It with truly a heavy heart that I have to report on the retirement of the conservative intellectual icon, and my personal hero, Dr. Thomas Sowell. He announced earlier today that he would be focusing less on politics in his last column simply entitled “Farewell”:
Even the best things come to an end. After enjoying a quarter of a century of writing this column for Creators Syndicate, I have decided to stop. Age 86 is well past the usual retirement age, so the question is not why I am quitting, but why I kept at it so long.
It was very fulfilling to be able to share my thoughts on the events unfolding around us, and to receive feedback from readers across the country — even if it was impossible to answer them all.
Being old-fashioned, I liked to know what the facts were before writing. That required not only a lot of research, it also required keeping up with what was being said in the media.
During a stay in Yosemite National Park last May, taking photos with a couple of my buddies, there were four consecutive days without seeing a newspaper or a television news program — and it felt wonderful. With the political news being so awful this year, it felt especially wonderful.
This made me decide to spend less time following politics and more time on my photography, adding more pictures to my website (www.tsowell.com).
The former Marine became a student of the brilliant Milton Friedman after receiving a doctorate in economics at the University of Chicago. His books and essays forcefully and elegantly defend the economics and politics of freedom and liberty with peerless clarity. I cannot recommend him highly enough.
Fred Barnes has a great post lauding Sowell as “America’s Greatest Public Intellectual” – it is no exaggeration:
What made his columns so good? He wrote with sparkling clarity. He relied on facts. He didn’t showcase his scholarship, but his range of subjects was impressive. He understood his readers and didn’t write down to them. He was prolific. He wrote two columns a week and, when he had more to say, sometimes three or four. Best of all, he analyzed things from conservative—and somewhat libertarian—perspective better than anyone else and in fewer words.
…Absent the columns, Sowell enthusiasts can turn to his books. They cover a breadth of subjects. The first one I read was Ethnic America about how immigrants have fared in this country. It’s an example of his style: scholarly but filled with fascinating details and written for the average reader. It’s a great book, though not political. I was hooked.
He’s best known for his work on economics and race—that is, economics and race all over the world. He’s also written about late-talking children, liberal intellectuals, civil rights, the education system, markets—and I could go on.
One of the wisest things I’ve ever heard came from Sowell, and it encapsulates so much of what I believe is the essence of conservatism – “there are no solutions, there are only tradeoffs.” I know, it’s not terribly sexy, but there is an enormous amount of simple wisdom in it, and it honestly brings great joy to my heart.
If Sowell is foreign to you and you’d like a primer, watch some videos to get acquainted. He is a fantastic antidote to the mindless meme drivel that conservatism has been reduced to in the last few years. But pick up his books and read his columns. If you hunger for knowledge and reason, he will satiate while creating more capacity and desire for both.
Here’s an awesome debate where he and Milton Friedman obliterate liberal hero Francis Fox Piven:
Pretty much any interview with Sowell is filled with simple, but not simplistic, explanations of why conservatism explains the world and liberalism fails.
The Hoover Institution has fantastic interviews with Sowell and they’re thoroughly enjoyable:
Pretty much pick an interview at random. I haven’t been once disappointed as long as Thomas Sowell is allowed to speak at length. Here’s one with William F. Buckley:
One of the greatest moments of my life is getting to speak to the man and tell him personally how much I admired him. I even got him to chuckle at one of my jokes.
It is truly a sad day that such a brilliant man has retired, but we are left with a mountain of his great work to digest and savor.
God bless you, Dr. Thomas Sowell.