This is not a comforting book — it is a book about disturbing issues that are urgently important today and enduringly critical for the future. It rejects both “merit” and historical redress as principles for guiding public policy. It shows how “peace” movements have led to war and to needless casualties in those wars. It argues that “equality” is neither right nor wrong, but meaningless.
The Quest for Cosmic Justice shows how confused conceptions of justice end up promoting injustice, how confused conceptions of equality end up promoting inequality, and how the tyranny of social visions prevents many people from confronting the actual consequences of their own beliefs and policies. Those consequences include the steady and dangerous erosion of the fundamental principles of freedom — and the quiet repeal of the American revolution.
Thomas Sowell is a man of immense learning but with a common touch. His books reveal a dazzling mind that ranges freely and easily from history and sociology to economics to public policy. He conveys complex ideas in a simple way for a mass audience, a skill he learned as an academic who writes a syndicated newspaper column. This strength is on full view in The Quest for Cosmic Justice, which is perhaps best described as a work of moral philosophy. That may sound off-putting, but it shouldn’t. Again, Sowell writes for lay readers, and his clear thinking is on immediate display. His topic is justice, broadly understood. We constantly hear of “social justice,” he says. But how is social justice different from other kinds of justice? The word social, in fact, is redundant here: “All justice is inherently social. Can someone on a desert island be either just or unjust?” The book goes on to show how one person’s sense of justice and equality can lead to their exact opposites: injustice and inequality. He holds no quarter for those who pursue “cosmic justice,” the dangerous notion that people can right all wrongs, and favors “traditional justice,” which emphasizes rules and procedures. The Quest for Cosmic Justice ought to be required reading for all students in college-level political theory courses; Sowell’s conservative politics and aversion to academic jargon probably guarantee it won’t be. That’s a shame, because he is the very definition of a public intellectual–and The Quest for Cosmic Justice is another awesome achievement. –-John J. Miller