Friday, June 19, 2009

Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy?

Can we get beyond the moral superiority and self-congratulation that Thomas Sowell sees as the ideological basis of liberal social policy? I have taught social policy at schools of social work most of my life. I am struck by how narrow the ideological range is within the profession and academia, and how different the views of the “anointed” elite are from the views of the “benighted” masses, in Sowell’s terminology.

Challenges and alternatives are dismissed with a few key words like "religious" (used disdainfully to dismiss any dissenting argument, not only about abortion or stem cell research, but even marriage), patriarchal, conservative, colonial, etc.--or on the other side liberal, progressive, rights, diversity and the like--are thrown around as substitutes for argument and evidence. (See Sowell's The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy for an aptly titled critique of this phenomenon.) I am not interested in using those terms of "left" and "right" as accusations, justifications, or substitutes for argument. I want to engage the competing ethical, political, and cultural stances or, in Sowell's term, visions, that underlie their use in public and policy discourse.

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