Race And Culture: A World View, by Thomas Sowell
If you have read as many of the books of the author as I have, then there is a lot about this book that will be very familiar. This is not too surprising, as while it is true that Sowell is an enjoyable writer to read, at the same time he is someone who tends to repeat his points and perspectives often. This is not at all a bad thing; Sowell’s perspective is consistent, and so when he writes about similar subjects he tends to say the same sort of thing, even if it is arranged differently than it is elsewhere in his works. This consistency of approach is something that makes Sowell comfortable to read if one is in sympathy with his worldview and perspective, as I am. Those who are hostile or not sympathetic to the author’s worldview are likely not going to enjoy reading his material as much as I do, and it does not take very long in the course of reading the author’s work until one realizes whether or not the author is one whose insights one can appreciate. In this particular book we can read Sowell’s statements about the tangled relationship between race and culture as an extended critique against both racist views of racial determination as well as the views of the book Why Nations Fail, which the author comments on quite a few times over the course of the book.
This particular book is about 250 pages of core material along with a preface, acknowledgments, notes, and an index, and it deals thoughtfully with the questions of race and culture, beginning with a description of the author’s worldview and his firm (and empirical) belief that human beings are not a blank slate upon which teachers and authorities can mold us into whatever image they wish, but rather includes the heavy influence of cultural patterns that persist over many generations and that limit the flexibility of human behavior within those deep ruts (1). After that the author discusses the issue of migration and culture, showing how culture is persistent even when peoples have traveled to very distant areas (2), and the issue of conquest and culture, where conquering peoples often find themselves poorer off because the wealth they gain through conquest cannot be held by diligence and self-command (3). The rest of the book is then spent by the author looking at the relationship (or not) between race and economics (4), politics (5), intelligence (6), slavery (7), and history (8), pointing out the flaws of anti-Western bias and the problems that identity politics brings to societies that are unable to engage in necessary and important cultural change.
Ultimately, this is a book that deals with a small set of deeply interesting concerns. For one, human beings come onto this earth with qualities that lead them to claim various identities and seek their own personal success as well as their belonging with others. Additionally, they carry with them cultural attitudes that are difficult to change and that have a strong effect on life. Moreover, these cultural attitudes are ones we may not be willing to admit because it seems illegitimate to us that the past should weigh us down and that other people should be blessed with cultural attitudes that bring them success while our own bring us less achievement. The author’s discussion of the importance of cultural attitudes towards work and education and politics to the problems of identity and identity politics all over the world reminds us of the tragedy of what happens when the politics of envy and resentment are used as a balm to cultures whose suffering is the result of their own inability to wrestle with cultural attitudes that hinder achievement and success. When we ultimately have no one to blame but ourselves but we insist on scapegoating others, the results are both predictable and lamentable.