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Monday, April 22, 2019

Thomas Sowell on the Subtle Tyranny of “Anointed” Social Justice Champions

Freedom, personal responsibility, and voluntary interactions are a far better, and just, means of uplifting the least among us.

In his, 1995 book The Vision of the Anointed, Thomas Sowell observed that an elite cadre of Americans, without having been appointed by anyone, declared their superior morality and their critical role in correcting society’s wrongs.

Sowell’s description was quite prescient and is still relevant today, more than two decades after the book’s publication. Today’s anointed continue to have the hubris to believe it is their role, with their superior vision and ideas, to rescue the victims of society’s “oppression” by imposing their collective will onto others. 

As Sowell explained, the anointed—a loose class consisting of members of elite media institutions, academics, and progressive politicians—believe it is their role to rescue victimized and under-privileged classes. Their default mechanism for correcting perceived injustices is invariably the state.

Monopoly on Morality

Paramount for the anointed is their sheltering of themselves from scrutiny about facts and policy with the veil of “moral certitude,” which likewise makes them heavily resistant to evidence.

For a recent example, witness Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently said,

I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.

Ocasio-Cortez’s statement perfectly demonstrates here the anointed’s  tendency to see themselves as “morally on a higher plane.” Sowell said it’s often futile attempting to correct those who embrace such a mindset, since “those who disagree with the prevailing vision are seen not merely as being in error, but in sin.” 

Furthermore, the anointed must refuse to accept that their ideological opponents share compassion for marginalized groups. If the anointed acknowledged that compassion and caring are shared by both sides, those emotions would lose their political potency. A monopoly on compassion is the platform upon which they place their moral superiority.

Indeed, the anointed go to great lengths to silence or otherwise ignore reason and evidence, instead focusing on accusations of sinister intentions on behalf of their opponents. “What is remarkable is how few arguments are really engaged in, and how many substitutes for arguments there are,” Sowell observed.

Perhaps most concerning is that the anointed have infested society’s most significant power centers. Sowell described the anointed as the “elite intelligentsia,” including “mass media, mass politics and massive government” that have “great leverage in determining the course taken by a whole society.”

False “Privilege”

Perhaps today’s rhetorical weapon of choice for the anointed is the assignment of blame to “privilege” for people’s station in life.

Yet again, Sowell anticipated this by decades and reduced that argument to rubble.

The anointed’s use of such language suggests that things simply happen to people rather than being caused, at least in part, by their own choices or behavior.

The anointed’s vision requires that the victims’ own behavior, performance, and choices be swept aside and ignored.

In so doing, the anointed reveal their own bigotry. By denying any agency on the part of so-called victims, the anointed show they feel such groups are unworthy of having agency. The anointed rarely view ordinary people as autonomous decision-makers free to decide for themselves the path to their well-being.

The anointed’s vision requires that the victims’ own behavior, performance, and choices be swept aside and ignored as factors contributing to their circumstances.

Sowell noted,

People are often said to lack “access” to various jobs, educational institutions, or credit, when in fact they may not have behaved or performed in a way that would enable them to meet the same standards that others meet,

Moreover, people choose different professions that pay differently. They are in those careers by choice, not because they lack access to those better-paying jobs. There are often non-income factors that help attract people to various career tracks.

Similarly, Sowell cites the example of millions of people (in 1995) with incomes over $50,000 who lack health insurance not because they lack “access” to insurance but because they chose to spend their money on other things.

Sowell wrote,

With these three inconvenient complications out of the picture, results after the fact can then be equated with conditions existing before the fact. Success thus becomes “privilege” and failure “disadvantage” – by definition,

Creating Mascots

The anointed think of victims as helpless pets, inferior to the anointed and as such needing to be adopted as mascots for the anointed to rescue.

The anointed, Sowell wrote, believe their role is “to preempt other people’s decisions for their own good,” and to “define for these citizens what is better” for them, all the while enhancing their own power.

The state is seen by the anointed as the great “equalizer,” the wise and benevolent institution that can right society’s wrongs—through policies drafted and approved by the anointed, of course—with little to no mind of those policies’ potential negative impact on others in society.

As Sowell wrote,

Yet, increasingly, government has come to be seen as a way of benefitting particular groups adopted as mascots, often without much regard for what that does to other groups or to the integrity of the system as a whole.

A Better Path

To the anointed, the aim of “social justice” justifies policies that put citizens at odds with each other, openly advocating for “the rights of particular mascot groups overriding the rights of others.”

But delegating solutions to a third party like the state is highly problematic.

Sowell concluded that,

At the heart of many of these schemes is third-party decision making. Third parties typically know less, even when convinced that they know more, in addition to lacking the incentives of those who directly benefit from being right and suffering from being wrong.

Instead, a free society that radically decentralizes decision-making and charity creates greater social harmony compared to the polarizing intervention of the state. When decisions are made by those who will actually bear the cost or reap the reward from said decisions, more informed decisions are made, and the results tend to generate greater human flourishing.

Advocates for liberty have no reason to cede the moral high ground to the self-styled anointed.

More localized, voluntary charity for the less fortunate enables givers to not only be better in tune with the needs of their recipients but empowers them with the exercise of their conscience that comes with freely chosen virtuous acts.

Advocates for liberty have no reason to cede the moral high ground to the self-styled anointed.

Freedom, personal responsibility, and voluntary interactions are a far better, and just, means of uplifting the least among us.


  • Bradley Thomas is creator of the website and is a libertarian activist and writer with nearly 15 years experience researching and writing on political philosophy and economics.

    Follow him on Twitter: ErasetheState @erasestate