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Race and Culture, by Thomas Sowell

- Abstract

As long as mainstream publishers like Basic Books bring out works like Race and Culture, all is not lost—though one can just imagine teeth gnashing and blue pencil poised to strike as an editor’s sensitized eyes settled on terms like “Negroes” or “more advanced societies.” Thomas Sowell’s work is a relentless, 331-page attack against the wisdom of the day, which comes under the frazzled labels of “multiculturalism,” “PC,” and “affirmative action”; but the argument takes place on a breathtaking intellectual level that ought to command the respect even of those who violently disagree with him.

This is an “old-fashioned” book, one that has become rare in academia, which tends to produce ever longer answers to ever smaller questions. (Perhaps it is no accident that Sowell, who is in Stanford, California, is not ensconced at the university itself but at the Hoover Institution that lives in uneasy coexistence with it.) The book, to exaggerate just a bit, is a project in the way of Montesquieu or Macchiavelli: make your point and buttress it with examples drawn from different climes and cultures so as to highlight the universal in a sea of singulars, so as to distinguish real causes from assumed ones—and the fleeting truth from the general. Indeed, Sowell goes Montesquieu and Macchiavelli one better. There are no footnotes in The Spirit of the Laws or The Discourses; by contrast, Race and Culture offers 57 pages of them, displaying a breadth of cross-cultural research Sowell’s gainsayers will find hard to match.

About the Author

Josef Jaffe is the editor of the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit and an associate of the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard.