Spontaneous order

Spontaneous order, also named self-organization in the hard sciences, is the spontaneous emergence of order out of seeming chaos. It is a process in social networks including economics, though the term "self-organization" is more often used for physical changes and biological processes, while "spontaneous order" is typically used to describe the emergence of various kinds of social orders from a combination of self-interested individuals who are not intentionally trying to create order through planning. The evolution of life on Earth, language, crystal structure, the Internet and a free market economy have all been proposed as examples of systems which evolved through spontaneous order.[1]

Spontaneous orders are to be distinguished from organizations. Spontaneous orders are distinguished by being scale-free networks, while organizations are hierarchical networks. Further, organizations can be and often are a part of spontaneous social orders, but the reverse is not true. Further, while organizations are created and controlled by humans, spontaneous orders are created, controlled, and controllable by no one. In economics and the social sciences, spontaneous order is defined as "the result of human actions, not of human design".[2]

Spontaneous order is an equilibrium behavior between self-interested individuals, which is most likely to evolve and survive, obeying the natural selection process "survival of the likeliest".[3]


According to Murray Rothbard, Zhuangzi (369–286 BCE) was the first to work out the idea of spontaneous order. The philosopher rejected the authoritarianism of Confucianism, writing that there "has been such a thing as letting mankind alone; there has never been such a thing as governing mankind [with success]." He articulated an early form of spontaneous order, asserting that "good order results spontaneously when things are let alone", a concept later "developed particularly by Proudhon in the nineteenth [century]".[4]

The thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment were the first to seriously develop and inquire into the idea of the market as a spontaneous order. In 1767, the sociologist and historian Adam Ferguson described the phenomenon of spontaneous order in society as the "result of human action, but not the execution of any human design".[5][6]

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



Many economic classical liberals, such as Hayek, have argued that market economies are a spontaneous order, "a more efficient allocation of societal resources than any design could achieve."[7] They claim this spontaneous order (referred to as the extended order in Hayek's The Fatal Conceit) is superior to any order a human mind can design due to the specifics of the information required.[8] Centralized statistical data cannot convey this information because the statistics are created by abstracting away from the particulars of the situation.[9]

In a market economy, price is the aggregation of information acquired when the people who own resources 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 he or she 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.

According to Barry this is illustrated in the concept of the invisible hand proposed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations.[1] 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.

Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, describes spontaneous order as follows:

Spontaneous order is what happens when you leave people alone—when entrepreneurs... see the desires of people... and then provide for them.

They respond to market signals, to prices. Prices tell them what's needed and how urgently and where. And it's infinitely better and more productive than relying on a handful of elites in some distant bureaucracy.[10]

Game studies

The concept of spontaneous order is closely related with modern game studies. As early as 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."[11]


The concept of spontaneous order can also be seen in the works of the Russian Slavophile movements and specifically in 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. The concept was used to describe the uniting force behind the peasant or serf Obshchina in pre-Soviet Russia.[12]

Recent developments

Perhaps the most famous theorist of social spontaneous orders is Friedrich Hayek. In addition to arguing the economy is a spontaneous order, which he termed a catallaxy, he argued that common law[13] and the brain[14] are also types of spontaneous orders. In "The Republic of Science,"[15] Michael Polanyi also argued that science is a spontaneous order, a theory further developed by Bill Butos and Thomas McQuade in a variety of papers. Gus DiZerega has argued that democracy is the spontaneous order form of government,[16] David Emmanuel Andersson has argued that religion in places like the United States is a spontaneous order,[17] and Troy Camplin argues that artistic and literary production are spontaneous orders.[18] Paul Krugman too has contributed to spontaneous order theory in his book The Self-Organizing Economy,[19] in which he claims that cities are self-organizing systems. Credibility thesis suggests that the credibility of social institutions is the driving factor behind the endogenous self-organization of institutions and their persistence.[20]

The competitions between huge numbers of self-interested individuals will lead to many possible income distributions. Among all possible income distributions, exponential income distribution will occur with the highest probability. Following the natural selection process "survival of the likeliest", the exponential income distribution is most likely to evolve and survive, and hence is called the "Spontaneous Order" by Tao.[3] By analyzing datasets of household income from 66 countries and Hong Kong SAR, ranging from Europe to Latin America, North America and Asia, Tao et al found that, for all of these countries, the income distribution for the great majority of populations (low and middle income classes) follows an exponential income distribution.[21]

See also


  1. ^ a b Barry, Norman (1982). "The Tradition of Spontaneous Order". Literature of Liberty. 5 (2).
  2. ^ Hayek, Friedrich A. (1969). Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Touchstone. p. 97. ISBN 978-0671202460.
  3. ^ a b Yong Tao, Spontaneous economic order, Journal of Evolutionary Economics (2016) 26 (3): 467-500 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00191-015-0432-6
  4. ^ 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)
  5. ^ Adam Ferguson Archived 2007-05-09 at the Wayback Machine on The History of Economic Thought Website
  6. ^ Ferguson, Adam (1767). An Essay on the History of Civil Society. The Online Library of Liberty: T. Cadell, London. p. 205.
  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, F.A. The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism. The University of Chicago Press. 1991. p. 6.
  9. ^ Hayek cited. Boaz, David. The Libertarian Reader. The Free Press. 1997. p. 220
  10. ^ Stossel, John (2011-02-10) Spontaneous Order, Reason
  11. ^ Marshall, Gordon; et al. (1998) [1994]. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-0-19-280081-7.
  12. ^ Faith and Order: The Reconciliation of Law and Religion By Harold Joseph p. 388 Berman Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Religion and law ISBN 0-8028-4852-4 https://books.google.com/books?id=j1208xA7F_0C&lpg=PA388&ots=p0N6U4zWbf&pg=PA388
  13. ^ The Constitution of Liberty; Law, Legislation and Liberty
  14. ^ The Sensory Order
  15. ^ http://fiesta.bren.ucsb.edu/~gsd/595e/docs/41.%20Polanyi_Republic_of_Science.pdf
  16. ^ Persuasion, Power, and Polity
  17. ^ Dizerega, Gus (2001-02-10). Persuasion, Power and Polity: A Theory of Democratic Self-Organization (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity, and the Human Sciences) (9781572732575): Gus Dizerega, Alfonso Montuori: Books. ISBN 978-1572732575.
  18. ^ "pp.195-211: Troy Earl Camplin". Studies in Emergent Order. 2010-08-20. Retrieved 2018-09-17.
  19. ^ The Self-Organizing Economy
  20. ^ Grabel, Ilene (2000). "The political economy of 'policy credibility': the new-classical macroeconomics and the remaking of emerging economies". Cambridge Journal of Economics. 24 (1): 1–19. CiteSeerX doi:10.1093/cje/24.1.1. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  21. ^ Yong Tao et al. Exponential structure of income inequality: evidence from 67 countries. Journal of Economic Interaction and Coordination (2017) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11403-017-0211-6
Anarchism in Australia

Anarchism in Australia arrived within a few years of anarchism developing as a distinct tendency in the wake of the 1871 Paris Commune. Although a minor school of thought and politics, composed primarily of campaigners and intellectuals, Australian anarchism has formed a significant current throughout the history and literature of the colonies and nation. Anarchism's influence has been industrial and cultural, though its influence has waned from its high point in the early 20th century where anarchist techniques and ideas deeply influenced the official Australian union movement. In the mid 20th century anarchism's influence was primarily restricted to urban bohemian cultural movements. In the late 20th century and early 21st century Australian anarchism has been an element in Australia's social justice and protest movements.

Anarchism in Iceland

Anarchism is a small minority political movement in Iceland, defined by its relationship with other progressive social movements, and its involvement in primarily ideological work.

Anarchism in Korea

Anarchism in Korea dates to the Korean independence movement under Japan's early 20th century occupation. Korean anarchists federated across their end of the continent but their efforts were perforated by regional and world wars.

Anarchism in Turkey

Anarchism in Turkey only began to emerge in 1986 with publication of the magazine Kara.

Anarchism in Vietnam

Anarchism as a political movement in Vietnam started in the early twentieth century. Its most recognizable proponent was Phan Boi Chau.

Anarchist law

Anarchist law is a hypothetical body of norms regarding behavior and decision-making that might be operative in an anarchist community. The term is used in a series of ongoing debates within the various branches of anarchist theory regarding if and how norms of individual and/or collective behavior, decision-making and actions should be created and enforced.


Anti-statism is opposition to state intervention into personal, social and economic affairs. Anti-statism means opposition to the state and any artificial form of government and it differs from traditional anarchism which means the opposition not only to the state, but to any form of rulership.


Autarchism is a political philosophy that promotes the principles of individualism, the moral ideology of individual liberty and self-reliance. It rejects compulsory government and supports the elimination of government in favor of ruling oneself to the exclusion of rule by others.

Complex system

A complex system is a system composed of many components which may interact with each other. Examples of complex systems are Earth's global climate, organisms, the human brain, infrastructure such as power grid, transportation or communication systems, social and economic organizations (like cities), an ecosystem, a living cell, and ultimately the entire universe.

Complex systems are systems whose behavior is intrinsically difficult to model due to the dependencies, competitions, relationships, or other types of interactions between their parts or between a given system and its environment. Systems that are "complex" have distinct properties that arise from these relationships, such as nonlinearity, emergence, spontaneous order, adaptation, and feedback loops, among others. Because such systems appear in a wide variety of fields, the commonalities among them have become the topic of their own independent area of research. In many cases it is useful to represent such a system as a network where the nodes represent the components and the links their interactions.

Economic secession

Economic secession has been variously defined by sources. In its narrowest sense, it is abstention from the state’s economic system – for instance by replacing the use of government money with barter, Local Exchange Trading Systems, or commodity money (such as gold). Wendell Berry may have coined the term "economic secession." He promoted his own version in his 1991 essay Conservation and Local Economy. John T. Kennedy used the term to refer to all human action that is forbidden by the State; he explains economic secession as tax avoidance or refusal to follow regulations as a method to reduce government control.

Samuel Edward Konkin III used the term "counter-economics" to refer to a similar concept.Economic secession takes government out of the equation when making economic decisions. Trading happens through payment in-kind, cash and barter.Economic secession is a way for the individuals to withdraw their wealth for both economic and political reasons. If individuals disagree with the use of tax money to fund a political agenda, they use economic secession as a means of privately protesting the control of government in their lives. The opinion that government is too involved in society fuels individuals to withdraw economically and view their withdrawal from the government system as a moral stand.

Free market

In economics, a free market is a system in which the prices for goods and services are determined by the open market and by consumers. In a free market, the laws and forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government or other authority and from all forms of economic privilege, monopolies and artificial scarcities. Proponents of the concept of free market contrast it with a regulated market in which a government intervenes in supply and demand through various methods such as tariffs used to restrict trade and to protect the local economy. In an idealized free-market economy, prices for goods and services are set freely by the forces of supply and demand and are allowed to reach their point of equilibrium without intervention by government policy.

Scholars contrast the concept of a free market with the concept of a coordinated market in fields of study such as political economy, new institutional economics, economic sociology and political science. All of these fields emphasize the importance in currently existing market systems of rule-making institutions external to the simple forces of supply and demand which create space for those forces to operate to control productive output and distribution. Although free markets are commonly associated with capitalism within a market economy in contemporary usage and popular culture, free markets have also been advocated by anarchists, socialists and some proponents of cooperatives and advocates of profit sharing. Criticism of the theoretical concept may regard systems with significant market power, inequality of bargaining power, or information asymmetry as less than free, with regulation being necessary to control those imbalances in order to allow markets to function more efficiently as well as produce more desirable social outcomes.

Individual reclamation

Individual reclamation (French: reprise individuelle) is a form of direct action, characterized by the individual theft of resources from the rich by the poor. Individual reclamation gained popular attention in the early 20th century as a result of the exploits of anarchists and outsiders, such as Ravachol and Clément Duval, who believed that such expropriations were ethical because of the exploitation of society by capitalists (see Anti-capitalism). Advocacy centered on France, Belgium, Great Britain, and Switzerland.

Left anarchism

The terms left anarchism and left-wing anarchism distinguish social anarchism from anarcho-capitalism and anti-state right-libertarian philosophies.Left anarchists refer to political philosophies which posit a future society in which private property is replaced by reciprocity and non-hierarchical society.The term left anarchism is sometimes used synonymously with libertarian socialism, left-libertarianism, or social anarchism. More traditional anarchists typically discourage the concept of left-wing theories of anarchism on grounds of redundancy and that it lends legitimacy to the notion that anarchism is compatible with capitalism or nationalism.Syndicalist Ulrike Heider categorized anarchism into left anarchism, right anarchism (anarcho-capitalism) and green anarchism.

List of anarchist movements by region

This is a list of anarchist movements by region, both geographical and/or political.

List of films dealing with anarchism

This article is for films both fictional and non-fictional which focus on anarchism, anarchist movements and/or anarchist characters as a theme.

Michael Polanyi

Michael Polanyi (; Hungarian: Pollacsek Mihály; 11 March 1891 – 22 February 1976) was a Hungarian-British polymath, who made important theoretical contributions to physical chemistry, economics, and philosophy. He argued that positivism supplies a false account of knowing, which if taken seriously undermines humanity's highest achievements.

His wide-ranging research in physical science included chemical kinetics, x-ray diffraction, and adsorption of gases. He pioneered the theory of fibre diffraction analysis in 1921, and the dislocation theory of plastic deformation of ductile metals and other materials in 1934. He emigrated to Germany, in 1926 becoming a chemistry professor at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, and then in 1933 to England, becoming first a chemistry professor, and then a social sciences professor at the University of Manchester. Two of his pupils, and his son John Charles Polanyi won Nobel Prizes in Chemistry. In 1944 Polanyi was elected to the Royal Society.

The contributions which Polanyi made to the social sciences, for example his application of the concept of a polycentric spontaneous order to intellectual inquiry, were developed in the context of his opposition to central planning.


Self-ownership, also known as sovereignty of the individual or individual sovereignty, is the concept of property in one's own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to have bodily integrity and be the exclusive controller of one's own body and life. Self-ownership is a central idea in several political philosophies that emphasize individualism, such as liberalism and anarchism.

Social order

The term social order can be used in two senses. In the first sense, it refers to a particular set or system of linked social structures, institutions, relations, customs, values and practices, which conserve, maintain and enforce certain patterns of relating and behaving. Examples are the ancient, the feudal, and the capitalist social order. In the second sense, social order is contrasted to social chaos or disorder and refers to a stable state of society in which the existing social structure is accepted and maintained by its members. The problem of order or Hobbesian problem, which is central to much of sociology, political science and political philosophy, is the question of how and why it is that social orders exist at all.


Spontaneous may refer to:

Spontaneous abortion

Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis

Spontaneous combustion

Spontaneous declaration

Spontaneous emission

Spontaneous fission

Spontaneous generation

Spontaneous human combustion

Spontaneous Music Ensemble

Spontaneous order

Spontaneous process

Spontaneous remission

Spontaneous symmetry breaking

Spontaneous (album) by William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra

Spontaneous (film), an American sci-fi fantasy film

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