Nicholas's Reviews > A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles

A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell
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's review
Oct 18, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: books-i-quit, politics
Read in August, 2010

** spoiler alert ** For some reason this book just didn't hook me. Usually I love sowell's books. I think I've just read so much of his stuff that this book just came off as repetitive.

The basic premise is that much of our political divisions stem from two very different ways of looking at the world. To different sets of assumptions about how the world works.

One thing that I like about sowell is that he tempers my contempt for institution. At least some of them.


"We will do almost anything for our visions, except think about them."

"It would be good to be able to say that we should dispense with visions entirely, and deal only with reality. But that may be the most utopian vision of all. Reality is far too complex to be comprehended by any given mind."

"Facts do not "speak for themselves." They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theory or visions are more isolated curiosities."

"While believers in the unconstrained vision seek the special causes of war, poverty, and crime, believers in the constrained vision seek the special causes of peace, wealth, or a law-abiding society. In the unconstrained vision, there are no intractable reasons for social evils and therefore no reason why they cannot be solved, with sufficient moral commitment. But in the constrained visions, whatever artifices or strategies restrain or ameliorate inherent human evils will themselves have costs, some in the form of other social ills created by these civilizing institutions, so that all that is possible is a prudent trade-off."

"Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint."

"There is thus "more 'intelligence' incorporated in the system of rules of conduct than in man's thoughts about his surroundings."

"Implicit in the unconstrained vision is a profound inequality between the conclusions of "persons of narrow views" and those with "cultivated" minds."

"Also implicit in the unconstrained vision is the view that the relevant comparison is between the beliefs of one sort of person and another - between x and y, rather than between (1) systemic processes working through successive generations of individuals a through x, as expressed through the living generation x, versus (2) the articulated rationality of y in isolation."

"Reason, according to Goodwin, is the proper instrument, and the sufficient instrument for regulating the actions of mankind. Passions and biases may exist, but if we employ our rational faculties, we cannot fail of the conquering our erroneous propensities."

"With the constrained vision, the issue is not whether one individual or group is wiser than another but whether another but whether systemic experience is wiser than both."

"The unconstrained vision was exemplified in Chief Justice Earl Warren's interruption of lawyers unfolding complex legal principles to ask: 'But is it right? Is it good?' In the constrained vision, that was neither his business nor within his competence, for the specialists superiority exists only within a narrow range of skills - in this instance, determining how the written law applied to the case at hand."

"They may do the worst of things without being the worst of men."

"Process costs arising from unreliable social expectations outweighed the value of incremental individual knowledge, or its more finely tuned application."

"To knowingly accept injustice is unconscionable in the unconstrained vision. But in the constrained vision, injustices are inevitable, with the only real question being whether there will be more with one process than another."

"Given the constrained vision of man's wisdom and morality, he cannot successfully prescribe results but can only initiate processes, whose consequences are often the direct opposite of his intentions."

"To those with the unconstrained vision, the best results should be sought directly. To those with the constrained vision, the best processes should be used and protected, because the attempt to produce the best results directly is beyond human capacity."

"The moral principles insisted upon by those with the unconstrained vision are thus rejected, not as wrong, but as irrelevant to the social choices actually available, and dangerous in the concentration of governmental power implied by the pursuit of such ideals."

"The elite and the mass are closer in capability and morality in the constrained vision, while they are more equally entitled to comparable shares of benefits in the unconstrained visions."

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