A CONFLICT OF VISIONS by Thomas Sowell

A CONFLICT OF VISIONS

Ideological Origins Of Political Struggles
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A broadly sweeping philosophical analysis, Sowell's new book performs a useful service for people interested in contemporary politics: it attempts to lay out objectively the basic differences between the liberal and conservative visions. Sometimes cogent, the book falls short, however, of objectivity; its conservative biases and obfuscations are readily apparent from the start. According to Sowell, conservatives hold a "constrained" vision. They believe that evolved systemic processes--traditions, free competitive markets, languages, and laws--are essentially sound and that, if left alone, function in unintended and overlapping ways for the best; that self-interest and evil are inherent in the human condition and can only be contained, not removed; that injustices are acceptable trade-offs for the good flowing from the system; and that inarticulate human experience is superior to articulated rationality. Basically democratic, constrainers argue that power must be decentralized and that intellectuals are dangerous. The liberal perspective, or the "unconstrained" vision, presents the opposite picture: the system is flawed; intellectuals must intervene in behalf of the people, who are basically good but not as "good" as the elite; justice and equality can be artifically determined; and articulated rationality is superior to inarticulate human experience. Unconstrainers, therefore, are undemocratic, contemptuous of the people, and power centralizers. Sowell's analysis of liberalism is often persuasive, but his depiction of the "systemic processes" is sometimes vague and abstract. It is not always clear what is or has been systematic. Slavery? Racism? Consumer values, which have become systemic but undermine older traditions? More important, like most conservatives, Sowell lets corporate capitalism off the hook, a capitalism that has had great discretionary power, determining prices and wages in centralized ways, undermining what Sowell calls the "free competitive market." Moreover, this capitalism has probably done more than anything else to destroy other features of the systemic process--family traditions and cultural values--a contention democratic leftists make today but which Sowell ignores.
Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1986
ISBN: 0465002056
Page count: 345pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1986




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