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Monday, January 1, 1996

The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy

Power-Hungry Egomaniacs Want Their Personal Preferences to Supersede Those of Everyone Else

Dr. DiLorenzo is Professor of Economics in the Sellinger School of Business and Management at Loyola College in Maryland.

At a June 1993 luncheon at the Heritage Foundation, I had the privilege of sitting next to Tom Sowell and discussing current events with him. I asked him what he made of the bizarre phenomenon of famous “peaceniks,” such as former Senator George McGovern, publicly calling for the carpet bombing of Bosnia. “The Left always has to be morally one up,” was his response. This statement, it turns out, is the theme of Sowell’s latest book, The Vision of the Anointed. A more precise definition of this “vision” is stated in the subtitle: “Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy.”

The prevailing vision or world view of the intellectual and political elite of our time, Sowell writes, is “a vision of differential rectitude. . . . Problems exist because others are not as wise or as virtuous as the anointed.” All the crusades of the anointed over the past century—from eugenics to environmentalism, Communism, Keynesianism, the welfare-regulatory state, etc.—share several key elements, according to Sowell:

1. Assertions that a great disaster to society is about to occur.

2. Calls for massive government intervention to avert the impending catastrophe.

3. Disdainful dismissal of contrary arguments as uninformed, irresponsible, or motivated by “unworthy purposes.”

4. The policies of the anointed are implemented and are themselves disastrous.

5. The anointed steadfastly refuse to acknowledge mountains of evidence that their policies have failed while accusing their critics of dark motives.

The meat of the book is a careful empirical analysis of dozens of politically-correct policies and theories, from the “war on poverty” to crime, environmentalism, the public school monopoly, affirmative action, and many others. In each case, Sowell shows how the anointed simply ignore evidence (and common sense), invent vocabulary designed to preempt issues rather than debate them (i.e., referring to the U.S. Postal Service, but not your typical grocery store, as a “public service”), and persistently declare their moral superiority over those who would disagree with them.

Those who maintain this vision tend to be power-hungry egomaniacs who prefer that their own personal preferences “supersede the preferences of everyone else.” Government dictates are to supersede both democracy and markets in order to impose “solutions based on their [the anointed’s] own presumably superior knowledge and virtue.”

This book is must reading for those who wish to understand the mindset of the statists who dominate politics, the media, and academe. It is an excellent companion to Sowell’s earlier book, A Conflict of Visions, and I also found it to be quite similar in many regards to Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Unlike Hayek, however, Sowell accuses his intellectual opponents of considerably more than mere intellectual error.

  • Thomas Sowell is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

  • Thomas DiLorenzo is an author and professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland.