It may be a truism to say that a clash between two broad and diametrically opposed visions of society underlies virtually all democratic political debate. Yet these polar world views are seldom explored systematically; few thinkers, in this polemical and analytic age, are concerned with charting the
metaphysical divide between these great watersheds of the mind or with locating the headwaters of their moral and political currents.
In A Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell, an economist and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, draws an extensive map. Like any good theorist, Sowell is not afraid of generality; he is aware that collapsing the ideological spectrum into two polar visions invites certain qualifications, the most obvious being that “a continuum has been dichotomized.” But that admission is hardly fatal; without some such approach we could hardly think at all. And in the course of Sowell’s analysis, the logic and validity of this dichotomy become strikingly clear....
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