Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by
a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with
him like flies on a summer day.

— Bertrand Russell 1


A conflict of visions differs from a conflict between contending interests. When interests are at stake, the parties directly affected usually understand clearly what the issue is and what they individually stand to gain or lose. The general public may not understand – and indeed may be confused precisely because of the propaganda of the contending parties. But such public confusion is the direct consequence of the clarity of the interested parties themselves. However, when there is a conflict of visions, those most powerfully affected by a particular vision may be the least aware of its underlying assumptions – or the least interested in stopping to examine such theoretical questions when there are urgent “practical” issues to be confronted, crusades to be launched, or values to be defended at all costs.

Yet visions are not mere emotional drives. On the contrary, they have a remarkable logical consistency, even if those devoted to these visions have seldom investigated that logic. Nor are visions confined to zealots and ideologues. We all have visions. They are the silent shapers of our thoughts.

Visions may be moral, political, economic, religious, or social. In these or other realms, we sacrifice for our visions and sometimes, if need be, face ruin rather than betray them. Where visions conflict irreconcilably, whole societies may be torn apart. Conflicts of interests dominate the short run, but conflicts of visions dominate history.

We will do almost anything for our visions, except think about them. The purpose of this book is to think about them.

Thomas Sowell
The Hoover Institution
Stanford University

Chapter 1 >>