If you asked me who the three most important modern conservatives intellectuals were, I would answer: Victor Davis Hanson, the late Sir Roger Scruton and Thomas Sowell.
All three of these men have done incredible work in the fields of history, philosophy and economics and driven their respective subjects toward in a time when moral relativity, deconstructionism and economic illiteracy are the coin of the realm.
Thomas Sowell I’m particular is special because I frequently return to his books over and over again for his unique brand of insight. His novels like Conflict of Visions, Intellectuals and Society, White Liberals Black Rednecks, Discrimination and Disparities, Wealth Poverty and Politics and so forth stand amongst the best works of sociological study and economics coming out of the modern academia.
It wasn’t up until recently though that I’ve done much research into the biography of Dr. Sowell. His work stands up so well by itself that it almost doesn’t need the biography for legitimacy. That said, the soon to be 91-year-old economist is overdue for some sort of cultural recognition.
The documentary comes to us from journal Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal and the Manhattan Institute and was distributed by the Free to Choose Network on YouTube, Roku and Amazon Prime (for free!).
Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World functions as a basic primer for the biography and public reputation of the man in question. I don’t think it necessarily works as a primer for the breadth of his ideas. That’s understandable of course. His body of work covers dozens of textbooks and couldn’t have easily been boiled down into an hour-long documentary.
Thankfully the snippets we do get are excellent! Most of the film is dedicated to interviews with Sowell’s inner circle of friends (Steven Pinker, Victor Davis Hanson, Walter Williams) and interviews with his admirers (Eric July, Dave Rubin).
The film covers most of the major moments of his career from his first appearance on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line to his time at Stanford College and the Hoover Institute and covers all the way through his final syndicated column in 2017.
The insight that comes from the film comes from Sowell’s ability to translate the miracle of his life choices and the ways they echoed throughout his life. He was born in the Deep South during the Great Depression and moved to a poor neighborhood in Harlem. Sowell’s family was uneducated but believed in him and helped him find a good school and helped him discover a love for reading from the age of eight.
Sowell credits these early moments of childhood development for his entire career’s success. Without them, he claims, he would’ve failed early in life and wouldn’t have been able to graduate from Harvard (BA), Columbia (MA) and the University of Chicago (PHD).
It’s these minor advantages that also set him on his path to becoming a great voice for conservatism. He was a practicing Marxist when he entered college and slowly watched his presuppositions about race, government aid and economics fall apart as he debated his ideas, took jobs working for the government and watched his fellow Blacks struggle and consistently drop out of college.
If anyone was ever a “liberal mugged by reality” as Irving Kristol famously said, it was Sowell. His entire body of work has existed to debunk the left’s beliefs about economics and race.
This is also what fundamentally alienated him from mainstream thought. The mainstream media almost entirely ignores his vast body of work because of how deeply he goes out of his way to shred their opinions and presuppositions. As you’ll see online, most of his large body of online interviews are done with his friend Peter Robinson at the Hoover Institution.
It’s a shame that Sowell will likely never be a breakout public intellectual outside of the conservative movement. His work as a writer is essential but it breaks ever progressive and mainstream taboo. Sowell only has protection because he’s a black man who has the life experiences of a poor man who has been through personal suffering. His entire body of work is logical, evidence based and nuanced to the point of tedium and is nearly impossible to refute.
To steal a cliche from sanctimonious leftist racial activists, Thomas Sowell is “essential”.