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A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  2,987 ratings  ·  317 reviews
Controversies in politics arise from many sources, but the conflicts that endure for generations or centuries show a remarkably consistent pattern. In this classic work, Thomas Sowell analyzes this pattern. He describes the two competing visions that shape our debates about the nature of reason, justice, equality, and power: the "constrained" vision, which sees human natur ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published January 3rd 2002 by Basic Books (first published 1986)
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Megan Blood
Oct 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Douglas Wilson
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Vastly learned. Very informative. The same my second time through in 2020.
Aug 12, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jeffrey Howard
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
Feb 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 04, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Stanislav Siris
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Sowell's thesis is that the fundamental source of disagreement between the "constrained" and "unconstrained" visions (which roughly correspond to conservatism and liberalism, respectively) is a disagreement over how constrained we are by human nature. The constrained view sees humans as fundamentally flawed ("original sin", in the Judeo-Christian tradition, although it is entirely possible to come to this conclusion for secular reasons, as I have). This is why those with the unconstrained vision ...more
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
May 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles by Thomas Sowell is a bit more scholarly than many of his other books that I've read. In order to absorb the most of the ideas he is sharing in the audio book version, I even slowed the speed down from the usual almost double speed that I normally play. Dr. Sowell explores and discusses controversies in politics that arise from many sources; but the conflicts that endure for generations or centuries show a remarkably consistent pa ...more
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Everyone has a religion or ideologie. We have different view of the world and different story for it. Everyone think that his religion or ideologie is the best and will do everything for it
An example someone will tell you that truth is relative that is his ideologie that tell him truth is relative. For a muslim truth is absolute.
For a christian god is love peace goodeness and he sent his son his soul to save people from evil that is inside them
For a muslim god creates good and evil for a purpos
Void lon iXaarii
Oct 27, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Michael Robinson
Jul 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Mike (the Paladin)
Feb 03, 2010 rated it liked it
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
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
Oct 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction

Well, I overestimated myself with this one again. I am continually finding myself out of my depth in reading lately. Probably as a result of reading mostly fantasy for three decades. I feel as though I'm being taught to think, it is not necessarily a pleasant experience.

What is this book about? It's about a dichotomy in how people view cause and effect and how that affects everything else people think about, from humanity itself to economics, justice, freedom and questions of morality. Not
Mary Catelli
Jun 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Sowell's discussion of the two visions: constrained and unconstrained (though there is a range between them) and their effects on views in economics, law, and other fields. The unconstrained basically admitting of no limits on human capacity.

Such as differing views on war, the unconstrained view that it can be prevented by enlightenment and good will, being an irrational thing, and the constrained view that it's caused by people's rational conclusion that it will benefit them (however evil it is
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, politics
Again, Sowell is erudite and wise. This is my second time through CoV and I noticed some changes from the original version, particularly in chapter 7. But the core remains one of the best analysis of the reasons for political differences. Highly recommended to understand your political foes/allies.
Thomas Achord
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, politics
Always a great read. Very perceptive in the constrained and unconstrained visions humans employ, as well as their consequences for thought, action, and society.
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The central premise of this book is a rather useful concept, the idea of visions, and especially of two competeing visions: the constrained vision and the unconstrained vision. Sowell does a good job of defining the essences of these positions and explores the consequences of taking one vision as central rather than another. A "vision" here is something less than a theory (it is not that fleshed out), but more like a way of viewing things in stronger generality. So an unconstrained theory takes ...more
Dec 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really good. A little difficult for Audible, though. I definitely want to re-read at some point.
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've been increasingly a fan of Thomas Sowell. He's a brilliant and logical thinker on economics and social issues, and the breadth of his knowledge and research is astonishing.

I read that – from among the 20 or so books he's written – this is his favorite.

Back in 1987, Sowell looked at the landscape and wondered how people – with seemingly so much in common, and even with similar values and goals – could so often be on opposite sides of political issues; and not just political, but also econo
May 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Trevor Parker
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
Jan 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
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. ...more
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. ...more
Le Happy Merchant
Mar 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
Tim Milazzo
Oct 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: political-theory
I'm not going to be able to give a scholarly critique of Sowell's historical philosophical and economic analysis here. I admit I have not read works from half of the main sources that Sowell derives his premise here.

Here's what I will say:

1. Sowell is a brilliant and well-read man. He analyzes the worldview ("vision") of many prominent economic and sociopolitical philosophers over the past few centuries, which alone is worth the read to receive a junior-level survey of some of these prominent th
Terrence D.
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
At times it is hard to follow Sowell, because of his detailed litany of dichotomies. However, I found this book helpful in the creation of two overarching categories, the "constrained" and "unconstrained" visions wherein like worldviews and values are contained.

Sowell has many strong points, but his understanding of libertarianism is not one of them. Like so many often do, Sowell understands Ayn Rand to be libertarianism's greatest benefactor. This is just fundamentally wrong. Sowell doesn't re
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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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