The Vision of the Anointed: Self-congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy by Thomas Sowell

“The Vision of the Anointed: Self-congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy” (1995) by Thomas Sowell provides a critical examination of what he identifies as the prevailing intellectual elite’s approach to social policy. Sowell critiques the self-appointed “anointed” visionaries who believe their advanced insights should guide societal policies, often to the detriment of the very groups they aim to help.

In this work, Sowell targets what he perceives as the self-congratulatory attitude of intellectuals and policymakers who see themselves as uniquely positioned to diagnose societal ills and prescribe solutions. He critiques their frequent reliance on symbolic gestures rather than empirical evidence and argues that their policies can often lead to counterproductive outcomes. He further contends that these elites dismiss dissenting views and critiques, labeling them as morally or intellectually inferior.


  1. Sharp Critique: Sowell is known for his rigorous and unflinching analysis. In this book, he methodically breaks down several social policy issues, highlighting where he believes the “anointed” vision has led to flawed conclusions and policies.
  2. Empirical Approach: Consistent with his other works, Sowell emphasizes empirical evidence, contrasting this with the more ideological or theory-driven approaches he attributes to the “anointed.”
  3. Engaging Writing: Sowell’s prose is clear and compelling, making potentially dense policy discussions accessible to a broad readership.
  4. Addressing Cognitive Biases: Sowell effectively sheds light on the cognitive biases that can plague policymaking, particularly when decision-makers are convinced of their moral and intellectual superiority.


  1. Partisan Overtones: While Sowell’s analysis is sharp, it can sometimes come across as overtly partisan. Critics argue that he presents a somewhat caricatured view of liberal intellectuals and policymakers, which might not always fairly represent their positions.
  2. Dismissal of Intent: Sowell is quick to criticize the outcomes of policies but can be seen as dismissive of the genuine and well-meaning intent behind them. This could lead to an overly cynical view of those he labels as “anointed.”
  3. Overemphasis on Elite’s Role: By focusing heavily on the role of the intellectual elite, Sowell might downplay other crucial factors in policy formulation and societal change.


“The Vision of the Anointed” offers a penetrating critique of the mindset and policies of what Sowell deems the self-anointed intellectual elite. By emphasizing the unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies, Sowell challenges readers to critically assess the foundations of various social policies. While the book provides invaluable insights, readers should approach it recognizing Sowell’s strong conservative leanings and ensure they also seek alternative perspectives to get a well-rounded view of the issues discussed. This work is a vital read for those interested in understanding the interplay between ideology, self-perception, and public policy.