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A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  1,674 Ratings  ·  157 Reviews
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 manife ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published June 5th 2007 by Basic Books (first published 1986)
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Brent
Jun 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
First thing first. Thomas Sowell is freeking brilliant!

This book could be titled "Why Democrats Think Republicans are Stupid and Oppressive and Why Republicans Think Democrats are Arrogant and Evil."

Or maybe more simply "Conservatives are From Mars and Progressives are From Venus."

Sowell presents a compelling argument regarding the root causes for the political divide we find ourselves in, and explains why the two sides continue to talk past one another. Sowell identifies two conflicting "vision
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Megan Blood
Oct 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I finally made it through this one. This is not an easy read--it's like digging through a research paper. There are lots of supporting quotations from various sources--great for support, terrible for easy reading.

BUT, this is THE best explanation I have ever found for political differences. He explains that people tend to have certain 'visions' of society: "constrained" (conservative) and "unconstrained" (progressive). He explains that much of the tension between the two groups happens because t
...more
Chad
Aug 12, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gets high mark for its depth of research--Locke, Rousseau, Paine, Burke, Godwin, Hayek, Galbraith, Godwin, Holmes, Blackstone, Smith, Mill, Dworkin, and many others are featured--but ultimately the theory doesn't cohere.

The premise is that there are two incompatible "visions" of society--ways of looking at the world, each with their own hidden suppositions and internal logic. Consequently, there is no common vocabulary and no grounds for reconciliation, forming the basis of much modern
...more
Douglas Wilson
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
Vastly learned. Very informative.
James
I read this after having read similar books with a similar premise: namely, that there exist fundamental and irreconcilable differences between the worldviews of conservatives and liberals, and that all political conflicts are therefore primarily due to different worldviews talking past each other. The books include Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant", Haidt's "The Righteous Mind" and Weston's "The Politcal Brain", and I think my reading of this book was probably unfavourably shaded by these p ...more
Sally
Wow, reading this book was like riding my bike up a very steep hill. It required great effort, concentration, and perseverance. Yet I found it profoundly enlightening. It was a description of "the ideological origins of political struggles", based on two different visions of man and his limitations or lack thereof. I am amazed at two things: first, that Sowell could present both visions so even-handedly, and second, that the unconstrained vision, which favors government intervention into economi ...more
Victoria
Feb 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent book that thoroughly discusses the nature of ideological values, morals, and beliefs. Sowell uncovers the origins and ulterior meanings of human thought and action. His writing is very clear, focused, and well researched. I actually found out more about my own views while reading this book.
Bernardo Lima
Mar 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: usa, nao-ficcao
Conflito de Visões foi para mim um livro transformativo. Antes dele, eu era uma pessoa que tentava me manter o mais longe possível de qualquer discussão política, sempre achando que a minha opinião sobre política seria inútil para qualquer discussão, já que nada seria mudado. Tudo isso mudou quando um professor me convidou para um grupo que passaria a discutir esse livro bimensalmente, capítulo por capítulo. Talvez o que escreverei aqui não seja apenas sobre o livro, mas também sobre o grupo, j ...more
Jeffrey Howard
Jul 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I cannot give this book enough praise. Sowell has provided an incredible framework for understanding the nature of political struggles due to competing worldviews and views on human nature. This book joins my personal canon of current issues and politics.

He convincingly shows the logical extensions of two primary worldviews. It would be an oversimplification to say that the "constrained" and "unconstrained" worldviews he identifies are synonymous with "leftist" and "rightist". This book offers
...more
Trevor Parker
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Incredible book about how and why people see the world the way they do. Sowell looked at liberals and conservatives, looked at their platforms and arguments, and asked the question why? On the grand scale, why do the many various groups of people / cultures / political parties think the way they do? How do people develop a belief and how do they change? What really is at the root of our current conservative vs liberal debates? And why can't we understand each other?

This book really helped me hum
...more
Mike (the Paladin)
I may later come back to this and reconsider my rating. I'm close to 4, but the conclusions of the book are in some ways, nebulous.

This book can be heavy going at times and while the discussion between the constrained vision of life and the unconstrained (and the also some views that don't completely conform to either view) can be interesting and even absorbing it can also go slowly. I didn't go into this book nearly as deeply or as completely I as I need or want to. So, it's partly "me" right
...more
Le Happy Merchant
This book does an excellent job explaining the origins of political differences, as being based on vastly different premises about the limits of human knowledge. Thomas Sowell explores the work of ideological theorists that span several centuries, and makes sense of the consistency of ideas that frequently come bundled together. It is worth reading no matter your ideological beliefs.
Andrew Chandler
The 2nd most thought provoking books I've ever read. This book was said to greatly affect the thoughts of Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, probably the most thought provoking book I've read.

The basis of this book is uncovering why groups of people seem to have the same viewpoints on many seemingly unrelated social and political issues. Sowell's thesis is that a persons "vision" of the nature of man leads him to beliefs on a number of issues.

People defined by the "constrained visio
...more
Stanislav Siris
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am absolutely awestruck by this work and expect to revisit it many more times.This books, as is another book by Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy, is now my reference and a guide to understanding the socioeconomics.

In “A Conflict of Visions”, Thomas Sowell attempts to explain how people's different views on human nature could place them in two divergent groups, groups that see human nature as constrained or unconstrained. While admitting that no person could be s
...more
Nathan
Feb 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book provides a simple and appealing lens through which to view major dispositional differences among people on opposite sides of some long-standing social, economic, and political debates. And like many powerful lenses, once you’ve taken a look, it’s difficult to unlook. I guess the danger is that once comprehended, these types of frameworks lead one to seek (and find) confirmation everywhere, transitioning from useful theory to unyielding cult. Of course that doesn’t mean that the basic t ...more
Michael Robinson
Thomas Sowell's, A Conflict of Visions is a well written balanced look at what is at the heart of the seemingly intractable political divide that exists in the United States today.

For those like me that have witnessed the deep political rift between those on the political left and those on the political right and then asked, what philosophy or philosophical visions are at the root of it all, this book is worth reading.

Sowell draws upon a wealth of resources and sources to provide and explanati
...more
Void lon iXaarii
One of the hardest to follow books I have ever gone through... and I say this having read books with a neologism dictionary in the other hand more than once... but this is not necessarily that kind of issue. Partly it's the construction on a lot of big historical and cultural data, but mostly i think it's the fact that... the author expresses so many hiiiiigh level truths that as the book progresses he's forced to express himself in such long series of abstract words that I do believe he long s ...more
The Thousander Club
Adam C. Zern offers his thoughts . . .

"Quite honestly, this was the book I didn't know I was waiting for. Thomas Sowell lucidly and convincingly makes the case that nearly all (with some caveats) political struggles come down to a basic conflict of the visions that is espoused by the participants. He breaks them into two fundamental groups: the constrained and unconstrained visions. In our modern vernacular, in which the ideological scale-left to right-is basically useless, Mr. Sowell presents
...more
JP
May 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I can see why Sowell considers this among his best three works. In A conflict of Visions, he presents a generalized philosophical model that frames every major economic and political viewpoint. He references many prominent thinker on both sides of his model, which is based not on left vs. right, nor authoritarian vs. libertarian, but instead on constrained vs. the unconstrained visions. So many ideological discussions about politics, religion, trade, and social justice would be far more enlighte ...more
Rachel
Jan 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I finally finished this book. it's amazing. I have a friend who once said, "Any book worth reading once should be worth reading again." I don't buy that - there are a lot of books i enjoy only once and wouldn't repeat. But this book would be on a short list of books if I were limited, because you could read it over and over and still have a lot to learn. it's dense - there are a lot of ideas packed in it. I would like to take a course with this as the text and explore modern politics with it.
Sylvester Kuo
I don't know what Sowell was trying to accomplish with this book. I found some of his arguments for this division contradictory, he also stated not everyone could be classified in these two categories so what exactly is the point really? I do not know. I mean sure, it offered a good contrast of Adam Smith and William Godwin, but there isn't really a take home message as both visions failed to fully achieve a better society.
Cami
I've always admired Sowell's work in economics but may enjoy his political thought even more. A great summary and comparison of two fundamental visions that guide ideologies. It contrasts political theorists such as Burke, Locke, Hayek, Adam Smith with Dewey, Condorcet, Godwin, Rousseau and Rawls. Sowell presents complex material in a brilliantly clear manner.
Alicia
May 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Powerful analysis.
Dennis
May 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
First of all, Thomas Sowell is brilliant. Everything of his that I have read is thought-provoking and enlarging. This is no beach read, but it is clear, succinct, objective, and enormously helpful in systematizing the two principal competing political ideologies that have thrived over the centuries. I often ask myself how two intelligent, well-meaning individuals can arrive at such vastly different conclusions over any number of issues ranging from education, security, immigration, and economics ...more
Mark Geise
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Thomas Sowell has an uncanny knack of describing concepts that you have a vague idea exist, but would be unable to eloquently describe yourself. Though the idea of a conflict of visions is part of other works of his that I have read, "A Conflict of Visions" is the most detailed account of his on the battle of visions that I have read to this point.

Sowell discusses the differences between what he calls the constrained vision and the unconstrained vision of humanity. Those with the constrained vis
...more
Vaz Marti
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sowell describes a conflict of two visions in politics, economics and social science.
The assumption of the conservative, constraint vision is that a human being is a limited in his abilities and knowledge. Knowledge is a collective endeavor, society as a whole knows more than any individual alone. Knowledge could be articulated and also codified in traditions, culture, age old wisdom and laws. The focus of the constraint vision is on the means, rather than the ends. Since no one has the knowled
...more
Annie Mueller
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, this should be required reading for everyone before they get to post a political opinion to Facebook. Let’s make that a thing. Can we make that a thing? Hey, Facebook, you with me? It would improve the quality of people’s feeds by about 2500%.

Yeah, okay.

This book took me forever to get through. Light and easy reading, it is not. Sowell is an economist and academic and philosopher and, well, he writes like one. Although I’ve heard his Introduction to Economics is one of the most accessible, u
...more
Tristan
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sowell explains how opposing political convictions arise from a few different fundamental assumptions that are often unarticulated (even to people who hold them), causing people with differing views to talk past each other.

He sees problems with the left-right spectrum as a conceptual framework (for example, right wingers tend to favour the free market, but a far-right fascist wants centralized economic control), and instead focuses on how different conceptions of human nature lead to different
...more
John Zorko
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm giving this 4 stars because:

1. It was easy to understand and follow, at least once you've attached your caboose to the author's train of thought. The premises in the book have a certain logic to them that seems valid enough, and overlaps fairly well with other poli phi i've read that attempts to understand divisions between left / right political ideologies.

2. It provided many references, which always gets me excited, for it means more interesting stuff to read.

3. Mr. Sowell is clearly a gif
...more
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Thomas Sowell is an American economist, social commentator, and author of dozens of books. He often writes from an economically laissez-faire perspective. He is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 1990, he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 2002 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholars ...more
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