Affirmative Scholarship

"An excellent scholar! One that hath a head filled
with calves' brains without any sage in it."

—John Webster

Thomas Sowell has become a virtual one-man publishing industry, and Preferential Policies is his latest contribution to the Sowell book-of-the-year club. It is not surprising to find that this scattered and woefully disorganized potboiler is part of a "much larger international study of racial and ethnic groups—a study still in progress." Unfortunately, the wrongheadedness Sowell displays even in the few cases where he seems to have done substantial work (as in Ceylon/Sri Lanka) gives us little reason to think that his major work will be much of an improvement.

An example of his scholarship: in his few brief references to blacks in the United States, Sowell does not seem to realize that his accounts contradict each other. He portrays the condition of blacks (at least outside of government employment) as pretty much a steady march upward from the Civil War until the counterproductive apparatus of affirmative action arrived in the 1960's; yet he writes of the pervasive Jim Crow streetcar laws passed between 1900 and 1903, laws which clearly marked a worsening of the position of Southern blacks. This case also offers a good example of Sowell's lack of historical curiosity. If he had looked a bit deeper, he would...

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