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A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles Revised Edition

79 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465002054
ISBN-10: 0465002056
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Thomas Sowell has taught economics at a number of colleges and universities, including Cornell, University of California Los Angeles, and Amherst. He has published both scholarly and popular articles and books on economics, and is currently a scholar in residence at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Revised edition (June 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465002056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465002054
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Aretae VINE VOICE on June 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
On reading the entire block of 60-odd reviews, I find that more than half of them, even while admiring Sowell's evenhandedness, misstate the carefulness of the book's positions. In the an attempt to pay tribute to the brilliance of this (rather dense, historical & philosophical ) book, I'll try to correct this.

This book presents two visions of the world. However, contrary to most of the reviewers, the difference is not about Liberals vs. Conservatives. It is about the difference between two visions of the world, and each of the visions is found in most parties in the political spectrum.

The two visions are metaphysical, pre-scientific points of view regarding how the world works. In one view (Unconstrained), people can drive change, intentions matter, and this could improve the world. In the other view (Constrained), people will always be (somewhat) bad, only results and processes matter, and improvements always involve tradeoffs.

Sowell first acknowledges that no vision is purely Constrained or Unconstrained. And then he explicitly does not connect the dots to (modern, US) liberal vs. conservative visions. And he doesn't do so for the basic reason that it really isn't that simple.

Instead of attempting to place "Conservative" vs. "Liberal" positions on top of Sowell's 2 visions, let us look instead at every issue, and determine whether our own individual intuitions are that (a) it is a problem, and that (b) human beings can solve or meliorate, via coordinated political action, this paricular problem without creating other (potentially worse) problems. This is the issue. And the arguments for or against most actions can come from both positions.

Examples from the War in Iraq.
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Clifford S. Morton on December 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
I had just finished reading Michael Dyson's "Is Bill Cosby Right?". Then I read this book of Sowell's. African Americans, including myself, have rejected Sowell out of hand because he does not line up with the orthodoxy of Dyson or the typical civil rights perspective. This is because I did not realize how thoroughly Sowell understands the issues and the philosophies behind it and the opposite views. You just do not realize his grasps on things if you go by what people say or get turned off by one of his articles in the newspaper. Not only does he understand Dyson's position, he opened my eyes to the "other side's" position in a way that made me a believer. Now I know why he says what he says in his other books and they make real sense. I am buying copies of this book for other African Americans I know and am encouraging my young adult children to read it too. If you have never read Sowell, this is the place to start.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By LAH on July 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
Some others have already commented on the basic premise of the book: the dichotomy between a constrained and unconstrained view of human nature and the logical conclusions and "visions" that arise based on that difference, so I will leave that summary aside.

This book is a fantastic read for many reasons: the writing style is incredibly clear and simple, and Sowell is adept at conveying his ideas in a manner that should be easily understandable to any reader. Sowell appears to show a commendable level of detachment in that there does not seem to be much of a personal value judgement placed on either of the two schools of vision (i.e. without reading other texts, the reader may not be able to distinguish whether Sowell places himself within the "constrained" or "unconstrained" vision).

Another reviewer commented that this dichotomy was rather simplistic, and I tend to agree. However, I see this as a strength rather than a weakness. Sowell gives a more general view of the derivation of certain viewpoints and the logical implications of a certain conception without getting distracted by every specific application. He does not explain every thought or viewpoint, but he provides an exceptionally clear framework through which you can view these thoughts and viewpoints on your own.

I found the quotes he used to be very illuminating, but I agree that they should be viewed in the proper light. The quotes are interesting as articulations of the "constrained" or "unconstrained" views in the particular context in which they are used, and should probably not be carried beyond that.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Dash Manchette VINE VOICE on November 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
Let me present you with a hypothetical but nonetheless realistic person. He majored in social work in college, considers himself to be a proud male supporter of feminism, supports preferential policies for blacks and generous welfare benefits for the poor, considers the United States to be an extremely racist and sexist country, and considers George W. Bush to be a war criminal. Where do you think he stands on constitutional interpretation? Do you think he is more on the activist constitution side or more on the side of determining the document's original intent? I am not asking for certainty, just what do you think his opinion on the issue is.

Let us be honest. My hypothetical man almost certainly favors an activist and expansive view of constitutional interpretation. But how did we know that to be the case? Thomas Sowell addresses that issue in A CONFLICT OF VISIONS. Even for Sowell, one of the top intellectuals of our time, this book stands out as particularly important.

As Sowell demonstrates, the answer lies not with the specifics of whatever issue is at hand. Rather, the answer lies in the ideological vision with which one perceives the world. Although Sowell acknowledges that ideological visions span a continuum, he nonetheless isolates two particular visions with very different outlooks. Most of the continuum is really a shading of one of these two.

The constrained vision views man as inherently very limited, both in his knowledge and, by implication, in what he is able to accomplish in terms of creating a functioning society. The unconstrained vision, however, views humans as being, if not totally without limits, then far, far more capable of unleashing our human potential to create a better world for us all.
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