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A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins…

A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles (original 1987; edition 2002)

by Thomas Sowell

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619825,219 (4.32)10
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.… (more)
Title:A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles
Authors:Thomas Sowell
Info:Basic Books (2002), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Conservative, Philospphy, Political

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A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles by Thomas Sowell (1987)


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Forget about all the clowns and comedians today posing as valid pundits, the man to clarify the American political debate is Thomas Sowell. For me this was the sort of tremendously-challenging book I came across only a couple of times in a decade that really makes me shift my assumptions and rethink my worldview. - Adam
  stephencrowe | Nov 11, 2015 |
Kind of a difficult read. Helpful in understanding political dialogue or anyother social behavior viewpoint. ( )
  SamTekoa | Oct 6, 2012 |
I can see why Sowell considers this among his best three works. In A conflict of Visions, he presents a generalized philosophical model that frames every major economic and political viewpoint. He references many prominent thinker on both sides of his model, which is based not on left vs. right, nor authoritarian vs. libertarian, but instead on constrained vs. the unconstrained visions. So many ideological discussions about politics, religion, trade, and social justice would be far more enlightening if participants had considered them within the context of Sowell's brilliant and well-written analysis. ( )
  jpsnow | Sep 20, 2009 |
: Thomas Sowell (born June 30, 1930), is an American economist, political writer, and commentator. He is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Pro: very insightful writing; calm and convincing prose; extremely thought-provoking
Con: none so far ( )
  sphinx | Jun 19, 2008 |
The author defines and contrasts what he sees as the basic values of conservatives and liberals (social democrats in European terms). He is himself a conservative, and the book is of course not neutral. The author makes a very good case for ascribing elitism and totalitarianism to the left: the self-declared "moral and intellectual elite" making dangerous “surrogate decisions” based on flimsy theories for the ignorant masses. This in clear contrast to the small increments of change in "evolutionary tradition," and the Smithian “invisible hand” that coordinates the work of a mass of different experts, who are all of equal human value, are all without the total oversight demanded of a “philosopher-king-politician” - but in aggregate price-able knowledge are absolutely fabulous.

Still good enough an idea for another roll out, but a normal business leader would not in private declare himself without any actual dominance over others (he would laugh at the idea!), and if the author had reached for historical elitist ideas on the right to match the ugly quotations he has found on the left, he shouldn't have had to strain himself. The accusation against much of the right as believing in inherited privileges as justly God-given, although here given a wide evasion, is easy to substantiate. Being a cynic, I heard myself throughout the book repeating Céline's much used words on the political divide: "same difference!"

The central point in any conservatism or libertarianism versus welfare state debate is the equal opportunity question, or if you like: the question of “barriers to market entry” as regards individuals. Mr Sowell first neatly sidesteps the problem in presenting the idea that the products of the privileged are something the unprivileged can all enjoy. Not a bad idea, although of limited applicability I will claim. But then he goes on to say that while the left is for “result equality,” the right is for “process equality,” and while that idea is understandable, it doesn’t answer the problem at hand. The privileges of those that enjoy “affirmative action” are a forced result, and as such a destruction of “process equality,” fine, I’ll buy that. But privileges inherited seems to me to be every bit as much a forced result, and every bit as disruptive to a “process equality” as the state enforced result. We are all allowed to pay our way through expensive schools,- claiming that the poor are therefore allowed to go to expensive schools is nonsense, but seeing this nonsense-freedom as possibly disrupted by state aid is worse… The trick seems to be to start from a process beginning, or its end, as it suits you.
I wish it was otherwise, but I see complete “process equality” as obtainable only with a new start from scratch every instant. It would be easier to defend a pure utilitarian view of the divergence in wealth, as many do, the morality game is a tough one for libertarians as it somehow presupposes a big boss. (In fairness to the author it should be said that, outside education aided by the "GI bill," he himself is largely self-made.)

I consider the book quite clarifying of the views of the "tradeoffs considering economist conservative," although his opponents may be a bit too conveniently posed. Mr Sowell tries to argue all his claims, he generally does that quite well, and I believe the book can be enjoyed by anybody, wherever they’re stationed on the right-left scale. ( )
1 vote jahn | Mar 27, 2008 |
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Every man, where he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.
--Bertrand Russell
To my wife, Mary, with love
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(Preface): This book has been more years in the writing than I realized, until I looked back over my own work of the past decade or more and noted how often the concept of "visions" has appeared.
One of the curious things about political opinions is how often the same people line up on the opposite sides of different issues.
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