Book Recommendation – A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles

Frank R. SuessI often wonder whether socialists have a different strand of DNA in their body. I have (a few) friends that are socialists. They’re intelligent, have good families, and in many ways even share certain values with me. And yet, when we talk politics (a situation I avoid as much as possible), the seem to see the world completely differently than I.

A book that I read last year helped me better understand the “other side”. Conflict of Visions, a book written by Thomas Sowell in 1987 – believe me, I wish I had come across it earlier – gave me some answers and a better understanding of why some people just can’t see eye-to-eye on matters, ever.

I recommend you read this book, especially during this current and very interesting change of social mood toward a more conservative, nationalistic and commonsense perspective. The conflicts of ideologies we witness today is nothing new. And yet, we tend to not understand the root causes. In my view, this book gives invaluable insights in that regard.

The root of ideological and political conflicts, Sowell claims, is 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.

Sowell 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.

Here’s a short summary on the two visions, copied from Wikipedia:

The Unconstrained Vision

Sowell argues that the unconstrained vision relies heavily on the belief that human nature is essentially good. Those with an unconstrained vision distrust decentralized processes and are impatient with large institutions and systemic processes that constrain human action. They believe there is an ideal solution to every problem, and that compromise is never acceptable. Collateral damage is merely the price of moving forward on the road to perfection. Sowell often refers to them as “the self-anointed.” Ultimately, they believe that man is morally perfectible. Because of this, they believe that there exist some people who are further along the path of moral development, have overcome self-interest and are immune to the influence of power and therefore can act as surrogate decision-makers for the rest of society.

The Constrained Vision

Sowell argues that the constrained vision relies heavily on belief that human nature is essentially unchanging and that man is naturally inherently self-interested, regardless of the best intentions. Those with a constrained vision prefer the systematic processes of the rule of law and experience of tradition. Compromise is essential because there are no ideal solutions, only trade-offs. Those with a constrained vision favor solid empirical evidence and time-tested structures and processes over intervention and personal experience. Ultimately, the constrained vision demands checks and balances and refuses to accept that all people could put aside their innate self-interest

You can learn more about A Conflict of Visions by clicking here.

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