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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 588

Thomas Sowell in his book A Conflict of Visions attempts to answer the question of why the same people tend to be political opponents.

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One of the curious things about political opinions is how often the same people line up on opposite sides of different issues.

But it is not just the issues of similar themes that these individuals find themselves in opposition, they are opposed to each other’s views in various issues concerning social and political policies:

The issues themselves may have no intrinsic connection with each other. They may range from military spending to drug laws to monetary policy to education. Yet the same familiar faces can be found glaring at each other from opposite sides of the political fence, again and again.

Sowell notes that this opposition can not be mere random chance, nor could it be the planned machinations of a political party.

It happens too often to be coincidence and it is too uncontrolled to be a plot. A closer look at the arguments on both sides often shows that they are reasoning from fundamentally different premises. These different premises—often implicit—are what provide the consistency behind the repeated opposition of individuals and groups on numerous, unrelated issues.

There must be a consistent issue that causes these opponents to constantly be at odds, and Sowell believes it has to do with how they see the world:

They have different visions of how the world works.

Sowell clarifies what he means by a vision, suggesting that it is how people perceive the world. People have preconceived notions of how the world works and vision is based on how these notions are confirmed or challenged.

A vision, as the term is used here, is not a dream, a hope, a prophecy, or a moral imperative, though any of these things may ultimately derive from some particular vision. Here a vision is a sense of causation. It is more like a hunch or a "gut feeling" than it is like an exercise in logic or factual verification. These things come later, and feed on the raw material provided by the vision. If causation proceeds as our vision conceives it to, then certain other consequences follow, and theory is the working out of what those consequences are.

Vision is based on evidence that is the result of consequences, and how the evidence as it is perceived confirms or denies the preconceived ideas people hold:

Evidence is fact that discriminates between one theory and another. Facts do not "speak for themselves." They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theory or visions are mere isolated curiosities.

Sowell, realizing the challenges in discussing all the possible ways in which societies process these different visions, focuses on two overarching concept: “the constrained vision and the unconstrained vision.”

Rather than attempt the impossible task of following all these ramifications in each of the myriad of social visions, the discussion here will group these visions into two broad categories— the constrained vision and the unconstrained vision. These will be abstractions of convenience, recognizing that there are degrees in both visions, that a continuum has been dichotomized, that in the real world there are often elements of each inconsistently grafted on to the other, and innumerable combinations and permutations.

From here Sowell breaks down “the constrained vision and the unconstrained vision” and how they relate to his initial question about why the same people tend to be political opponents in a variety of areas in societal and political policies.

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