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See also the closely related articles: emergence and self-organization.

Spontaneous order is the spontaneous emergence of order out of seeming chaos; the emergence of various kinds of social order from a combination of self-interested individuals who are not intentionally trying to create order. The evolution of life on Earth, language, and a free market economy have all been proposed as examples of systems which evolved through spontaneous order. Atheists and naturalists often point to the inherent "watch-like" precision of uncultivated ecosystems and to the universe itself as ultimate examples of this phenomenon.

Spontaneous order is also used as a synonym for any emergent behavior of which self-interested spontaneous order is just an instance.


History of the theory

According to Murray Rothbard, Zhuangzi (369-c. 286 B.c.) was the first to work out the idea of spontaneous order, before Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Friedrich Hayek. The Taoist Zhuangzi said, "Good order results spontaneously when things are let alone." .[1] Proudhon said, "The notion of anarchy in politics is just as rational and positive as any other. It means that once industrial functions have taken over from political functions, then business transactions alone produce the social order."[2] Proudhon's position was that freedom is prerequisite for spontaneous order to take place, rather than liberty being the result of spontaneous order. Hence his statement, liberty "is not the daughter but the mother of order."[3]

The thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment were the first to seriously develop and inquire into the idea of the market as a 'spontaneous order' (the "result of human action, but not the execution of any human design", as Adam Ferguson put it first).[4][5]

The Austrian School of Economics, lead by Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, would later refine the concept and use it as a centerpiece in its social and economic thought.

Although many Austrian School thinkers and other libertarian figures such as Milton Friedman concurred with Proudhon's position mentioned above, not all have embraced anarchism like Dr. Rothbard; a good deal of libertarians maintained support for existence of a minimal state to maintain the liberty requisite for spontaneous order to take place. In 2004, the understanding of the thermodynamics of spontaneous ordering (creation, existence, and destruction) was made straightforward by the formulation of nine succinct directives.[6] These directives follow jointly from the broken symmetry spelled by the Entropy Principle and the Law of Maximum Entropy Production, which is the statement for nature's preference for selecting paths of least resistance for minimizing gradients of field variables.




Many economic classical liberals, such as Hayek, have argued that market economies are creative of a spontaneous order - "a more efficient allocation of societal resources than any design could achieve."[7] They claim this spontaneous order is superior to any order human mind can design due to the specifics of the information required. Centralized statistical data cannot convey this information because the statistics are created by abstracting away from the particulars of the situation.[8] In a market economy, price is the aggregation of information acquired when people are free to use their individual knowledge. Price then allows everyone dealing in a commodity or its substitutes to make decisions based on more information than they could personally acquire, information not statistically conveyable to a centralized authority. Interference from a central authority which affects price will have consequences they could not foresee because they do not know all of the particulars involved. This is illustrated in the concept of the invisible hand proposed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. Thus in this view by acting on information with greater detail and accuracy than possible for any centralized authority, a more efficient economy is created to the benefit of a whole society.

Game studies

The concept of spontaneous order is closely related with modern game studies. As early as in the 1940s, historian Johan Huizinga wrote that "in myth and ritual the great instinctive forces of civilized life have their origin: law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primeval soil of play". Following on this in his book The Fatal Conceit, Hayek notably wrote that "A game is indeed a clear instance of a process wherein obedience to common rules by elements pursuing different and even conflicting purposes results in overall order".


Anarchists argue that the state is in fact an artificial creation of the ruling elite, and that true spontaneous order would arise if it was eliminated. Construed by some but not all as the ushering in of organization by anarchist law. In the anarchist view, such spontaneous order would involve the voluntary cooperation of individuals. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, "the work of many symbolic interactionists is largely compatible with the anarchist vision, since it harbours a view of society as spontaneous order." [9]


The concept of spontaneous order can also be seen in the works of the Russian slavophile movements and in specific the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The concept of an organic social manifestation as a concept in Russia expressed under the idea of sobornost. Sobornost was also used by Leo Tolstoy as an underpinning to the ideology of Christian anarchism. Vladimir Lenin also later exploited the concept of sobornost as a foundation for his own reforms. The concept was used to describe the uniting force behind the peasant or serf Obshchina in pre Soviet Russia.[10]


  1. ^ Rothbard, Murray. Concepts of the Role of Intellectuals in Social Change Toward Laissez Faire, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol IX No. 2 (Fall 1990)
  2. ^ Proudon, Pierre-Joseph. The Federal Principle.
  3. ^ Proudhon, P. J. Proudhon's Solution to the Social Problem. New York: Vanguard, 1927, p. 45
  4. ^ Adam Ferguson on The History of Economic Thought Website
  5. ^ Ferguson, Adam (1767). An Essay on the History of Civil Society. The Online Library of Liberty: T. Cadell, London. pp. 205.  
  6. ^ Mahulikar, S.P., & Herwig, H.: (2004), "Conceptual investigation of the entropy principle for identification of directives for creation, existence and total destruction of order", Physica Scripta, v. 70(4), pp. 212-221
  7. ^ Hayek cited. Petsoulas, Christian. Hayek's Liberalism and Its Origins: His Idea of Spontaneous Order and the Scottish Enlightenment. Routledge. 2001. p. 2
  8. ^ Hayek cited. Boaz, David. The Libertarian Reader. The Free Press. 1997. p. 220
  9. ^ Marshall, Gordon; Diane Barthel, Ted Benton, David Bouchler, Joan Busfield, Tony Coxon, Ian Craib, Fiona Devine, Judith Ennew, Diana Gittins, Roger Goodman, George Kolankiewicz, Catherine Hakim, Michael Harloe, David Lee, Maggy Lee, Mary McIntosh, Dennis Marsden, Maxine Molyneux, Lydia Morris, Sean Nixon, Judith Okely, Ken Plummer, Kate Reynolds, David Rose, Colin Samson, Alison Scott, Jacqueline Scott, Nigel South, Oriel Sullivan, Bryan Turner, Richard Wilson, Anthony Woodiwiss (1998) [1994]. Gordon Marshall. ed (in English language). Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 19–20. ISBN 0-19-280081-7.  
  10. ^ Faith and Order: The Reconciliation of Law and Religion By Harold Joseph pg 388 Berman Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Religion and law ISBN 0802848524

See also

External links


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