I have recently concluded that spontaneous order is frankly nonsense. Now, I have received push back on this along the lines that A) Moldbug wrote posts in favour of spontaneous order and that B) my understanding of spontaneous order is not “true” spontaneous order.
The first point of contention is less relevant than it may first appear. I have repeatedly made the point that I consider the identification of imperium in imperio as a disastrous solecism, and the resultant project of reasoning through the implications of this in relation to governance as the project, and not the attempt to follow Moldbug along every claim he made. The idea of using Unqualified Reservation as some guide like a manual is absurd, especially as I have made the claim on a number of occasions that it seems clear to me he was working through the implications of rejection of imperium in imperio – 2007 positions don’t equate to 2010 positions.
In addition to this, I have been trying to make the point that I hold to MacIntyre’s conception of traditions as always conserved. Every thinker operates in a tradition, the claim of finding universal maxims or abstract universal truths is nonsense of the highest order (but central to modern liberal thought.) Further to this, traditions are, and must be, subject to continual contest and rational re-appraisal in line with their inherent rationality. This is in stark contrast to tradition as per Burke for example, for whom tradition was wisdom without thinking and spontaneous – the action of so many unguided individuals clearly – one can see here the Whig and anarchist conception of society ordered without ordering. This has relevance not only for my reasoning for why Moldbug cited spontaneous order favorably is irrelevant, but also for why I consider spontaneous order as a concept to be a political assertion, and not a neutral observation.
In regards to Moldbug and this conception of tradition, I consider the project of reasoning through rejection of imperium in imperio to be continual and requiring creativity and intellectual questioning of every concept in accordance with it – therefore everything Moldbug wrote should be subject to robust and honest criticism to test its rational coherence in line with this project.
As for the second pushback on spontaneous order, it is clear that as a concept it has confused, and continues to confuse us all especially those that produced it. At its core, regardless of any particular conception that is considered true, there is a central claim that action organises spontaneously by the un-coerced actions of individuals with no planning. If we stray from this, then we are not talking about spontaneous order, but everyone wants to do this for a number of reasons. For the purpose of this post, please consider me to be dealing directly with Hayek’s conception.
To really see what the concept of spontaneous order is pushing, it really must be placed firmly in its historical and spatial (both location, and societal) positions. It has to be considered as a contingent concept with a history and a tradition within which it makes “sense.”
Spontaneous order, and this is something I doubt will be disputed by libertarians et al. finds its roots directly in the work of both Hobbes and Locke, but ultimately they were both reasoning on the same premises of the nature of individuals. Fundamentally, both thinkers set themselves the task of trying to explain ordering by individuals. It is the philosophy of anarchism, but with an inherited background of conservative considerations of ethics. The Scottish Enlightenment thinkers continued this process, with Hume, Reid, Smith et al. Burke also expressed the same sentiments, with Menger, Hayek et al. resurrecting it in overt propaganda form in the 20th century, even though it is in reality central to liberal thought and central to modern society. Any governance attempts based on this fundamental foundation of modern thought (such as nationalism, communism, fascism, liberal-democracy) is inherently unstable, contradictory and insane, as demonstrated by historical example.
So what is the context of this theory of spontaneous order? In its origination in Locke in particular, it is the work of someone from a particular part of society, promoted by particular segments of society that opposed monarchical governance, and were trying to justify the oligarchic governance post 1688. As for the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, I am again in agreement with MacIntyre that they were in a position of being external to English culture, yet in the process of adopting it, and in so being in such a position, were able to observe, and had to engage with it, in a way in which English people (for whom it was merely a given) were unable to do, or didn’t see the need to do. You find the same thing with Burke (an Irishman) and Hayek, Menger, Mises (Austrians). For those in any culture in which certain standards have been set and imposed, and not open to further discussion, it requires those with outside models and conceptions to be able to analyse and explain. These thinkers in effect became radicalised anglophile thinkers.
Now, in effect, all of these thinkers are trying to justify a specific form of societal organisation. Spontaneous order is then a concept brought into to justify how society forms without organisation and planning(it doesn’t and can’t.) Spontaneous order is then a loaded concept, as all concepts are. To repeat what I have already said, it asserts that spontaneous ordering by the uncoerced actions of individuals with no planning is possible.
So, what are the underlying assumption here? I have already mention one – that society can order without governance, but there are other obvious ones such as that society forms from the voluntary interaction of individuals (if not voluntary then it cease to be spontaneous) and that all actors are then fully fledged moral actors. In a word the underlying assumptions pretty much match directly to liberalism. Now, by having these assumptions, spontaneous order takes them as a given and then in effect asserts them. It is clearly not a neutral observation of reality at all (something not possible.)
So, we have gone from spontaneous order being an impartial observation (not possible) to being a concept which is a legitimization of a particular social configuration (liberalism.)
Now, we can push this a little further and demand spontaneous order explain events, and we can quite easily find that not only does it not explain anything, but it actively conceals the roles of power centers in forming cultural trends, promoting ideas and maintaining traditions. In a word, it has no functional usage beyond being a justificationary piece of fiction.