People We Should Know #14 – Thomas Sowell

     The battle of ideas between those who believe that circumstances overwhelmingly influence outcome and those who believe that free will can address any circumstance has been the dominant intellectual conflict of western civilization.  In the United States, the conflict was  the test of the revolution and the founders subsequently put together a code of understanding known as the Constitution to limit the capacity of any one interpretation of circumstance from suppressing the individual’s  free will to determine one’s outcome.  Alexis de Touqueville, a french noble visiting the United States in 1831 was amazed to see what had transpired in the few decades since the codification of the Constitution.  He noted the intense religiosity that had at one time consumed Europe lived in the US in an apparent comfortable position with secular free will, that inequalities both economic and societal were transient and interchangeable, and that the individual’s free will to determine his future secured an interest in his society that made it vigorous, democratic, and prosperous.  The collection of observations were published as Democracy in America, and has become one of the most clarifying windows of the American experience that has ever been articulated.  With the twentieth century juxtaposing spectacular wealth and prosperity for so many and persistent poverty and societal conflict for those “left out”, the argument as to what is the best vision for a mature society to secure the greatest good has evidenced itself in titanic intellectual struggles over public welfare, education, economy, war, and individual rights versus responsibilities.  One of the most articulate interpreters of this debate, and one of the foremost thinkers of our time, is Dr. Thomas Sowell.  His clear and consistent rationale for a just society through the ordered expression of free will is a must for any defender of the Ramparts and an extremely worthy position as one of Rampart’s People We Should Know.

     Thomas Sowell was born in rural North Carolina in 1930 in relative poverty at the time of a segregated South.  His mother, a maid with four children, had to deal with the death of Thomas’s father before he was even born, but he had the societal advantage of a matriarchal extended family that pulled together as an aunt and her two grown daughters adopted and raised Thomas.  From such poverty and difficult circumstances, Thomas found a path to self enlightenment.  The family moved to Harlem, where Thomas got the chance to go to high school out of a family where sixth grade had been the previously highest educational achievement.  He had to drop out of the last year of high school due to familial financial difficulties and took various odd jobs to support himself and the family. He eventually was drafted into the Marines during the Korean war, served in a photography unit, and upon conclusion of his service, entered night classes at  Howard University despite lacking a high school diploma. Excellent recommendations from professors and high college entrance exam scores led to him being accepted at Harvard where he graduated magna cum laude in in Economics in 1958, advanced to a Masters at Columbia, and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago in 1968.  For the next 40 years,  Dr. Sowell , through his lectures and writing, one of the foremost thinkers of libertarian thought in the world.  In an upbringing and educational path that presaged yet mirrored Barrack Obama, Dr. Sowell came out of the experiences with almost the precisely opposite understanding of the world and our place in it.  He and a group of other black conservative thinkers such as Shelby Steele have helped frame the arguments that are the foundation of conservative thought and defense of freedom that are the centerpiece of any conservative, young or old, today.

     In a far ranging interview with Peter Robinson of the Hoover Foundation, Dr. Sowell discusses his masterpiece of libertarian thought, Conflict of Visions,that outlines the fundamental philosophical conflict of the idea of constrained and unconstrained views of man and his role in his own destiny that are the center of political conflict.  His description of Barrack Obama as the poster-child for unconstrained political vision, given just prior to his election, has become a prophetic and spot on analysis of this current President and the elitist version of the world he and the current left represents.  Watch the whole discussion, and enjoy an old fashioned skill being progressively lost, the articulate framing of an argument, the measured defense, and consistent reliance on evidence.  Its a tour de force that our President will find hard to duplicate on a teleprompter.

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