Book Review: The Quest For Cosmic Justice

The Quest For Cosmic Justice, Copyright 1999 by Thomas Sowell,  Free Press (Simon and Schuster), NY

I have been hearing a lot about Thomas Sowell in the recent years, especially in circles surrounding libertarian and anti-establishment Republican rallies and “tea party” supporters.  By anti-establishment, of course, I mean those who have had it up to here with those who have usurped the Republican party and turned it into the right arm of the fascist–er, progressive–movement.  What has made Mr. Sowell such a lightning rod is, perhaps, he is the antithesis to black power brokers, or, more precisely, brokers of “Black Power”.  By which I mean people such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, people who derive their power by promoting their blackness as their authority to speak for the advancement of black people.  In a perfect world, one would be able to judge Mr. Sowell simply on the content of his character, or, in his case, on his intellectual merits.  But I am sure that Mr. Sowell would be the first to agree that such a perfect world does not exist.

So it is that Mr. Sowell finds himself thrust into the role of Jesse Jackson’s antithesis even though I’m sure that’s the farthest thing from his mind.  As I am prone to want to also use Mr. Sowell, I felt a need to actually sit down with the man’s thoughts and find out what he really has to say, lest I become as guilty of uncontexted sound bites as those whose vacuous regurgitation of words I so detest.  To that end, I chose five books bearing his name and began reading.  I suppose you would say that the mother ship of his writings is contained in his seminal work,  Basic Economics – A Citizen’s Guide to the Economy.  And that will be the subject of a later review, though, because of its length and my constrained schedule, it will have to come later.  And we could rightly infer that Mr. Sowell is an economist.  But, as we all know, one’s take on economy flows greatly from one’s worldview.  Or, perhaps more rightly, one’s worldview logically flows from one’s understanding of economy.  For this reason, reading Basic Economics would tend to make all other of his writings make perfect sense in that context.  However, Mr. Sowell is an accomplished enough writer that each book can stand on its own feet.

Sowell distills his book into four very broad chapters:

1. The Quest for Cosmic Justice

2. The Mirage of Equality

3. The Tyranny of Visions

4. The Quiet Repeal of the American Revolution

It seems that the first chapter provides the overview of the subject, the second explains the logical flaw in the quest, the third explains how and why the logical flaw is ignored, and the last explains the disastrous results of the quest.  Perhaps the best summary of the thought in the book is expressed by a quote near the end from Winston Churchill:

The blindfolded Goddess of Justice has been encouraged to peek and she now says, with the jurists of the ancient regime, “First tell me who you are and then I’ll tell you what your rights are.”

Sowell would point out at the ancient regime is the one in which anointed leaders seek to impose their power and authority, whether derived from their regal entitlements or their superior intellect and wisdom, upon the masses for their own good, regardless of who is hurt in the process.  For those who presume intellectual or moral superiority, the imposition of such will is in the name of the pursuit of “justice at all costs.”  The problem, of course, is that this pursuit of “justice”, by which is meant equality, be that social equality, economic equality, equality of opportunity, or whatever other kind you can imagine, is so all-comsumingly important that it supersedes the pursuits of liberty, property and well-being or the general prosperity of a nation.

Mr. Sowell correctly points out that any quest for “equality of outcome” must logically fail, first and foremost because there can never be “equality of input”.   Some people are richer, some people have better mentors available, some are born with more intellect or talent and some have more of an all-consuming interest in their chosen field.  So it is that even siblings with arguably the same access to resources will have a great disparity of outcome.

The tyranny of visions come into play not when people have ideas that are born of empirical study or that are conceived and tested for their efficacy.  The visions that lead to tyranny are those that are conceived in the mind of the intellectual and then, for the purposes of self-glorification, are implemented without regard to the consequences and never tested as to their efficacy.  In fact, many, even after years of evidence proves otherwise, continue to be promulgated for the sole purpose of saving such visionaries from having to admit a mistake.

For this reason, our founding fathers gave us the rule of law.  Only when an entire nation sees the true justice of something can it be codified into the Constitution, and this is what safeguards us from tyrants with visions.  Such was not the case in France, Russia, China and many other places of revolution, and it explains why America prospered and others were the scene of mass bloodshed and poverty.  And yet, our visionaires take no thought of constitutionality, which is of little consequence in the search for cosmic justice.  Unfortunately, since the days of Oliver Wendell Holmes, our justices have been taking a peak at who stands before them and administering revisions of constitutional justice for the sake of individuals.  They have also virtually eliminated the tenth amendment in the course of granting ever more power to the congress under the guise of interstate commerce.  Certainly they have caused the worse such erosion, as well as eroded other parts of our sacred law compact, in their scandalous rulings on the Affordable Care Act.

I have never seen Mr. Sowell’s books appearing on the used book racks.  I suspect that it’s because most people who buy his books recognize a great investment when they see one.  Though not long by most standards (187 pages), it certainly ranks at the top for a purely theoretical treatise that, nevertheless, addresses almost every issue that plagues modern political thought today, and, as Sowell aptly points out, in any time.   A timeless jewel of thought that I recommend to all.

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Filed under Economics/ Book Reviews, Law and Politics

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