- 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 (163 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles Revised Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
He would probably cringe at my assertion, as in this and other books he places severe limits on the "value" of most "intelectual" output. Or more accuratelly, on the value that intellectuals have had on society.
Sowell builds his argument from a simple premise: most political and economic discussions arise from inherently contrasting views on "the nature of man". One the one hand, the "unconstrained" view assigns great weight to reason, and assumes that concern for others can be an important factor fort the funcioning of society.
In contrast with the above, the "constrained" view places emphasis on evolutive learning (individual and social), and is sceptical as regards to altruism and related behavior.
Sowell discussed at lenght the history of these views in economic and political thought, and their impact for understanding the functioning of socienty. His approach is (in my opinion) quite objective, frequently quoting paragraphs from authors of both camps.
Interesting to me is the discussion of marxism, that in constrast to socialism or "social democracy" follows a constrained version of human history, only to be repaced by the "unconstrained" when the ideal comunist state is achieved. In this sense, it is sometimes easier to debate with a died-in the-wool marxist, than with a more ambiguous and " wooly" social democrat.
Sowell builds upon and effectivelly uses the insights derived from Adam Smith's book, as well as Hayek's article on the use of knowledge in society. New and fresh insights are derived.
Sowell also draws on Burke's work on political processes. Indeed, an important strength of his book is his deep undertanding not only of economics, but of political science and law. The term "political economist" is a natural one to label Thomas Sowell.
This is a highly important book. I would say "indispensable", although the author would surely object to this probably dogmatic assertion.
H.L. Mencken surely was addressing and purposely leaving out the operative identifier - "Republic' as in 'Democratic Republic'. Thomas Sowell helps the 'willing' to consider how centuries of the 'Conflict of Visions' has impaired humanity to form and live by a government 'of the people', 'by the people' and 'for the people'.
Simple and straight forward; but leave it to the 'intellectuals', those wily foxes to impose their 'ideology' for the 'greater good'.
Thomas Sowell writes newspaper columns that are often characterized as "conservative" although he would probably characterize himself as a "pragmatist". This book cannot be characterized as being conservative or liberal. Dr. Sowell goes out of his way to not disclose his personal views. The book is an analysis of Western thought over the last 250 years regarding the proper roll of society, expressed principally through government, in achieving a successful society. I have read several of Dr. Sowell's books and have purchased several more to read. Here he truly achieves an objective restatement of the thoughts of prominent minds over the centuries and not his personal opinions on the same subject.
He writes clearly and in a manner that is easy to read and yet he documents his work with so many footnotes that it is like reading a legal brief. The first thirty or forty pages were a slight struggle because he uses terms that were not familiar to me in their context. In particular it takes a while to understand what he means by the "constrained vision" and the "unconstrained vision". That is really what the book is about.
He quotes Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, John Stewart Mill, William Blackstone, Edmund Burke, Condorcet, Charles Darwin, Ronald Dworkin, Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith, William Godwin, Karl Marks, Friedrich Hayek, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, Richard Posner and many other legal, economic and philosophical scholars all in an attempt to dissect their thinking. He explains how they often reach opposite conclusions from many undisputed premises.
The philosophical, legal and political answer to the question of when "the end justifies the means" is a difficult one. It is easy to dogmatically answer the question but a few scenarios will quickly convince most sane people that there is really no universal answer. In describing the "constrained vision" Dr. Sowell quotes the writers who have emphasized the strict rule of law in achieving social stability. They tend to believe that the same rules should apply equally to all regardless of the outcome.
Others have followed "an unconstrained vision" which he describes with their own words as being that the end result is more important than the route society takes to get there. They believe it is necessary to bend or modify rules to achieve what they view as a desirable outcome.
This dichotomy in English and American common law resulted in both "Law Courts" and "Equity Courts" which administered law following the "constrained" vision in "Law" and "unconstrained" vision in "Equity" operating in parallel for hundreds of years although Dr. Sowell does not discuss this portion of our legal history.
Although he uses the words of radicals like Karl Marks who clearly believed any means justified the end he sought for the world, Dr. Sowell tries to dwell more with prominent thinkers who were closer to the middle of political and economic thought and why they thought as they did.
This book helped me better understand my own ambivalence about certain actions of our government, but it also convinced me that there are no universal answers to all of the problems that face society.
It is unfortunate that Dr. Sowell's reputation as a conservative will probably keep many people who consider themselves liberals from reading this book. They would profit by understanding the perspective of those people with whom they are in an eternal debate. Similarly some conservatives will assume that they have little to learn from a book from someone they think they know and who could not surprise them. They might be quite surprised to find that Dr. Sowell is very non-judgmental in this book and does not side with either vision.
I read this book after sending an email to Dr. Sowell to complement him on a newspaper article he had written about illegal immigration. His reply was that I had misunderstood his reasoning and that population was not the problem generating the migration of the poor from undeveloped areas. He suggested that I read portions of several of his books where he had elaborated on the issue. I have done so and still disagree with him on the population issue, but have found the writings on political philosophy of a writer whose work is woefully under appreciated. If you read "A conflict of Visions" or his book on the Economics and Politics of Race you will find it impossible to finish them without your opinions being forever altered in many respects.
In this book, Sowell discusses the ancient division between the constrained and unconstrained views of human nature and of reality and some connections become clear.