A Conflict of Visions

A Conflict of Visions

Ideological Origins of Political Struggles

Book - 2002
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Perseus Publishing
"A classic of a very special kind.... A gem of a book, crafted with passion for the truth and love for mankind." -Christian Science Monitor.

Controversies in politics arise from many sources, but the conflicts that endure for generations or centuries show a remarkably consistent pattern. In this classic work, Thomas Sowell analyzes this pattern. He describes the two competing visions that shape our debates about the nature of reason, justice, equality, and power: the "constrained" vision, which sees human nature as unchanging and selfish, and the "unconstrained" vision, in which human nature is malleable and perfectible. A Conflict of Visions offers a convincing case that ethical and policy disputes circle around the disparity between both outlooks.

Book News
Sowell (Hoover Institution, Stanford U.) makes the case that all political differences have their root in two, mutually antagonistic views of human nature. One view, frequently evoked by left-wing thinkers, suggests that man is perfectible and is labeled "unconstrained." The "constrained" view, advocated by F.A. Hayek, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and others, sees man as essentially selfish. A supporter of the "constrained" version himself, Sowell looks at how the competing visions influence ideas on social processes and theories of knowledge and reason. He then explores how the competing perspectives condition questions of equality, power, and justice. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Publisher: New York : Basic Books, [2002]
Copyright Date: ©2002
ISBN: 9780465081424
Branch Call Number: 303.372 SOWEL
Characteristics: xii, 292 pages ; 21 cm


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May 25, 2018

It's difficult to fairly rate books by political pundits without seeming un-objective or politically biased. Sowell is a well known conservative writer who has written dozens of books on subjects ranging from history to race to economics. With the exception of books related to history, satires and writings on specific contemporary events, I normally don't bother with political books. You already know, going in, whether the subject matter is going to be offered in positive or negative light depending on who wrote it. But out of fairness, Sowell is a well respected and often cited African American author, so I thought I would give one of Sowell's works a try.

I can read the political opinions offered and either agree or ignore them easily. Again, I normally avoid political works that aren't comedic. I couldn't ignore the fact that Sowell tries, and fails, to come off as an academic. Specifically, an academic in subjects he has no background in. Mr. Sowell's education and career background is in economics. When he talks about paths to economic achievement and success for different economic and social demographics, he has weight behind this. He is, after all, an academic economist. When he starts delving in to criminal justice, history, critical race and gender theory, he starts to come off as a hack. Or at least a shill.

I hesitated writing this because, honestly, I couldn't finish the audio version of book. The first thing anyone reading (well, listening to) this book will notice is that it is definitely aimed at certain readers. Specifically, readers of one side of a political leaning. There's nothing wrong with that, there are a hundred other popular authors from all sides of the political spectrum. The problem is, Sowell makes non-economic arguments, usually leaning towards belaying what he believes are flawed or implicitly 'lesser' cultural traits of African Americans and Hispanics, while selling the concept of cultural superiority of people of European descent. Again, this is all political pulp writing, a hundred other authors do the same to sell books. But Sowell writes these arguments as if he is not stating his opinion, but offering facts as an academic. An academic who actually has no education in the field he is discussing. Imagine an attorney selling a series of books on best surgical practices. Or an accountant writing an academic piece on industrial mechanical engineering. Sure, you can do it, but its not an academic work. Its opinion.

Sowell falls into this anytime he is discussing anything outside of his actual area of expertise. Sure, his opinion on social justice, civil rights, poverty, legal theory, gender equality and welfare are interesting to read. But they aren't based in academic research or scholarship. To put it in one sentence, being political charged is fine, but selling your arguments as academic it comes off as cheap. Like the author is trying to sell opinion to sympathetic ears as if it's fact (or at least, scholarly sourced).


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