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The Quest for Cosmic Justice Hardcover – October 11, 1999

4.6 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Thomas Sowell is a man of immense learning but with a common touch. His books reveal a dazzling mind that ranges freely and easily from history and sociology to economics to public policy. He conveys complex ideas in a simple way for a mass audience, a skill he learned as an academic who writes a syndicated newspaper column. This strength is on full view in The Quest for Cosmic Justice, which is perhaps best described as a work of moral philosophy. That may sound off-putting, but it shouldn't. Again, Sowell writes for lay readers, and his clear thinking is on immediate display. His topic is justice, broadly understood. We constantly hear of "social justice," he says. But how is social justice different from other kinds of justice? The word social, in fact, is redundant here: "All justice is inherently social. Can someone on a desert island be either just or unjust?" The book goes on to show how one person's sense of justice and equality can lead to their exact opposites: injustice and inequality. He holds no quarter for those who pursue "cosmic justice," the dangerous notion that people can right all wrongs, and favors "traditional justice," which emphasizes rules and procedures. The Quest for Cosmic Justice ought to be required reading for all students in college-level political theory courses; Sowell's conservative politics and aversion to academic jargon probably guarantee it won't be. That's a shame, because he is the very definition of a public intellectual--and The Quest for Cosmic Justice is another awesome achievement. --John J. Miller

From Library Journal

"Much of the world today and down through centuries of history has suffered the terrible consequences of unbridled government power, the prime evil that the writers of the American constitution sought to guard against." It is this "unbridled government power" that prolific political theorist Sowell (Affirmative Action Reconsidered) fears most as something that follows necessarily when societies try to achieve "cosmic justice" (as opposed to "social justice"). "Cosmic justice," he asserts, "is not about the rules of the game" but rather about "putting particular segments of society in the position that they would have been in but for some undeserved misfortune." Referring often to 20th-century world history, he argues persuasively that whatever benefits one might hope would result from trying to right the past wrongs of the world (instead of trying to repair the present world), they are not worth the almost inevitable risks of the loss of freedom and the rise of despotism. As Sowell does so well in his other booksAmany of which analyze the tradeoff between freedom and equalityAhe presents his case in clear, convincing, and accessible language. Strongly recommended for most public and academic libraries.AJack Forman, Mesa Coll. Lib., San Diego
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (October 11, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684864622
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684864624
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #474,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Wright on October 26, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is good, not great. And the people who would get the most out of this book are those who are most unlikely to read it. If you are already familiar with Sowell, or read Forbes or The Wall Street Journal on a regular basis, then you are already familiar with most of the ideas and concepts in this book. Nonetheless, the book makes for an interesting read. Sowell persuasively points out that many of those seeking "justice" (cosmic or otherwise) frequently don't give a darn about the costs and benefits of their current flavor of justice on society. Sowell provides many examples, and gloomy predictions, about what happens when the liberal elite impose their visions on the rest of us. As an attorney who just graduated from NYU Law School, I couldn't agree more with Sowell's comments regarding how the rule of law is systematically undermined by our nation's elite law schools. Once the rule of law is gone, you decide justice given the judge's present whims, which is awful close to monarchy---which the liberal elite unfortunately fail to recognize. I was taught nothing but contempt for precedent and the rule of law at NYU, I'd even go so far as to say that most of my professors seemed to feel you should just examine each case from the perspective of who you feel is "disadvantaged" and rule for them. After three years of that attempted brainwashing, Sowell's book is like climbing out of a dark cave and realizing light still exists.
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Format: Hardcover
Thomas Sowell's "The Quest For Cosmic Justice" is a stab in the heart of left-wing politics. Early in his book, the author makes a clear distinction between traditional ideas of justice and what Mr. Sowell describes as "cosmic justice." Traditional justice is process-oriented. Everyone plays by the same rules and is judged by the same standards. It is a system that "flesh and bone" human beings can live under. Cosmic justice, on the other hand, means providing everyone with equal prospects of success. This concept of "fairness," as morally spurious as it is, becomes outright dangerous when it requires third parties to wield arbitrary power to override rules and control outcomes. These third parties - found in government, universities, the media, and the courts - see a nation desperately in need of cosmic justice. The gap between the rich and poor is supposedly growing, threatening our economic future. The so-called "earnings gap" between men and women is supposedly the child of a sexist society. Police brutality is becoming a high-tech version of lynching. And so on. Of course, many of these "problems" disappear when confronted with real-world experience and statistical evidence. Creating government "solutions" to these "problems" only entrusts more and more power in the hands of people further and further removed from the real world. To allow any government authority to determine how much money you receive for your work is not only a distortion of the economic process but is a dehumanizing attempt in reducing everyone to political clients. Government price controls on food, supposed to help the poor, have led to widespread hunger in countries around the world.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
As I read this book, the thoughts of arrogance, condescension, and hubris came to mind - not towards the author - but towards the subjects of his discussion. Certainly one cannot fault the social engineers and institutional "tinkerers" for their intentions. However, intentions are not the measure of success - results are.
The policies of the "anointed" have become gospel, not subject to debate or empirical verification. In essence, anyone who disagrees with them or offers another approach is necessarily opposed to the intentions of those holding the true "gospel" of social harmony, prosperity, and peace.
But this substitute for evidence and effectiveness has failed the most important element - those who are the intended beneficiaries of the "anointed" policies. The efforts to "equalize" and pursue "cosmic justice" not only have few success stories - but rather there is an abundance of proof to show that their policies are counter-productive and even harmful.
But never mind the petty details! We're merely interested in doing the right thing, having the right motives, having our hearts in the right place, etc. Consequences be damned! We know what works best! The conquest for social justice will not be deterred by such things as uncooperative human beings, lack of success, or the Rule of Law.
This book is an excellent follow-up to Sowell's "Vision of the Anointed" as it drives home the point that those who embrace visions of cosmic ideals are embarking upon an endeavor requiring super-human skill. And their pursuit in spite of this fact does good for no one - not the least of which are those who they claim to want to help.
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Format: Hardcover
"You can't change the rules in the middle of the game." "Hey, you just made that rule up." "You're cheating!" Kids on a playground arguing? No, adults in our judicial and political systems. In the first section of The Quest for Cosmic Justice, Thomas Sowell takes us on a tour of the world through time to display examples of childlike behavior in adults. He discusses two types of justice. Traditional justice is process-based: make up the rules before the game, everybody plays by the same rules, and the end result is left open. Cosmic justice is ends-oriented: have rules, but fiddle with them so that the game ends as someone wants it to.
In the second section of the book, Dr. Sowell examines equality, a much bandied-about word, but slippery in the extreme as to what it means. If we have learned anything from science it is that defining terms is crucial to progress - unless one is pursuing cosmic justice, of course. He talks of ". . . politically imposed equality . . . poisonous relations between the races and sexes . . . internal dissensions and demoralization have played a crucial role in the decline and fall of other civilizations, and there is no reason to expect this one to be immune."
Visions, their necessity for humans to operate and the things that can go wrong with them, are treated in the third section. The final section concerns the quiet repeal of the American Revolution. Comparisons of the French Revolution to the American Revolution were very informative, at least to me. I remembered an awful lot of heads got chopped off in France, but hadn't made the connection between that and the philosophy underlying the French Revolution.
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