In this classic work, Thomas Sowell analyzes 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. He describes how these two radically opposed views have manifested themselves in the political controversies of the past two centuries, including such contemporary issues as welfare reform, social justice, and crime. Updated to include sweeping political changes since its first publication in 1987, this revised edition of A Conflict of Visions offers a convincing case that ethical and policy disputes circle around the disparity between both outlooks.
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. (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.read more
Why do we usually see the same people squaring off at each other on subjects as diverse as capitalism vs socialism, military expenditures, judicial activism, aid to third world countries, etc?In this book, Thomas Sowell's answer is that, at the heart of the matter, there is a conflict between two visions of human nature. The constrained vision, and the unconstrained one. Simplistically, the former views man as an inherently limited creature that no amount of effort can substantially change, while the latter views man as a creature that has a great potential to become perfect or close to it.Sowell shows that starting with each of these two different views as assumptions, one can reach drastically different conclusions on many political and economical issues.The great value of this book is in crystallizing one's world view and making it easier to understand the world view of opponents. Another important lesson that can be learned from this book is that people seeing different visions of man often do not even speak the same language. Concepts such as power, equality, justice and freedom have very different meanings in each of the visions. This often results in fruitless debates in which each side attacks not the other side's actual positions, but merely perceived ones.read more
Kind of a difficult read. Helpful in understanding political dialogue or anyother social behavior viewpoint.read more
Read all reviews