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The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  2,203 ratings  ·  197 reviews
Thomas Sowell's provocative critique of liberalism's failures

The Vision of the Anointed is a devastating critique of the mind-set behind the failed social policies of the past thirty years. Thomas Sowell sees what has happened not as a series of isolated mistakes but as a logical consequence of a vision whose defects have led to disasters in education, crime, family disin
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 28th 1996 by Basic Books (first published 1995)
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Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thomas Sowell pulls no punches in this classic. In this classic gem, Sowell catalogs the efforts of the anointed, or rather cultural elites who believe they know better than the rest of us, to make society more just for those who they perceive to be victims. According to the vision of the anointed, equality can only be achieved using the power of the legislature and the courts because society is naturally broken. Sowell explains how their assumptions about society are inaccurate and have led to ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
Sep 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Ok I admit it I am a liberal and I read one of Sowells books, so sue me. I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about and to be honest I was fairly pleasantly surprised. I am generally one of these that believes in the "root cause" of social problems as he puts it, perhaps I even have some of this anointed mindset "gasp". I like to think we can change people by changing behavior and circumstances, but I think he made a good number of points about when we should say enough is enough, does tha ...more
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is such an excellent book that after the 1st read I'm going to buy it.

You have to know my copy was library loan and it has a cracked spine and has been in constant circulation for about 20 years. For good reasons. He has defined in precise terms and logic the "anointed" elite's social constructions set into their new religion of social "goods". And that he did this decades ago and saw where it was progressing! And foresaw that they would ultimately accept no other opinions but their anointe
Apr 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A must read. As apropos for today as when it was written in the 90's. If you tire of the lightweight stuff from the talking heads like a Hannity, a Rush, or an O'Reilly, then read Sowell's Vision of the Anointed. Watch Sowell fillet mostly leftist-type thought chapter after chapter, page after page, even paragraph after paragraph. Sowell brings to bear so many of his skills as a sociologist and economist that the reader cannot possibly master all of Sowell's arguments after just one read. So, no ...more
Feb 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
There is much that one could like here. The basic framework that Sowell lays down about the way many policies are drafted is clear and accurate. The problem, however, is that he seems to believe that only "The Anointed" (i.e. liberals) use this method to create policy. As I was listening, I kept thinking, "Wow, this seems like a playbook for George W. Bush's administration," but Sowell repeatedly lionizes Reagan and believes that the "Benighted" (i.e. conservatives) can do no wrong.

This might h
Skylar Burris
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a superb book if you want to know precisely how statistics are manipulated, ignored, or misinterpreted in order to support social/political visions that are impervious to empirical evidence. It's wonderful for debunking a plethora of doomsday economic and social myths, and it provides a thorough outline of the type of specious arguments used to avoid addressing specific objections to specific policies and programs. Any student of economics, politics, or sociology should read this book an ...more
Douglas Wilson
Jan 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture-studies
I love people who think in straight lines.
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I will never be bored with Sowel’s books - either more recent or older ones.

Souvenir from this one - don’t think solutions, think trade-offs (systemic analysis).
David Robins
Apr 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So very true; enumerates so many of the distractions I have run up against talking with liberals. They close their eyes to reality and logic and argue with blind emotion, trying to frame rational people as unfeeling even as they rob them to fund their wasteful and destructive programs.

"The perennial desire to make particular things 'affordable' through public policy or to have government provide an ever-expanding list of 'basic needs' suggests that the economic realities conveyed by prices are s
Feb 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
I have always wondered why so many social policies, all of which seem like good and even noble ideas at the time, turn out so badly. Sowell presents one view and a caustic one it is. Essentially, his thesis is that policy makers have far too often replaced rational analysis of outcomes with wishful and willful assertions that run counter to the facts of the case. The anointed live in a rarefied world in which reality plays little role and the opinions of the non-anointed even less:

"The presumed
Justin Lonas
May 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Sowell at his prescient and ascerbic finest. He fires a volley of logic and research across the bow of the ship of self-righteous elitism in effort to warn them of the approaching icebergs. He synthesizes and builds on some of the ideas developed in his other works (notably A Conflict of Visions), and the result is an elegant and digestible summary of Sowell's thought.

He picks apart the insulated, echo-chamber ideas of the social/political elites--the anointed (since they have named themselves t
Apr 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
For some of the Libertarian opinions I have come to hold, I have been called “at least partially evil” on one occasion and told to “have a heart” on too many occasions to count – and both of these comments from some of the people who know me best. And that is to say nothing of the times my arguments have been called "simplistic" and yet no reason is ever given for why they are actually wrong. This form of attack is one which Sowell writes about to some length and in that, and numerous other resp ...more
Adam Graham
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

In his book Vision of the Anointed, Thomas Sowell offers key insights into how and why the American left has run wild in it’s attempts to change America.

As the subtitle suggests, “Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy,” Sowell posits that the American left’s policies are egocentric exercises meant to establish themselves as saviors and their opponents as villains. Sowell shows that historically the left has been far more willing to condemn their opponents as evil even though the peopl
Charlene Mathe
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel like the phrase, "vision of the anointed," never quite says what Sowell is driving at. The subtitle, "Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy," gets closer to the heart of it. It has to be understood as a sequel volume to Sowell's 1987 book, "A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles." What, in his earlier work Sowell called "the constrained vs the unconstrained vision," and what Steven Pinker renamed "the tragic vs the Utopian vision, in this book Sowell ...more
Nov 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: econ
A truly devastating critique of the liberal mindset.


In reality, the entire population of the world today could be housed in the state of Texas, in single-story, single-family houses - four people to a house - and with a typical yard around each home.

Everyone is a “progressive” by his own lights. That the anointed believe that this label differentiates themselves from other people is one of a number of symptoms of their naive narcissism.

Rights from government interference - “Congress shall
Feb 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Good, but needed more detail

Thomas Sowell, a noted conservative thinker and a genuinely interesting person (I've heard him as a guest on a local radio station several times) writes an effective book against the actions of those whom he calls 'The Annointed.' The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy is effective, but not a great work.

Who are The Annointed?

He uses the term in a sarcastic way here to illuminate those 'Teflon prophets' (he uses that term because s
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics-econ, 1st12m
A primer for understanding political correctness. Sowell brilliantly exposes the progressive mindset and methodology, and its cohesive dynamics in the irrational social system it propagates, including its psychological appeal to self-flattery, its lack of accountability or corrective feedback, and its special suitedness to media proliferation. The chapter “The Vocabulary of the Anointed” is particularly good and exposes the anointed’s successful mainstreaming of its language and all its in-built ...more
Nicolas Name
Jan 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
Positives from the book:
- fairly representative of the American right-wing in their stated public policy dimension.

Negatives from the book:
- ideological in nature, but presenting itself as a fact based guide to policy issues.
- black and white thinking, with no room for nuance.
- frequent straw-man of liberal viewpoints. Liberal arguments in this book are almost a caricature, so they can be more readily debunked.

Some views found in the books:
- Homosexuals are a danger to others due to the AID
Nov 08, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read Sowell before- his book Race and Culture and some of his editorials. If the book hadn't been copyrighted in 1995, I would have thought he was targeting the 2012 liberals. But I read this leading up to the election, so that might explain a lot of my response to the book. I want to believe we can correct our flaws in society and help our fellow man by pulling together, especially in the United States where we have solved so many problems of mankind. But his explanation of trade offs an ...more
May 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the clearest, sanest expression of liberal political thought you will ever read. If you are a Beckbot, a Rush clone, a Hanniday zombie it will be too deep and clear to impress you, though, as there isn't any lying, ranting, or flag waving. Sowell is extremely understandable and deep on the subject. I've read this book and re-read it over the months, checked out sources, and tried to think through his arguments. This is essential if you want to understand today's politics and how Democrat ...more
Aug 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
Thomas Sowell is quickly becoming my conservative intellectual father-figure. In this outstanding book, he exposes liberals for what they believe themselves to be - "the annointed". A very intellectual book - not casual reading, but worth the time to read carefully. ...more
Jun 29, 2018 marked it as to-read
Mentioned here. See Plodcast, Episode #20. ...more
Conor Ayckbourn
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The tone of this was very much appreciated.
Andrew Chandler
In attempting to write about this book, I have become aware of how well Sowell can discuss complex topics so succinctly and with such ease, and how I cannot. Nevertheless, I proceed.

In a way, this is a continuation of the ideas Sowell introduces in A Conflict of Visions, and in a way, it is not. In that previous book, Sowell defines a visions as a framework of assumptions that provide one with a sense of how the world works. The two main visions form there framework based on their view of the na
Jul 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It’s hard to believe that this book was written nearly 30 years ago. Its critique of the prevailing ideological elite describes with incredible accuracy the current social and political environment and the consequences of progressive ideology.
May 17, 2020 rated it did not like it
Bad sources and unvoiced assumptions make this ideological dogma in the guise of an adult non-fiction book.

The thesis is that "they" are concerned about non-issues, create policies that cause more problems, and ignore any feedback because of ideological blindness. His examples include seat belts, sex ed, and the Miranda rights.

This could work if he went a more Public Choice route and talked about how well-intentioned policies get chewed up by the political process. He could talk about some plau
Nov 15, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A typical liberal flaw is explored here. Social policy must be based on actual results instead of merely good intentions. Soaring rhetoric without substance backing it often does more harm than good. The main reason, Sowell argues, that Liberals get away with their bad ideas is because the people who impose those ideas rarely pay for the costs associated with their failures. If a fashionable Liberal idea such as sex education or bilingual education programs creates more pregnant children or more ...more
cool breeze
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I rate this as 4.5 stars.

Some criticism:

1. Sowell’s writing style, while not difficult, is also not the easiest to read. Theodore Dalrymple shares similar views and his writing is more enjoyable, but Sowell’s writing is more carefully argued.

2. Some of the examples are starting to feel a little dated after the passage of 23 years. Some of the people Sowell most frequently criticizes - David Bazelon, Ronald Dworkin, Anna Quindlen, Tom Wicker – are far less likely to be familiar to readers in 2018
Jan Notzon
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Thomas Sowell hits it out of the park and out of the stadium with this work. I would love to hear a counter-argument from the "anointed" (as he calls those who assume their inherent moral and intellectual superiority and offer it in place of reasoning or empirical evidence). I assume he would simply be dismissed as another heartless uninformed know-nothing. I would really like to see his arguments taken on, however. But I would want them to be taken on with...reasoning and evidence, not emotiona ...more
An Idler
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Sowell outlines a worldview that he believes describes the intellectual-political Left, and proceeds to flesh out the texture and contours of that worldview through examples. He makes an argument for the validity of his thesis by illustrating how the "Vision of the Anointed" can consistently explain the Left's oft-irrational actions and arguments. Throughout, he makes comparisons to an opposing "Tragic Vision" of humanity that is present in classical and conservative thought. In the Tragic Visio ...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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