Dr. Stephen Eide and Wise Counsel Research's Keith Whitaker survey Scruton's work and highlight its deep relevance to contemporary politics and culture.
On the summer solstice, I like to reflect on Plato’s longest dialogue, the Laws, which Plato set on this very day. This year's solstice, I am struck more than ever by the book's relevance. For I believe that it suggests a remedy to our rancorous, even violent, politics: the rehabilitation of the often-maligned quality of pride.
The dialogue—among three old men, a Cretan, a Spartan, and an Athenian—would take 16 hours to read out loud. Its goal is to come up with the laws for a new city. It takes up the most important political matters: freedom of speech, the point of education, criteria for rulers, punishment of crime, and even sexual regulation—all matters ripe for heated debate.
The three speakers are very different from one another: the Spartan comes from a deeply conservative regime; the Cretan, from a city even older than Sparta; and the Athenian, from a city known for its liberal, expansionist views.
Can we imagine a traditional conservative, a neo-con, and a contemporary liberal keeping up such a discussion for more than a few minutes?
But these three talk for the longest day of the year. They talk while walking uphill under the Greek sun, a condition likely to shorten tempers. What allows them to do so?
Early in the conversation they almost descend into name-calling, something quite familiar today. There is no “Little Marco” or “Deplorables.” But when the Athenian implies that the Spartans may have a penchant for homosexuality, the Spartan angrily replies that the Athenians are all drunks.
Still, they are able to stand down from this momentary hotspot. Perhaps the fact that the conversation starts with the word “God” and the goal of their trek is the “cave and temple of Zeus” unites them? This belief that God watches over politics is not necessarily shared today. But the presence of religion in politics can as easily divide as unite speakers, then as now. The reason for their perseverance appears to lie elsewhere.
If I were to isolate one quality that allows these three very different speakers to maintain this extraordinary conversation, I would call it pride—a quality almost begging for cultivation today.
Pride in their own communities allows the Cretan and the Spartan to push back when the Athenian questions the goodness of their regimes. They don’t just roll over. Nor do they take the easy way out and reply that, “Everyone has his or her own values.” Because they have pride in their way of life, they seek to defend it.
At the same time, because they have pride in their way of life, they want to understand it, warts and all. They don’t just reject, evade, or refuse to answer the Athenian’s questions. Nor do they fall back on claims of authority: “Our god or our law says so.” They are proud enough in themselves not to be slavish adherents to their own ways.
This pride is rooted in their sense of themselves, as the Cretan and Spartan might put it, as “real men.” They don’t whine about the Athenian’s questions. They are not looking for some cheap advantage. They don’t expect political matters to be easy. They stick with the conversation and their trek even though it is tough—perhaps because it is tough.
They also suggest that they are proud of themselves as Greeks. As we would put it today (if we were proud enough to use the word), they take pride in being “civilized.” Unlike barbarians, they settle their differences with reasoned speeches—not blows, much less bullets.
Plato’s Laws thus dramatizes the centrality to political dialogue of pride. It is more fundamental even than the qualities most often praised today, such as civility, tolerance, diversity, and the like. As such the dialogue serves as a powerful teaching tool.
It can also prevent us from two common ways of misunderstanding pride.
First, while pride may form a basis for nationalism, it is not the same as xenophobia, much less racism—the term most often used to silence debate today. Pride does involve a commitment to “our own.” But true pride never forgets that “our ways” and the “right way” are not necessarily one and the same. For these very reasons, pride seeks to understand and to improve our own community.
Second, pride is not the same as arrogance. This is a vice much in the news lately. (And yet those who accuse others of arrogance often do so with great arrogance—and no irony.) Arrogance sees nothing as higher than oneself. Because that is such an unreasonable position, it also usually involves building yourself up by tearing others down.
The very setting of the Laws gives the lie to arrogance or "hubris," to use the relevant Greek word. The summer solstice portends that the days of the year will now be getting shorter—just as the days of our lives are always waning. The three characters are old men, who several times comment on their own mortality. The Spartan and Cretan look up to divine law as their guide in life. Even the “liberal” Athenian says at one point that, “looking away to the god,” human beings seem like the gods' playthings. That earns him a rebuke from the Spartan, who complains that he is running down the human race. Pride means taking things seriously, including ourselves, while also remembering that we are not the highest things in the universe.
Every healthy political community fosters pride. While multiple motivations no doubt have been at play in Brexit, or the election of President Trump, the desire to feel proud of one’s own community—as distinct from a far-off national or international order ruled by others—seems unmistakable. This desire is one worth cultivating rather than condemning. Pride is not the same as hate or fear. It is not merely parochial, petty, or prejudiced. It provides the foundation for making ourselves at home and for taking care of our home. The reminder of the goodness of pride is just one of the many gifts that Plato’s Laws continues to give.
Wise Counsel Research is proud to announce that Christian Stewart has been named "Leading Individual Advisor" by Wealth Briefing Asia.
In naming Christian, Wealth Briefing Asia explained, "Christian originally focused on tax and estate duty issues, but since establishing Family Legacy Asia in 2008 he has specialized in all aspects of family governance. He is widely regarded by his peers globally as one of Asia’s leading experts in the field, and has a client base of families and private client intermediary clients spread throughout the region."
Wise Counsel Research's Dennis Jaffe has published a new installment in the 100-Year Families Study. Governing the Family Enterprise: the Evolution of Family Councils, Assemblies, and Constitutions offers specific strategies and stories from the over 80 families who have contributed to the project. These are rare families who have successfully transitioned a major family enterprise through at least two generations. This white paper includes samples of actual family's governance structures, along with descriptions of how they deliberated about, enacted, and in many cases have amended these structures in order to promote their families' flourishing. It is a tremendous resource for enterprising families and their advisors.
Wise Counsel Research's Jay Hughes has been honored with the Lifetime Achievement award by Family Wealth Report.
"This award recognizes Jay's immeasurable contributions to the field of family wealth," observed Wise Counsel Research's President, Keith Whitaker. From his first book, the classic Family Wealth, to his recent books The Cycle of the Gift and Voice of the Rising Generation, and in his countless consultations to families around the world, Jay has spread the word to help families face and beat the proverb of "shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." In his acceptance speech, Jay encouraged his colleagues gathered in the audience in their own journeys of service and commitment.
Wise Counsel Research is thrilled to have been named the "outstanding contributor to wealth management thought leadership" by Family Wealth Report.
One of five firms to be shortlisted in the thought leadership category, this recognition is another milestone in Wise Counsel's drive for recognition as one of the pre-eminent players in the competitive wealth management space.
Publisher of Family Wealth Report, Stephen Harris, was first to extend his congratulations to all the winners. He said: "These awards were judged solely on the basis of entrants’ submissions and their response to a number of specific questions, which had to be answered focusing on the client experience, not quantitative performance metrics. That is a unique, and I believe, compelling feature. These awards recognize the very best operators in the private client industry, with ‘independence’, ‘integrity’ and ‘genuine insight’ the watchwords of the judging process - such that the awards truly reflect excellence in wealth management."
Wise Counsel Research is honored to be a finalist for Family Wealth Report's award for Outstanding Contributor to Wealth Management Thought Leadership. "Family Wealth Report is a leader in identifying high-quality advisors and institutions," says WCR President Dr. Keith Whitaker, "and we are proud to be numbered among other excellent finalists. We are particularly gratified to receive this recognition as a non-profit organization that shares thoughtful research as broadly as possible."
Whether you're planning to get married, or have a child who is, bringing up a prenuptial agreement is a delicate matter. It can easily cause hurt feelings and anger. Still, prenups have legitimate uses, and talking about one in a thoughtful way can actually strengthen marriages and families. That's the claim made by this new white paper, which reviews
· What a prenup is--the major parts and requirements
· How prospective spouses can best approach the prenup conversation
· How parents of a prospective spouse can approach prenups.
Money and marriage are challenging topics; we hope that this white paper gives you helpful guidance in navigating the prenup process.
Dennis Jaffe has published this new piece on steps that families can take to raise a flourishing "rising generation." Dennis discusses family activities (such as good parenting and family meetings), business activities (such as sharing important business information and educating rising gen members on understanding the family's affairs), and important individual considerations for rising gen (such as ways to build an identity separate from wealth). For more stories on how actual families have successfully prepared their rising gen members, check out our recent report on the topic and our book, The Voice of the Rising Generation.
Political life seems to be held in ever-lower regard today. Here are some reflections on recovering an appreciation for political life, prompted by the summer solstice and a re-reading of Plato's dialogue, The Laws.
Many philanthropists know Andrew Carnegie’s warning that giving money away wisely is much harder than making it. Few know that Carnegie was paraphrasing Aristotle. And fewer still know that Aristotle argued that there is a specific virtue, not just of giving, but of giving away great sums of money, a virtue he calls “magnificence.” It’s a virtue whose study could help philanthropists meet Carnegie’s challenge.
Virtue is the habit of doing what’s right. We speak in terms of virtues all the time, even when we don’t recognize that we’re doing so. For example, if you believe that giving should be effective, efficient, and strategic, then you imply that effectiveness, efficiency, and strategic thinking are virtues. The same if you criticize a certain expenditure as wasteful: that’s the language of vice.
In essence, Aristotle asks us, “Do effectiveness, efficiency, and even strategy exhaust what you mean by giving well? Or is there something more to it?” He would say that these qualities set the bar too low. We need to raise our eyes to magnificence, the virtue of making “great” expenditures.
Aiming at magnificence may make some people uncomfortable, especially in a democratic age. In what follows I voice some common objections to magnificence, explain its qualities, and offer thoughts on how, if one has the resources, to begin to give magnificently.
Is magnificence just about spending? Doesn’t it matter where you got the money from? And doesn’t it matter whether you give it away versus spend it on yourself?
These objections reflect the usual way we think about philanthropy today. Ideally, it should proceed from hard-earned funds, generously set aside by the wealth-creator, and directed to public not private benefit.
Magnificence confounds these distinctions. It covers more than giving. Aristotle’s examples of magnificence include financing weddings, public celebrations, warships, and temples. These examples suggest that magnificent expenditures could aim at private ends as well as public, civic as well as religious. It rejects the black-and-white distinction of self-interest versus altruism. Magnificent spending could go to build a private company, a civic center, or a church. For magnificence is about results, not the source of funds. Such spending could come out of your own earnings, from an inheritance, from a charitable foundation, or from public funds.
Though surprising, the rejection of these distinctions shouldn’t sound altogether strange. Magnificence anticipates current moves towards socially-responsible investing, multiple bottom lines, “B-Corps,” and public-private partnerships. It certainly demands asking more than, “Does this expenditure qualify for the charitable deduction?”
But why should giving a lot of money involve its own special virtue? Does quality really depend on quantity? Or is Aristotle just flattering the rich?
At first glance, magnificence does seem to depend on size, as those examples of weddings, ships, and temples suggest. But magnificence is not only about size. It must also
· Fit the person doing it. Aristotle says that the doer should be great—and great does not equal rich. Depending on their characters, the rich are more likely to spend vulgarly or stingely than magnificently.
· Fit the recipient. As a gift to a child a beautiful toy may be magnificent. A new Ferrari would be absurd.
· Fit the occasion. Spending the same amount on your own dinner as for a wedding is ugly, not beautiful.
As the example of the child’s toy reveals, magnificence need not even cost a lot. The magnificent person makes even a smallish expenditure come off grand. Magnificence has more to do with the quality of the result than the quantity of dollars spent.
At the same time, magnificence is also about the doer. It means asking yourself, “Does this expenditure fit me—and do I fit it?” You don’t need to be a great wealth-creator. But you must be great in some respect. As with any virtue, magnificence is less about what you have than about who you are.
How does magnificence’s big spending differ from conspicuous consumption, which seems more a vice than a virtue?
Aristotle compares magnificence with the vice of vulgarity or, as he also calls it, “lack of experience in the beautiful.” A vulgar person spends “not for the sake of the beautiful, but to make a show of his wealth and so to make himself wondered at.” In contrast, by spending on public celebrations, public defense, or temples, the magnificent person spends not for himself but for “the things of the gods and the things valued in common.”
To pursue magnificence, then, ask yourself, “Will my spending evoke wonder—at it, not at me? Will it direct our gaze to what is above us and to which we aspire?” Also, have you developed your own experience in what’s beautiful, what we might call “high culture”? Beauty is the guide to magnificence. For example, Aristotle says that the magnificent person’s house should be beautiful, not to brag about, but because “a house too is an adornament” of the city. This result is moral, not just aesthetic. Whatever magnificence spends on, it looks to the beautiful and the common good.
Isn’t what I consider beautiful just a matter of personal taste?
“Magnificence” is a compound word in Greek, megaloprepes. The first part, megalo-, means great. The second part, prepes, can mean both conspicuous and fitting. This ambiguity reflects the complexity of the virtue. Magnificence must be not only greatly conspicuous but also greatly fitting, in several ways:
· As we’ve seen, the magnificent gift fits its giver, its recipient or recipients, and its context.
· It also fits with “the common things.” It aims at our community’s health, common defense, public education, and so on.
· Further, Aristotle says, a magnificent expenditure is a kosmos, in Greek, an “ordered whole.” Naturally, this word reminds us of the larger kosmos, the ordered whole in which we live. The magnificent gift fits together the way that the cosmos fits together. Its beauty resides less in its size than its reflection of the order of the world. This beauty is not just a matter of personal taste.
This quality also makes magnificence about much more than effectiveness, efficiency, or even strategy, which are all tied to specific ends. It should lead us to ask ourselves, “Is my giving partial? Why does it aim at these ends? Does it reflect a vision of the world, this cosmos?” Magnificence no doubt requires focus at times. But focus (not to mention money) can never substitute for vision.
So is magnificence more about dazzling others than truly benefiting them?
Aristotle also says that “The magnificent person resembles the knower, for he or she can contemplate what’s fitting and spend great amounts harmoniously.” The magnificent person is not just a doer but also, in a way, a thinker. As a result, magnificent expenditures achieve two other ends:
· They inspire hope. Aristotle says that they resemble “offerings to the gods.” Such offerings assume that God cares about us. In the same way, magnificence reflects a view that this world makes sense and that our actions within it can make a positive difference.
· They inspire not only wonder but also reflection. The magnificent person’s contemplation, expressed in spending, inspires others who gaze upon his or her works. It inspires their reflection on the nature of our community and the nature of our world.
The last is perhaps magnificence’s greatest public service. It both makes and reflects a beautiful order. It embodies vision, public-spirit, and experience in beauty. It thereby opens the door, conspicuously, to reflection by others, who may or may not have money. It prompts an activity that is truly common and costs nothing: reflection on this wonderful world and our own wondering place within it.
Imagine an ethnic Chinese business founder who arrives in Indonesia with nothing but the “shirt on his back”, who through hard work, intuition and street smarts builds a successful business empire in South East Asia. While the founder had no formal education, as his wealth grew, he invested in the best western educations available for his children, who were encouraged upon graduation to find work in the US. His eldest son finds a job in an investment bank and starts to rise quickly up the ranks. After the son has worked in New York for 5 years, one day he gets the call from his father to return home to Jakarta and help him to run the family conglomerate.
The son hesitates. He knows his father is authoritarian and that the family conglomerate, while successful, is not professionalized and that it will be a long time before the son could put his own mark on the group. To return home will involve giving up the successful career he has started to build. Yet if he refuses his father’s call, he will be disloyal and betraying his proper role in the family. If you were an advisor to the patriarch, what would you do to help in this situation?
Cross Cultures suggest that there is a cultural lens that can be applied to help families like this. The three major cultures around the world today are labeled as Individualist (Western, Anglo-Saxon countries); Collective Harmony (derived from Confucianism); and Honor (found in places as diverse as Latin America, India, the Middle East and Southern Europe) cultures. The book also points out that wealthy successful families also have an economic culture; the origin might be a culture of poverty or middle class wealth, but as the founder becomes successful the family “immigrate” to the economic culture of wealth. The next generation, if born after the family has already successful completed the economic migration are, “Natives to the land of wealth”.
The approach for an advisor in the example is first consider your own national or ethnic culture of origin and whether you bring any of your own biases to the situation. Second, consider the culture of the patriarch – likely Collective Harmony. The dimensions of culture described in the book can be explained to the patriarch and the patriarch can be asked to rate himself so that his own unique culture map can be created. Then what about the culture of the son? Has he picked up elements of Western Individualist culture? If so, then the potential conflict described between father and son can be reframed as a cultural conflict and not as a result of the personalities involved. The role of the advisor is to respectfully point out to the patriarch that the son is thinking and acting in a way consistent with the first class western education and work experience that his father provided for him; that the son has a legitimate perspective. If the advisor is able, his or her role then becomes that of a cultural mediator, helping father and son explore whether there are solutions that can be negotiated that satisfy both the needs of the patriarch and the family orientation, with the individual needs of the son. The book outlines the steps in this negotiation process and the role of cultural mediator.
Cross Cultures is written primarily for advisors (including bankers, trustees and family office executives) working with families from a different culture, or helping families where the family itself is facing strains as a result of being exposed to a new culture (most likely Individualistic). Advisors are asked to go further than just promote communication within families; advisors must be either willing to step up to help in the cross cultural negotiation required – or encourage the engagement of other advisors who can play that role. Advisors are warned against taking the approach of failing to respectfully pointing out to the patriarch the legitimate interests of the next generation of the family.
The co-authors conclude the key to long term success as a family enterprise is adaptation. In terms of economic culture this means consciously deciding which aspects of the family’s economic culture of origin to retain, and which aspects of the culture of wealth need to be adopted. Likewise in terms of ethnic culture, successful families from all three of the main cultures are facing scenarios like that described above or are otherwise being exposed to the other cultures as the world becomes more global, including through the widespread use of Western Individualistic practices in business. Cross Cultures predicts that successful families will also be required to select which aspects of their ethnic culture they will retain and which aspects of Individualist (or other) culture they should choose to adopt. They point to a global cultural convergence – to “ambiculturalism”. Cross Cultures provides both the vocabulary and the process for a family to make such conscious choices.
Cross Cultures: How Global Families Negotiate Change Across Generations is written by Dennis T. Jaffe Phd and James Grubman Phd.
This review was originally published online at Tharawat Magazine.
Creating a written family constitution has become accepted as a best practice for family enterprises, especially those involved in a transition. But what kind of family constitution are you going to create?
A new white paper by Wise Counsel Research's Christian Stewart proposes that there are three main “archetypes” or common patterns of family constitutions and that each of these three archetypes has their advantages and disadvantages.
Just naming and exploring these archetypes can help a family to be more conscious of their choices. And Christian outlines the characteristics of a “Wise Constitution” as well.
Joshua Nacht, a member of the 100 Year Families research team, recently completed an innovative dissertation on the subject of the "family champion." This often-overlooked figure emerges from within the family to advance efforts towards growth while addressing family concerns, such as about entitlement or dependency. Joshua's work recognizes new possibilities for helping families develop their own resources while at the same time highlighting the insights and ideas coming from the 100 Year Family Project. For a synopsis of Joshua's research, click here.
Wise Counsel's Hartley Goldstone and I had a wonderful experience this week teaching the first course on Family Trusts at Vanderbilt University. Along with guest speakers John A Warnick of the Purposeful Planning Institute and Steve Weinstein of Altair Advisors, we covered introductions to the "players" in the "trustscape," choices about trusts, adding purpose to trusts, and a new model for organizing the trustscape. The overall lesson was that, despite trust's sometimes feeling disempowering, those of us who form the trust relationships are the trust, and the success (or failure) of the trust will depend on the quality of those relationships. For a copy of the agenda, click here.
Interested in continuity in family business? Not sure how to start that conversation with clients? The Institute of Family Enterprise Advisors has issued a thoughtful new guide on exactly these points. In just a few pages it offers "quick tips" as well as more in depth advice from some of the leading consultants in the field. Wise Counsel's Dennis Jaffe and Keith Whitaker are honored to be included.
JP Morgan, in collaboration with Wise Counsel's Dennis Jaffe, has just published a fascinating study of Asian family enterprises. Some of the headlines from this analysis of 140 large, multi-generational families include the families' top concerns (#1: fairness to the rising generation), their top leadership values, overall preparedness (or rather unpreparedness) with regard to transition and family employment policies, and practices concerning board composition, talent development, and exit strategies. All students of family governance will find in this study an invaluable glimpses into succession principles and practices. It also includes a great section on the practicalities of family meetings by Christian Stewart of Family Legacy Asia.