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Reblogged:A Man of the Left Discovers Sowell

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Thomas Chatterton Williams, who describes himself at one point as, "an anti-tribal thinker, and sometime contrarian, working firmly within a left-of-center black tradition," has written an essay titled, "Encountering Thomas Sowell," and which appears at Law & Liberty.

There are many things I like about the essay, but three things stand out: Williams (1) gives Sowell a fair hearing; (2) helps the reader see how well Sowell understood current events (while at the same time remaining unknown to so many on the left); and (3) provides concrete examples of how ideas spread within the culture as he recounts his intellectual journey.

Williams's concluding paragraph is particularly good because it practically commands anyone to see what he is talking about:

And that is the revelation in a nutshell: reading Thomas Sowell has this déja-vu quality. The most important realization you are left with is not that he possesses the final word on every subject but that he wields profound insight and reams of data and comparative research into many of the very debates that still consume us. As a conscientious liberal it leaves you with a nagging question: Why haven't you or anyone you know ever so much as acknowledged the existence of his output? If we are lucky, this documentary and [Jason] Riley's biography will be part of the necessary and overdue work of rectifying the oversight. I suppose I owe my aunt an apology. [bold added]
Perhaps for the pro-liberty movement, the greatest value this essay offers is in the realm of seeing how to affect positive cultural change. The essay is, I believe, a good example of the kind of personal narrative of how someone changed his thinking in some way that I have seen Don Watkins recommend.

As such, it is worth consideration, but it also points to another example that might be worth similar consideration, namely the documentary Common Sense in a Senseless World:
At the end of the day, the sign can't make anyone get there. But it might help them want to get there. (Image by Annie Spratt, via Unsplash, license.)
The documentary is an inviting introduction to a fascinating figure many of us have been mistakenly led, one way or another, to fear or ignore, but the film is unable to do for Thomas Sowell what Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro achieved for James Baldwin. It does not crackle with that kind of televisual electricity. That may have as much to do with the ambitions and constraints of the filmmakers as it does with the oratorical talents and demeanors of the respective subjects. Whatever the case, Common Sense will appeal to the legions of Sowell’s conservative fans who are already familiar with his ideas and also serve as an effective means of leading the more curious members of the uninitiated to his books, which I imagine is the film’s real purpose. And it is there, in those bold and exhaustive texts, that one encounters the full, unadulterated impact of Sowell’s ranging brilliance. [bold added]
This reminds me of Alex Epstein's general recommendation of helping point people who might be receptive to good arguments to books making those arguments.

-- CAV

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