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A cosmic straw man is vanquished in the fight against dangerous ideals such as social justice and equality. This is not the place to look for original ideas or honest analysis. Presumably, Sowell’s (Migrations and Cultures, 1996, etc.) goal is to entertain those who share his convictions rather than convince open-minded readers, and this audience will be pleased. “Cosmic justice” is presented as a fundamental departure from the “traditional” conception of justice, which Sowell claims has the “characteristic of a process,” rather than of a particular outcome. He conveniently forgets to mention that this “tradition” dates back only to the emergence of liberal-democratic states and that contrasting notions of procedural vs. substantive justice remain the subject of lively debate. Admitting legitimate disagreement over even something as slippery as justice would soften the blows he aims at those who think inequality and any associated oppression raises concerns a just society should address, and Sowell is not one to temper a political argument simply to maintain intellectual integrity. He is not straightforwardly defending inequality, of course, but rather is pursuing the familiar strategy of attacking measures that could alleviate it. Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, boldly asserts that those who believe equality should be pursued through public policy “assume that politicizing inequality is free of costs and dangers.” No names are mentioned, and it is indeed hard to imagine that anyone would believe there are no costs or dangers. By stating the issue in terms of extremes, however, he ducks the real issue—the challenge of weighing costs and benefits—and avoids the need for incorporating any subtlety into his discussion. Confronted with such disingenuous blather, readers may find Sowell’s criticism of others applies well to Sowell himself: “To explain the levels of dogmatism and resistance to facts found in too many writings . . . it is necessary to explore what purposes are served by these visions.”

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-86462-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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