The theory of spontaneous order has a long tradition in the history of social thought, yet it would be true to say that, until the last decade, it was all but eclipsed in the social science of the twentieth century. For much of this period the idea of spontaneous order—that most of those things of general benefit in a social system are the product of spontaneous forces that are beyond the direct control of man—was swamped by the various doctrines of (to use Friedrich A. Hayek’s phrase in
Law, Legislation and Liberty) ‘constructivistic rationalism.’ No doubt the attraction of this rival notion of rationalism stems partly from the success of the physical sciences with their familiar methods of control, exact prediction, and experimentation. It is these methods which have an irresistible appeal to that
hubris in man which associates the benefits of civilization not with spontaneous orderings but with conscious direction towards preconceived ends. It is particularly unfortunate that the effect of constructivistic rationalism should have been mainly felt in economics. This is unfortunate not merely because attempts to direct economics have repeatedly failed but also because the discipline of economics has developed most fully the theory of spontaneous order…. [From the text]