A Conflict of Visions

A Conflict of Visions

A Conflict of Visions is a book by Thomas Sowell. It was originally published in 1987; a revised edition appeared in 2007.[1] Sowell's opening chapter attempts to answer the question of why the same people tend to be political adversaries in issue after issue, when the issues vary enormously in subject matter and sometimes hardly seem connected to one another. The root of these conflicts, Sowell claims, are the "visions", or the intuitive feelings that people have about human nature; different visions imply radically different consequences for how they think about everything from war to justice.

The rest of the book describes two basic visions, the "constrained" and "unconstrained" visions, which are thought to capture opposite ends of a continuum of political thought on which one can place many contemporary Westerners, in addition to their intellectual ancestors of the past few centuries.

The book could be compared with George Lakoff's Moral Politics, which aims to answer a very similar question.

The book has been published both with and without the subtitle "Ideological Origins of Political Struggles".

Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate calls Sowell's explanation the best theory given to date. In this book, Pinker refers to the "constrained vision" as the "tragic vision" and the "unconstrained vision" as the "utopian vision".[2]


The competing visions

Sowell lays out these concepts in his A Conflict of Visions, and The Vision of the Anointed. These two visions encompass a range of ideas and theories.

The Unconstrained Vision

In Sowell's opinion, the unconstrained vision relies heavily on sweepingly optimistic assumptions about human nature, distrust of decentralized processes like the free market, impatience with systemic processes that constrain human action, and absent or distorted empirical evidence. Sowell often refers to them as, "the self anointed" people with a liberal political view.

The Constrained Vision

Sowell argues that the constrained vision relies heavily on a reduced view of the goodness of human nature, and prefers the systematic processes of the free market, and the systematic processes of the rule of law and constitutional government. It distrusts sweeping theories and grand assumptions in favor of heavy reliance on solid empirical evidence and on time-tested structures and processes.[3]


External links


  1. ^ Sowell, Thomas (2007) [First published 1987]. A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles (Revised ed.). Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00205-4. 
  2. ^ "The Blog: Tragic vs. Utopian View of Human Nature". Ben Casnocha. 2009-10-13. http://ben.casnocha.com/2009/10/tragic-vs-utopian-view-of-human-nature.html. Retrieved 2010-03-17. 
  3. ^ For helpful discussion of Sowell's dualistic ideological model, see Joseph G. Conti and Brad Stetson, Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment: Profiles of a New Black Vanguard, (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1993, pp. 85--122).

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