Sowell's "Intellectuals and Society"
By David Henderson
My review of Thomas Sowell’s latest book, Intellectuals and Society, was published in the latest Regulation. I had previous blogged about it on this site. One benefit of blogging: several commenters found one of Sowell’s paragraphs that I quoted plodding and wordy. I reread the paragraph and ended up agreeing. You’ll see how I used that in my review. Some excerpts:
One senses that Sowell wants to criticize a number of people whom he often refuses to name, and so he lumps them into the “intellectuals” category. The problem is that his generalization does not hold. I think of myself as an intellectual; many of you readers are intellectuals; and don’t look now, but Thomas Sowell is an intellectual. In short, his whole argument about intellectuals as a class becomes incoherent.
Or take Sowell’s numerate pick-apart of the 1996 “arson of black churches.” The Chicago Tribune, he notes, referred to “an epidemic of criminal and cowardly arson.” (By the way, isn’t “criminal” redundant in that sentence? Is there any arson that is not criminal?) Columnist Barbara Reynolds of USA Today claimed that the fires were “an attempt to murder the spirit of black America.” President Clinton added to the plot, claiming that the church fires reminded him of similar burnings of black churches in Arkansas when he was young.
The problem with those statements? Let Sowell tell it:
This story began to unravel when factual research showed that (1) no black churches were burned in Arkansas while Bill Clinton was growing up, (2) there had been no increase in fires at black churches, but an actual decrease over the previous 15 years, (3) the incidence of fires at white churches was similar to the incidence of fires at black churches, and (4) where there was arson, one-third of the suspects were black.
I’m most critical about his discussion of the Vietnam War. Foreign policy is an area in which Sowell has often been careless.