Thomas Sowell is notorious in some circles because he is a black conservative academic. Conversely, he is a hero in conservative circles because of his Horatio Alger story – i.e., grow up in Harlem, drop out of high school, serve in Marines during Korean War, earn degrees from Harvard (B.A.), Columbia (M.A.) and Chicago (Ph.D.), become a professor at various universities, columnist, and write more than 30 books.
Sowell’s latest book is titled Intellectuals and Race. Sowell begins the book by observing that intellectuals during the past century shifted from believing that blacks in America failed to achieve success because they were genetically inferior to now believing that they failed because of white discrimination. The main thesis of the book is that both beliefs were adopted by intellectuals without applying academic rigor to question or challenge the belief. If academic rigor were applied, according to Sowell, it would reveal that all groups – racial, ethnic, nationality, or otherwise – have varying levels of success based on their skills, experience, and general capabilities and it is unreasonable to believe that all the current differences are due to discrimination. In fact, Sowell believes that the effect of discrimination is dramatically overstated by intellectuals, and he points to Asian achievement in America as proof that minorities can succeed. But minority success must be earned by assimilating and acquiring new skills, experience, and general capabilities, not by remaining tied to their heritage while insisting on their proportionate share of America’s bounty.
A book that I recently reviewed, What Went Wrong, criticized Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand – two people I admire – for giving academic/intellectual cover to the greedy economic theories of Reagan and Bush. Coincidentally, Sowell is the Milton Friedman Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and I appreciate the academic/intellectual cover that he provides to me for the beliefs that I share with him.