As an “essential worker” trapped in the janitorial bowels of the pandemic nanny state that my country has become — where the same “progressive” politicians who so often castigate corporations now side with them against small business and individuals, and the right to work, along with the right to bodily autonomy, is now largely a thing of the past — I have been looking for literary antidotes, and one name keeps coming up.
Thomas Sowell is the John Coltrane of American intellectuals: His prolific variety is second to none, and his incredible knowledge base allows him to “play the classics” as well as to improvise with greater power than any of his rivals; he can soar with melody, but is unafraid to be dissonant and challenging. If “Black Rednecks, White Liberals” is his “Om” and “Intellectuals and Race” is his “Ascension,” “A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles” is his own “A Love Supreme.” But the one that comes most to mind in our present state of affairs is “The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy.” Published in 1995, it now seems horrifyingly prescient, almost prophetic.
Sowell, now a libertarian, was a Marxist during McCarthyism, and he has seen the world from more than one oppositional point of view. Nobody does a better job of excoriating the primitive ancestral guilt philosophy of the modern political left, or the bureaucratic, over-regulated, lawless and socially engineered nightmare that American life has too often become, even under most Republicans.
We need to resurrect our classical liberal heritage, and Sowell, the least naive and most fact-based libertarian, is the man to take us there. There is a reason this 90-year-old genius is undergoing a renaissance among individualistic young people, and I urge every lover of books to follow their lead. I also recommend “Intellectuals and Society”: Simply put, intellectualism and “expertise” are not the same thing as intelligence, and it is time for us as a society to re-learn this searing lesson.