A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell

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A Conflict of Visions Summary

Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions (first published in 1967) offers a theory for why political conflicts arise. Sowell proposes two groups of people: those with a "constrained vision" and those with "unconstrained vision." A constrained vision views human nature as limited, selfish, and unable to change (and reads a bit like Thomas Hobbes's "state of nature"). An unconstrained vision, according to Sowell, is a view that holds that human nature is perfectible, and so can be changed.

The book is divided into two parts, comprising nine chapters in total. "Part I: Patterns" introduces this theory of visions, and reads very philosophically. Discussion is given to the different views understanding of abstract concepts like fidelity and honesty. "Part II: Applications" explores the effects of these two worldviews in the social and political spheres. Sowell holds that "in the constrained vision, each new generation born is an invasion of civilization by little barbarians," (167). Sowell is clearly preferential toward to the unconstrained vision for its promise to promote harmony and stability.

The work is equal parts philosophical and practical, and Sowell puts forward solutions for conflict (such as rehabilitation over punishment). Overall, the text is a rather conservative approach to conflict (as the author is an esteemed member of Stanford's historically conservative think thank, the Hoover Institution). It is, however, certainly a respectable and rigorous scholarly treatise on conflict on a large scale.