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"Readers' Forum, Comments on 'The Tradition of Spontaneous Order' by Norman Barry"; Buchanan, James M., David Gordon, Israel Kirzner, et al
70 paragraphs found.
Comments by James M. Buchanan
Note:
F. A. Hayek, "Degrees of Explanation," Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.
Note:
For a reconciliation of Hayek's theory of evolution and James M. Buchanan's contractarian approach see the impressive analysis of Victor Vanberg, Liberaler Evolutionismus oder Vertragstheoretischer Konstitutionlismus. TÜbingen: Walter Eucken Institut (VortrÄge und AufsÄtze, Nr. 80) J.C.B. Mohr, 1981, ISBN 3-16-344411-3.
Notes by Jeremy Shearmur
Note:
See Hayek, 'Individualism True and False,' in Individualism and Economic Order, p. 32.
Note:
See, for further references and discussion, and a fuller defence of the views advanced in this section, my 'The Austrian Connection: Carl Menger and the Thought of F.A. von Hayek,' in B. Smith and W. Grassl (eds.), Austrian Philosophy and Austrian Politics, Philosophia Verlag, Munich, forthcoming.
Note:
In which respect he is very close to Hayek's dismissal of 'false' individualism.
Note:
Compare here, however, the contrasting claim made in E.F. Miller's most interesting 'The Cognitive Basis of Hayek's Political Thought' in R.L. Cunningham (ed.), Liberty and the Rule of Law.
Comments by Mario J. Rizzo
Note:
F. A. Hayek, "Degrees of Explanation," Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.
Note:
For a reconciliation of Hayek's theory of evolution and James M. Buchanan's contractarian approach see the impressive analysis of Victor Vanberg, Liberaler Evolutionismus oder Vertragstheoretischer Konstitutionlismus. TÜbingen: Walter Eucken Institut (VortrÄge und AufsÄtze, Nr. 80) J.C.B. Mohr, 1981, ISBN 3-16-344411-3.
Notes by Jeremy Shearmur
Note:
See Hayek, 'Individualism True and False,' in Individualism and Economic Order, p. 32.
Note:
See, for further references and discussion, and a fuller defence of the views advanced in this section, my 'The Austrian Connection: Carl Menger and the Thought of F.A. von Hayek,' in B. Smith and W. Grassl (eds.), Austrian Philosophy and Austrian Politics, Philosophia Verlag, Munich, forthcoming.
Note:
In which respect he is very close to Hayek's dismissal of 'false' individualism.
Note:
Compare here, however, the contrasting claim made in E.F. Miller's most interesting 'The Cognitive Basis of Hayek's Political Thought' in R.L. Cunningham (ed.), Liberty and the Rule of Law.
Comments by Israel M. Kirzner
Note:
F. A. Hayek, "Degrees of Explanation," Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.
Note:
For a reconciliation of Hayek's theory of evolution and James M. Buchanan's contractarian approach see the impressive analysis of Victor Vanberg, Liberaler Evolutionismus oder Vertragstheoretischer Konstitutionlismus. TÜbingen: Walter Eucken Institut (VortrÄge und AufsÄtze, Nr. 80) J.C.B. Mohr, 1981, ISBN 3-16-344411-3.
Notes by Jeremy Shearmur
Note:
See Hayek, 'Individualism True and False,' in Individualism and Economic Order, p. 32.
Note:
See, for further references and discussion, and a fuller defence of the views advanced in this section, my 'The Austrian Connection: Carl Menger and the Thought of F.A. von Hayek,' in B. Smith and W. Grassl (eds.), Austrian Philosophy and Austrian Politics, Philosophia Verlag, Munich, forthcoming.
Note:
In which respect he is very close to Hayek's dismissal of 'false' individualism.
Note:
Compare here, however, the contrasting claim made in E.F. Miller's most interesting 'The Cognitive Basis of Hayek's Political Thought' in R.L. Cunningham (ed.), Liberty and the Rule of Law.
Comments by Karen I. Vaughn
RF.4.1

4. Karen I. Vaughn, "On 'The Tradition of Spontaneous Order' "

Norman Barry (Literature of Liberty 5, Summer 1982) has hinted at a crucial problem in Hayek's evolutionary theory of spontaneous orders. Hayek claims that "all progress must be based on tradition," but, Barry points out, this would seem to lead to a conclusion uncomfortable for libertarian ideology:

The difficulty with Hayek's analysis is that social evolution does not necessarily culminate in the classical liberalism that he so clearly favors: there are many non-liberal institutions which have indeed survived.... Yet if we are intellectually tied to tradition, and if our 'reason' is too fragile an instrument to recommend satisfactory alternatives, how are we to evaluate critically that statist and anti-individualist order of society which seems to have as much claim to be a product of evolution as any other structure? (p. 46)

RF.4.3

The difficulty with the way Barry puts the question is that it seems to misconstrue the purpose of theories of social evolution. Even if we agree with Hayek that cultures evolve as the unintended and largely unconscious consequences of human action, that carries with it no necessary implication about how one should morally evaluate a society or a social practice. A scientific theory about how societies do in fact evolve cannot be taken as a basis for ethical judgment without some very carefully thought-out intervening steps. Furthermore, to say that "all progress must be based on tradition" is not also to say that we cannot imagine or work toward whatever idea of progress we adopt. Indeed, it may only be possible to effect social change by starting from a firm basis in tradition, but that says nothing about the moral worth of tradition from which we start.

RF.4.4

The hidden premise in Hayek's work, and the source of Barry's criticism, is the idea that evolution somehow must progress toward "the good." Yet if evolution is a process in which the fittest survive, what are we to make of the fact that some very unpleasant societies have survived? Hayek's way out of that trap is to implicitly limit evolution toward "the good" to that which evolves spontaneously as humans search to discover rules of just behavior rather than to design them, while bad change is the product of "constructivist rationalism." Thus Hayek gives us a way of judging different societies, but he does not give us a scientific explanation of why spontaneous orders often seem to lose out in the evolutionary struggle to more constructed societies. To reply, as some of my colleagues do, that constructivist change can only win via use of force really begs the question. Force is as much a means to achieve ends at the disposal of human beings as is persuasion and exchange. A theory of cultural evolution must be able to explain the change that has in fact occurred apart from any judgments about good or bad change. Hence the question remains: why do some cultures thrive and prosper while others wither and die? Even more to the point, is there a natural selection process at work for human culture analogous to the natural selection process hypothesized for the biological world?

RF.4.5

Hayek does want to incorporate a theory of natural selection into his evolutionary theory. For Hayek, cultures are successful because they evolve in a way that economizes on the amount of articulated knowledge necessary for an individual to function in that society. Those cultures survive which incorporate in their customs and rules of behavior practices which unbeknownst to individuals in that culture are important to their survival. While that seems a useful starting place for a theory of natural selection among cultures, we still have no theory about how cultural practices arise, and what kinds are "naturally selected." Answers to both questions are crucial to the development of a full theory of cultural evolution. They are also crucial if we want to have any chance of changing the less than satisfactory society in which we live today.

RF.4.7

First of all, how do cultural practices and institutions originate? While we can agree with Hayek that spontaneous orders arise from the unintended consequences of human action, one imagines that the originating actions must have been intentional in some sense. Humans act because they believe their actions have consequences. What is the relationship between intended outcomes and unintended consequences? To what extent are the expected results of various actions realized, and what differentiates intentional acts that fulfill expectations from those that do not? Are there no institutions that are the product of conscious design? In other words, what is the role of human intentions in the establishment of rules, customs, institutions, and political organizations?

RF.4.10

Part of the problem with both these suggested criteria of natural selection is that the level of analysis is wrong. We fall into the habit of thinking of societies and political units rising and falling, winning and losing, when it would be a great deal more fruitful to think of specific ideas or specific practices as the substance of cultures and cultural change. In other words, a good theory, I believe, would disaggregate the societies into the various ideas and practices of which they are composed and view the ideas and practices as the units that "nature" selects. This is not inconsistent with Hayek's work; he refers to human imitation as the transmission mechanism for cultural evolution in the same sense that genes are the transmission mechanism for biological evolution. What humans imitate are ideas and actions, and in so far as specific actions can be explained as ideas put into practice, it is ideas that arise, get imitated, and either survive in the 'idea pool' or get discarded.

RF.4.13

On a more aggregated level, groups of individuals or societies have as a unifying force a common set of ideas, an ideology, that is a composite of many smaller sets of ideas that may or may not be consistent with each other. Survival of the group may depend on adherence to some of those ideas but not others, but since they are all accepted by the group as a bundle, there may be no way that individuals can determine which are crucial; the valuable traditions are bundled with the irrelevant. This is consistent with Hayek's view of the value of tradition. By developing a theory of cultural evolution based on the idea as the cultural analogue of the gene in biology, however, we might be able to develop a theory to help us "unbundle" the ideas inherent in a tradition in a way that will make progress toward the libertarian ideal possible.

Note:
F. A. Hayek, "Degrees of Explanation," Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.
Note:
For a reconciliation of Hayek's theory of evolution and James M. Buchanan's contractarian approach see the impressive analysis of Victor Vanberg, Liberaler Evolutionismus oder Vertragstheoretischer Konstitutionlismus. TÜbingen: Walter Eucken Institut (VortrÄge und AufsÄtze, Nr. 80) J.C.B. Mohr, 1981, ISBN 3-16-344411-3.
Notes by Jeremy Shearmur
Note:
See Hayek, 'Individualism True and False,' in Individualism and Economic Order, p. 32.
Note:
See, for further references and discussion, and a fuller defence of the views advanced in this section, my 'The Austrian Connection: Carl Menger and the Thought of F.A. von Hayek,' in B. Smith and W. Grassl (eds.), Austrian Philosophy and Austrian Politics, Philosophia Verlag, Munich, forthcoming.
Note:
In which respect he is very close to Hayek's dismissal of 'false' individualism.
Note:
Compare here, however, the contrasting claim made in E.F. Miller's most interesting 'The Cognitive Basis of Hayek's Political Thought' in R.L. Cunningham (ed.), Liberty and the Rule of Law.
Comments by Roland Vaubel
RF.5.1

5. Roland Vaubel, "Comment on 'The Tradition of Spontaneous Order' "

Norman Barry's essay is extremely valuable in at least three respects:

1. it describes the evolution of thought about spontaneous orders;
2. it contrasts various versions of rationalist and anti-rationalist libertarianism; and
3.it subjects Hayek's theory to a number of revealing checks for consistency.

RF.5.2

In my comments, I shall focus on the second and third of these aspects. In particular, I shall criticize and supplement the answers Barry gives to the following two questions: What is the role of reason in Hayek's theory of the evolution of legal order? And: What is Hayek's normative criterion in evaluating a legal order?

RF.5.3

According to Barry, Hayek's "extreme anti-rationalism" (p. 46) . . . "is so distrustful of reason that it instructs us to submit blindly to a flow of events over which we can have little control" (p. 52). It is easy to find passages in Hayek's writings, especially in his later ones, which, taken by themselves, seem to support this interpretation. However, they have to be seen in the context. Remember, for example, what Hayek wrote, after his devastating attack on rationalist constructivism, in The Constitution of Liberty:

The reader will probably wonder by now what role there remains to be played by reason in the ordering of social affairs... We have certainly not meant to imply... that reason has no important positive task. Reason undoubtedly is man's most precious possession. Our argument is intended to show merely that it is not all powerful... What we have attempted is a defense of reason against its abuse by those who do not understand the conditions of its effective functioning and continuous growth... What we must learn to understand is ... that all our efforts to improve things must operate within a working whole which we cannot entirely control... None of these conclusions are arguments against the use of reason, but only arguments against such uses as require any exclusive and coercive powers of government. (pp. 69-70)

RF.5.4

Hayek is not generally distrustful of reason but he is not explicit about the positive role which reason can play in the evolution and improvement of the legal order. We are mainly told what reason cannot do and must not try to do, and that reason is not a sufficient or necessary condition for progress to occur. But Hayek does not deny that reason affects the evolution of social orders:

Our issue may now be pointed by asking whether... human civilization is the product of human reason, or whether... we should regard human reason as the product of civilization. . . . Nobody will deny that the two phenomena constantly interact. ("Kinds of Rationalism," in: Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, p. 186)

RF.5.6

For Hayek, the distinguishing characteristic of a spontaneous order is not that each or most of its rules have never deliberately been adopted but that it is the result of a gradual and decentralized evolution:

While the rules on which a spontaneous order rests may also be of spontaneous origin, this need not always be the case... It is possible that an order which would still have to be described as spontaneous rests on rules which are entirely the result of deliberate design. (Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. 1, pp.45-46)

RF.5.7

Even more, Hayek calls for deliberate attempts to improve our rules of just conduct:

Their gradual perfection will require the deliberate efforts of judges (or others learned in the law) who will improve the existing system by laying down new rules. Indeed, law as we know it could never have fully developed without such efforts of judges, or even the occasional intervention of a legislator to extricate it from the dead ends into which the gradual evolution may lead it, or to deal with altogether new problems. (Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. 1, p. 100)

RF.5.8

Hayek certainly does not "instruct us to submit blindly to (the) flow of events" as Barry suggests. But the reason for Barry's misunderstanding is a general difficulty in interpreting Hayek: he is not careful to qualify his statements in the immediate context. Hayek is a writer on the offensive who rarely guards against misunderstanding and potential charges of inconsistency. He trusts that the reader will give him the benefit of the doubt and interpret separate statements of his as mutual qualifications rather than as contradictions.

RF.5.9

Barry raises the important question whether the same process of spontaneous evolution can be thought to apply to economic processes under a system of legal rules and to the development of the legal rules themselves. I would answer that individual behavior and customary or contractual arrangements in production and exchange can be viewed as a private decentralized affair; however, an enforceable legal order is a collective or public good. Since Hayek tends to neglect this distinction, it seems reasonable to assume that he envisages the same type of evolutionary process for both economic practices and legal rules: a process that is driven by the interaction of human reason and random events and guided by imitation and procreation of the successful. Human reason proposes, the survival test disposes. Since legal rules cannot be tried by an individual on his own, they must at first be tested in voluntary small-group experiments:

Voluntary rules... allow for gradual and experimental change. The existence of individuals and groups simultaneously observing partially different rules provides the opportunity for the selection of the more effective ones. (The Constitution of Liberty, p. 63)

What we wish to stress... is... the importance of the existence of numerous voluntary associations, not only for the particular purposes of those who share some common interest, but even for public purposes in the true sense. (Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. 2, p. 151)

RF.5.11

In contrast, Hayek's ultimate normative criterion for evaluating a legal order is not contractarian (this distinguishes him from James M. Buchanan, for example). Nor is it true that Hayek regards the results of evolutionary, undesigned processes as necessarily good (as Barry seems to believe; pp. 12, 45-46). For Hayek, evolutionary and decentralized procedure is expressly not a sufficient but "merely" one necessary condition of progress (Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. 3, p. 168). Another necessary condition is that the chances of anyone selected at random are maximized:

Since rules of just conduct can affect only the chances of success of the efforts of men, the aim in altering or developing them should be to improve as much as possible the chances of anyone selected at random. (Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol. 2, pp. 129-30)

RF.5.14

Hayek's maximization criterion is a probabilistic version of rule utilitarianism. It allows for the existence of risk (as did Bentham) and the need for rules (as did John Stuart Mill). Curiously enough, Hayek rejects utilitarianism at large in his more recent writings. In the mid-sixties, he had still called David Hume's moral philosophy a "legitimate form" of utilitarianism ("Kinds of Rationalism" in Studies in Philosophy, p. 88). Like any brand of consequentialist ethics, probabilistic rule utilitarianism requires the use of human reason—even if it is of the non-constructivistic type.

Roland Vaubel
Institut fÜr Weltwirtschaft
University of Kiel

Note:
F. A. Hayek, "Degrees of Explanation," Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.
Note:
For a reconciliation of Hayek's theory of evolution and James M. Buchanan's contractarian approach see the impressive analysis of Victor Vanberg, Liberaler Evolutionismus oder Vertragstheoretischer Konstitutionlismus. TÜbingen: Walter Eucken Institut (VortrÄge und AufsÄtze, Nr. 80) J.C.B. Mohr, 1981, ISBN 3-16-344411-3.
Notes by Jeremy Shearmur
Note:
See Hayek, 'Individualism True and False,' in Individualism and Economic Order, p. 32.
Note:
See, for further references and discussion, and a fuller defence of the views advanced in this section, my 'The Austrian Connection: Carl Menger and the Thought of F.A. von Hayek,' in B. Smith and W. Grassl (eds.), Austrian Philosophy and Austrian Politics, Philosophia Verlag, Munich, forthcoming.
Note:
In which respect he is very close to Hayek's dismissal of 'false' individualism.
Note:
Compare here, however, the contrasting claim made in E.F. Miller's most interesting 'The Cognitive Basis of Hayek's Political Thought' in R.L. Cunningham (ed.), Liberty and the Rule of Law.
Comments by Jeremy Shearmur

1. Interventionism and the Breakdown of Spontaneous Order in Smith and in Hayek

1.1 Smith, Virtue and Commercial Society

1.2 Hayek and the Self-Destruction of a Free Society

RF.6.4

Barry rightly emphasizes Hayek's concern about the breakdown of a cosmos under the impact of interventionism. What is not, perhaps, adequately stressed is the way in which a free society could, on Hayek's account, be expected to break down of its own accord.[15] For Hayek, following Mandeville and Hume, emphasizes that a free society depends, crucially, for its functioning, on arrangements (including both the market itself and the legal order appropriate to it) some features of which will strike the individual members of that society as unfair or undesirable. If they could understand how these mechanisms function, Hayek thinks, they would see that all is for the best. But Hayek, here following the Scottish Historical School, takes a realistically skeptical view about the role of human reason in society. In Hayek's view, the individual's compliance with these institutions was earlier achieved through the influence of custom and uncritically accepted religious belief. But the power of these has, Hayek thinks, been weakened by the development of the market order itself—which, indeed, could be described as having created the social preconditions for the possible practice of Hayek's false individualism.

RF.6.5

Hayek believes that, for a free society to flourish—or even for it to continue in existence—individuals must take up an attitude of 'humility'[16] toward the various social forces and processes which they do not understand, but which play a positive role in a free society. But how, on Hayek's account, is it possible for them to know which are the forces etc. before which they should be humble? Hayek certainly does not advocate a general attitude of the passive acceptance of existing arrangements, and, in some areas, he is all in favor of innovation and change. But how is the individual member of society supposed to tell which elements of his heritage are to be conserved and which overthrown? Here, Hayek seems to oscillate between a view which plays up the role of ideas in society and the possibility of a rational understanding of how society functions (at least for the 'intellectual'), and a view which emphasizes the role of the customary, the traditional and the tacit. It is difficult to see how any resolution of this problem can be offered within the compass of Hayek's work, and I think that it is a more general problem for libertarianism, too.

2. Methodology vs. Political Economy in Hayek

RF.6.6

In his discussion on Hayek on 'The Free Exchange System,' Barry mentions the way in which "in the work of G.L.S. Shackle and Ludwig Lachmann... the spontaneous emergence of order may only be a chance phenomenon;" and he suggests that "In Hayek's early work on the theory of market process... The assumption was that a catallaxy was leading towards equilibrium rather than being moved away by endogenous factors."[17]

RF.6.7

These ideas are crucial to Hayek's work—for just consider to what extent, in his political writings, he rests his case on claims about what the market order will deliver. Barry tells us that "there are certain identifiable causal factors at work which bring about this equilibrating tendency, namely competition and entrepreneurship."[18] But do they actually do the trick, and can one show that a market order will do what Hayek requires of it on the basis of his views about the methodological foundations of economics? This seems to me very much an open question, and one that it is a matter of some urgency for the friends of liberty to answer.

3. Menger vs. Hayek on Spontaneous Order

RF.6.9

In describing these views, Barry takes pains to contrast them with those of Hayek. But is this correct? For while, certainly, in some of Hayek's writings he seems to speak as if the deliverances of various 'evolutionary' processes should simply be uncritically accepted, this can be matched by passages in which he demands that inherited legal institutions should be rationally appraised to see if they do, indeed, comply with the requirements of a (classical) liberal order. As these latter ideas are found notably in some of Hayek's earlier writings, it might be tempting to suggest that there is a development in Hayek's views here. But the two themes occur sufficiently often in writings of the same period, or even in the same works, for it to be unavoidable, I think, for us to admit that Hayek emphasizes both rational criticism and evolutionary themes at once. And his plans for radical constitutional reform—emphasized in some of his most recent writings—rule out the possibility that, in his later work, reason becomes collapsed into 'evolutionary' social developments.[21]

RF.6.11

It would seem to me, rather, that we must accept that both of these themes are there (at least in parallel—as was also the case in Menger[22]), and I would suggest that, despite their differences on many other points, our best hope of an overall interpretation might be to follow up Hayek's references to Popper's critical rationalism, which does offer us a promise that traditionalism and the demand for rational critical scrutiny may be combined.[23]

Jeremy Shearmur
Dept. of Government
University of Manchester, England

Note:
F. A. Hayek, "Degrees of Explanation," Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.
Note:
For a reconciliation of Hayek's theory of evolution and James M. Buchanan's contractarian approach see the impressive analysis of Victor Vanberg, Liberaler Evolutionismus oder Vertragstheoretischer Konstitutionlismus. TÜbingen: Walter Eucken Institut (VortrÄge und AufsÄtze, Nr. 80) J.C.B. Mohr, 1981, ISBN 3-16-344411-3.
Notes by Jeremy Shearmur
Note:
See Hayek, 'Individualism True and False,' in Individualism and Economic Order, p. 32.
Note:
See, for further references and discussion, and a fuller defence of the views advanced in this section, my 'The Austrian Connection: Carl Menger and the Thought of F.A. von Hayek,' in B. Smith and W. Grassl (eds.), Austrian Philosophy and Austrian Politics, Philosophia Verlag, Munich, forthcoming.
Note:
In which respect he is very close to Hayek's dismissal of 'false' individualism.
Note:
Compare here, however, the contrasting claim made in E.F. Miller's most interesting 'The Cognitive Basis of Hayek's Political Thought' in R.L. Cunningham (ed.), Liberty and the Rule of Law.
Comments by David Gordon
RF.7.4

Another point, raised by Barry's excellent discussion of Carl Menger, is whether the results which have arisen from a spontaneous order can also come about as the result of consciously planned action. Menger, whose explanation of the origin of money is a paradigm case of spontaneous order held, according to Barry, that money need not arise by the spontaneous process he described: "Against the rationalist explanation [that money arose by specific agreement] Menger argues that, although money can and has come about in this way, the institution can be accounted for by natural processes." (p. 32) There is an interesting contrast here with Ludwig von Mises who in The Theory of Money and Credit and Human Action maintains that money must arise by a spontaneous process. Also, Hayek wants to say not only that production can be coordinated spontaneously by the market but that a centrally directed economy is incapable of such coordination.

Note:
F. A. Hayek, "Degrees of Explanation," Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.
Note:
For a reconciliation of Hayek's theory of evolution and James M. Buchanan's contractarian approach see the impressive analysis of Victor Vanberg, Liberaler Evolutionismus oder Vertragstheoretischer Konstitutionlismus. TÜbingen: Walter Eucken Institut (VortrÄge und AufsÄtze, Nr. 80) J.C.B. Mohr, 1981, ISBN 3-16-344411-3.
Notes by Jeremy Shearmur
Note:
See Hayek, 'Individualism True and False,' in Individualism and Economic Order, p. 32.
Note:
See, for further references and discussion, and a fuller defence of the views advanced in this section, my 'The Austrian Connection: Carl Menger and the Thought of F.A. von Hayek,' in B. Smith and W. Grassl (eds.), Austrian Philosophy and Austrian Politics, Philosophia Verlag, Munich, forthcoming.
Note:
In which respect he is very close to Hayek's dismissal of 'false' individualism.
Note:
Compare here, however, the contrasting claim made in E.F. Miller's most interesting 'The Cognitive Basis of Hayek's Political Thought' in R.L. Cunningham (ed.), Liberty and the Rule of Law.