The Vision of the Anointed

vision-of-the-anointedThe Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy, by Thomas Sowell.  Originally published in 1996. 320 pages.

Upon learning of Thomas Sowell’s announced retirement I was motivated to read one of his books that I had not yet read. I chose this one because despite being over 2 decades old, it dovetails nicely with state of affairs in which we find ourselves in 2017. In fact,  his words are more relevant now than ever before.

The thrust of the book is exactly as its title implies, that our academic, media, legal and political institutions are increasingly staffed by those who view themselves as anointed to do what is best for we in the huddles masses by virtue of the fact that they know best. That with just the right amount of tinkering, social experimentation, and deference to their view of a perfect world, we would all be living in a utopia.

One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain.

That is, we could, if it weren’t for the benighted plebeians. That would be those of us who make up the general public, religious zealots, and anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to the notion that degrees, microphones, and political pedigree make one the rightful arbiter of all that is good and right for everyone else.

In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume (1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted and (2) that this is the relevant comparison. The real comparison, however, is not between the knowledge possessed by the average member of the educated elite versus the average member of the general public, but rather the total: direct knowledge brought to bear though social processes (the competition of the marketplace, social sorting, etc.), involving millions of people, versus the secondhand knowledge of generalities possessed by a smaller elite group.— p. 114

This book is heavy reading, full of facts, and doesn’t flow with the ease of a book driven by a plot or even primarily by the political opinions and analysis of its author. In fact, were it not for the fact that I am something of an intellectual groupie of Dr. Sowell’s, I might have put it aside once I got the gist rather than reading through until the very end. If you have the time and temperament to sift through it all, it’s worth the read. He does what so few political commentators do: provides concrete evidence for the  conclusions reached and positions asserted.

It is easy to be wrong-and persist in being wrong-when the costs of being wrong are paid by others. p.136

And the cost, Sowell notes, is rarely paid by the anointed as they are far enough removed from their benefactors to never have to deal with the fallout of their outrageous social science experiments.

The presumed irrationality of the public is a pattern running through many, if not most or all, of the great crusades of the anointed in the twentieth century–regardless of the subject matter of the crusade or the field in which it arises. Whether the issue has been ‘overpopulation,’ Keynesian economics, criminal justice, or natural resource exhaustion, a key assumption has been that the public is so irrational that the superior wisdom of the anointed must be imposed, in order to avert disaster. The anointed do not simply: happen: to have a disdain for the public. Such disdain is an integral part of their vision, for the central feature of that vision is preemption of the decisions of others.— p 123-124

The way these gambits work is through verbal sleights of language. For example:

Another way of verbally masking elite preemption of other people’s decisions is to use the word ‘ask’–as in ‘We are just asking everyone to pay their fair share.’ But of course governments do not ask, they: tell. The Internal Revenue Service does not ‘ask’ for contributions. It takes. — p 197

Widespread personification of ‘society’ is another verbal tactic that evades issues of personal responsibility. Such use of the term ‘society’ is a more sophisticated version of the notion that ‘the devil made me do it.’ Like much of the rest of the special vocabulary of the anointed, it is used as a magic word to make choice, behavior, and performance vanish into thin air. — p 199

I could drop quotes all day, but time is short. So for the policy wonks, evidence seekers, and general nerdy folks who read here, pick up the book. Especially if you don’t possess a particularly conservative perspective. Sowell isn’t asking you to agree with him based on the depth of his feelings on issues. He is inviting his readers to take a look at the facts.

12 thoughts on “The Vision of the Anointed

  1. Robyn says:

    “It is easy to be wrong-and persist in being wrong-when the costs of being wrong are paid by others.” THIS!

    I’ve never read an economics book … but I think I just might, now!

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Bike Bubba says:

    Love Sowell, and I love the works of his friend Walter Williams as well–I can more or less hear their voices as I read those quotes. Another economist who is very engaging, even though I had to read it in translation, is French economist Frederic Bastiat. The Mises Institute at least used to have a couple of his works online for free–

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Elspeth says:

    I enjoy Walter Williams as well. One of the things I have noted with the retirement of Sowell and Williams’ advanced age is that there aren’t any (as far as I can tell) prolific black coservative commentators/researchers to take up the mantle.

    One could argue that there shouldn’t be any particular need for black conservative economists/commentators per se, but I think that due to the state of our culture, they are needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Robyn says:

    Oh Ok, good to know. I’m still going to read it, I think. It will be a nice break from relationship research. Although, I am currently reading Donald Trump’s, The Art of the Deal and am thoroughly enjoying it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bike Bubba says:

    Agreed that there aren’t that many people who appear to be obvious choices to step in for Sowell and Williams, but it strikes me that both were somewhat older when they became prominent. I don’t know that many people at all knew about Williams until Rush figured out he’d be a dynamite guest host, for example, and he was in his sixties at the time, I believe.

    I’ve got hopes that Larry Elder will mature to the point he comes out of the WND “ghetto”, and there’s a guy named Anthony Bradley at “The King’s College” who has a fair amount of promise–he’s primarily a Presbyterian theologian and commenter on black liberation theology, but he also has a good head on his shoulders regarding various issues of politics and economics. Somewhat sidelined due to various events that I don’t completely understand, but hopefully he gets his footing under himself again and gets a bigger platform, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bike Bubba says:

    OK, feeling pretty dumb for saying “WND ghetto.” What I meant is that Mr. Elder is in a fairly small, politically defined region where the nation as a whole does not hear him. Slapping myself with a wet noodle for that one–sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. elspeth says:

    No worries, Bike. I was curious why you referred to WND as a “ghetto” but I wasn’t offended by the word.

    Looking forward to reading up on Anthony Bradley, so thanks for that information as well. I wasn’t familiar with him.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Bike Bubba says:

    That list reminds me to a degree of the principles of Kwanzaa, really. Some good in it, some bad, the bad being the strong hints of socialism in the second half of it. That said, I kinda think that if you put me in a room with someone from TUCC, we could find some common ground on 1-6, especially if we fleshed out what they meant by these, especially #3.

    Had a chance to do just that when the dad of a few of our AWANA kids at church came and discussed BLM….seeing that I didn’t understand it and his passion (not to mention his size–he dwarfs me and I’m no tiny bird myself), I figured it might be smart to just listen and learn. We’ve actually got two BLM groups, rivals, here in Rochester with a total black population (including about half African immigrants from places like Somalia) of about 7000. Go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Autumn Cote says:

    Would you be OK if I cross-posted this article to I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our community and I liked what you w6rote. If “OK” please let me know via email.



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