Please see Part 1 before reading.
Now moving on to the applications section.
The crucial difference between the constrained and the unconstrained visions of man is not in their perceptions of people as they are. What fundamentally distinguishes the two visions is their respective perceptions of human potential.
This is precisely why I labeled the constrained vision pessimistic
earlier - it constrains human beings to being selfish bores with little or really no possibility for growth. Something I believe historically has been disproved.
For instance, the constrained vision, observing the American South in the 1930s and 40s, might easily submit that white and black Americans would never come together or live peacefully among one another in the slightest way. To make myself clear, that is not to say the constrained vision would endorse racism - not at all - just merely believe that given the intense hatred and generations of bigotry it would not be possible as white Southerners would have too much to lose via privilege (or as Smith would say be disincentivized) and black Southerners too embittered by their ill treatment. Thankfully that was not and is not the case for the most part. Human potential was not so limited.
Sowell makes another claim that for the constrained vision equality is a process while for the unconstrained vision it is an outcome. As I previously noted this contradicts the initial claim concerning Smith's invisible hand theory which is a consequentialist not a process based argument. Though Sowell's point is well made otherwise that economic "liberty" is destined to lead to inequality. A fair process is all that is required for the constrained view while the unconstrained view is more anchored by realism - who cares how the game is structured if so many people lose and lose big?
The constrained vision of equality in this regard can be seen as rather idealistic or utopian because within it is the notion that losers should simply accept the outcome which in extreme cases would lead to poverty or even death. That is truly an idealized somewhat charming and certainly naive vision of human nature. When a man must chose between bread and his morals, I put my money on bread every time as that is actually the nature of humans. I guess I'm just a maverick.
According to Sowell the constrained and unconstrained visions clash again over the question of war and crime. While the constrained vision considers war and crime natural phenomena that require little explanation and even less consideration before responding, the unconstrained vision is perplexed by war and crime seeing the behavior as unnatural.
This is an interest notion, though I am not sure it would necessarily be true in all cases. Sowell is seemingly submitting that Rosseau is the starting point for everyone that fits his unconstrained category. If that is true then yes that is a fair inference because Rosseau starts from a "people are naturally good, society makes them bad" perspective hence war and crime are not the results of man's nature but of dysfunctional institutions. But Sowell's definition of the unconstrained vision is not so limited.
The concept of deterrence is also raised here and associated with the constrained vision - that the threat of war and punishments like the death penalty are unfortunately necessary given the state of human nature. This also seems like an oversimplification and worse an association of tactics and strategies with philosophy.While there is obviously some correlation between the philosophy one has and the tactics and strategies one uses - correlation is not causation nor is it absolute. Military commanders of all backgrounds adopt similar stratagem and a ruler's philosophy or vision is not compulsory of how they administer society in every aspect. This also involves foreign policy which can align or easily bifurcate itself from someone's domestic policy sensibilities, especially in the nation-state paradigm.
Where this argument does strike more bone is concerning views on crime and rehabilitation.
In the unconstrained vision of human nature, rehabilitation is a process of returning a person to his more or less natural condition of decency - in principle, much like fixing a broken leg, which consists largely of putting the leg in condition to heal and restore itself, rather than creating a new leg from scratch. In the constrained vision, however, decency is artificial rather than natural, and if it has no been created in the malleable years of childhood, it is unlikely to be created later on.
In the constrained vision, each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization of little barbarians. who must be civilized before it is too late.
What an amazing insight into the
For the constrained vision childhood is the sole formative stage and even then it's hit or miss. Though I think Mr. Sowell is once again being rather charitable to his clearly favored vision. That same paternalistic attitude easily and seamlessly carries over to other categories so those untrammeled by Smith's individualism would find the same rational justifying their views that certain people or peoples can not be rehabilitated or even educated because certain natural limitations exist within them. I do not believe this is Mr. Sowell's view or the vision he believes he is articulating but it certainly is a vision that has existed historically and fits easily within the frame. Foreign peoples or "big barbarians" were often "civilized" for their own good which is to say imposed on.
There is also a certain lack of toleration for diversity encompassed by that view - that despite acknowledging the artificial aspects of "civilizing" people there is a right way and a wrong way to think and behave. How can one truly believe that if it is artificial? And, more to the point, how can those unwilling to conform be so easily relegated as anti-social barbarians? It is truly a constrained vision to say the least.
Sowell begins with contrasting Smith and Rawls' vision of justice as an example of constrained vs. unconstrained which as I have already stated I find unpersuasive. Rawls should fit Sowell's constrained vision given his emphasis on tradeoffs and incentives or at least be in the hybrid category Sowell constructed for Marx and John Stuart Mill. In any case Smith and Rawls are not that far apart and certainly not polar opposites.
Both visions believe in rights. But rights as conceived in the unconstrained vision are virtually a negation of rights as conceived in the constrained vision.
This is an important point among the conflicting visions of justice previously referred to as negative vs. positive rights. Hayek is Sowell's go to for many of the economic aspects of the constrained vision and his view of negative rights does perfectly contrast with the requirements of positive rights. If someone has the right to food and health for instance the resources to provide those must come from others which, to Hayek's way of thinking, is coercion or the use of force. This is where "taxation is theft" comes from - the right to one's own property or rather the right to not
have that property taxed or taken can not exist if someone else has the right to all or some of the resources that property provides. Sowell is, on some level correct, these two rights can not co-exist and certainly not co-exist in absolutes. This is the tension between liberty
Visions, Values, and Paradigms
The fundamental difference between science and social theory is not at the level of visions, or even paradigms, but at the point where theories produce empirically testable hypotheses.
So true, and also why Sowell defined visions or at least social visions as more akin to feelings than facts at the beginning of the book. Political theories are hard to test because they involve entire societies with their own unique histories, cultures and present circumstances. Though it is worth noting that even if such conditions were possible to test political theories one of Smith's contemporaries, David Hume noted finding a precise cause
for something was difficult because every cause is a “lively conception produced by habit.” That can go double for phenomena as complicated as social visions.
Definitive evidence can not be expected on the grand general sweep of a vision. A great deal of partial evidence may be accumulated on each side, but the evidence for or against one's own vision can be weighed differently, and being convinced is ultimately a subjective process.
And now we come back to the Hume quote.
Both constrained and unconstrained visions are fundamentally and essentially visions of causation. Only derivatively do they involve clashes of moral principles or different hierarchies of social values.
So it is not really values that drives political action according to Sowell but a vision of society that defines the values in the first place - a vision based on a theory of causation.
If true this would explain the sense of futility often accompanying an argument with one on the other side of an issue:
... those with different visions often argue past each other, even when they accept the same rules of logic and utilize the same data, for the same terms of discourse signify very different things.
Oh good someone else thinks bi-partisanship is stupid. On a serious note this does water down any hopes some on both or should I say every side have of a grand political consensus. Another, perhaps more interesting question, is why people chose - or perhaps gravitated towards - the vision they have? This would return to the arguments in the constrained and unconstrained vision - does nature or nurture (or something in between) lead someone to adopt a particular social vision
Regardless of the vision one has and the values it assigns there is not an absolute or at least an absolutely predetermined course of political action though Sowell counsels no commitment to winning a political battle justifies compromising first principles.
Dedication to a cause may legitimately entail sacrifices of personal interests but not sacrifices of mind or conscience.
This is easily one of the best books I have read on political theory and its origins, comparable chiefly to George Lakoff's work Moral Politics: How Conservatives and Liberals Think. Of course even the different books' methodology speak to conflicting visions with Lakoff citing scientific research and Sowell using political philosophy - though the conclusions are surprisingly similar.
In a few instances I do not agree with how Mr. Sowell classifies certain thinkers but do agree with his conceptual framework and his key insight - how one views human nature is the starting point for how one views society and subsequently politics. This valuable truth is often lost in the heat and minutiae of current political debate as the latent energy emanating from this fundamental disagreement flows pell-mell into the most benign and superfluous issues - screw wearing a flag pin, you people are barbarians!
The language of constrained vs. unconstrained can be a bit limited at times but ultimately Sowell has put his finger on crucial differences and the origin of those differences between the ever warring political factions in America and beyond. Well worth a read.
Special Hat Tip
I read this book as a result of a challenge by Adam Baldwin, with whom I had previously had a disagreement with. I would like to thank him for recommending this book (however mockingly done so) to me. Though in a final twist of fate I canceled my Amazon order and obtained the book from a communist conspiracy known as the public library. HA! #winning.