Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Sandefur's Response to Klein

WIth this response by Sandefur, I think I am getting what it is he is missing in his critique of Hayek's spontaneous order theory (in a response to my last posting, Sandefur argued he was not attacking spontaneous order as a concept, only Hayek's conception of it -- though again this response would seem to suggest otherwise). Actually, he is missing two things.

The first thing Sandefur is missing is the fact that Hayek does in fact defend a particular kind of rationality -- the Scottish enlightenment version of rationality, vs. constructivist rationality. Hayek does not reject rationality, as Sandefur suggests, only the constructivist version that arose on the Continent and which led to socialist ideology. If Reason is all-powerful, then those who have Reason should rightly rule and should use that Reason to construct a rational society and economy. This is what Hayek is critiquing. If one has a correct understanding of reason, one will know that one cannot construct a socialist utopia. More, such a rationality will be useful in making proper critiques, in making suggestions, in arguing one's position. Nowhere does Hayek argue that one should not argue one's point, including against tradition. One must also recognize that in challenging tradition, one puts oneself in a precarious position. One has to prove oneself -- and in doing so, one may meet with tragic consequences (this is the story of every work of tragedy). But in doing so, one brings the rest of society in after you.

The incremental changes Hayek suggests are like making a blaze to explore unknown territory. If you want to explore unknown territory, you have to make a mark on the edge of known territory before you venture out. If you want to keep exploring, you make another blaze -- within sight of the old one. Thus, you don't get lost. And new territory is discovered. The constructivist, on the other hand, just runs out ahead, not bothering to make a blaze, unconcerned about the territory he las left behind (it is such a terribly place anyway -- and what is out there, in the unknown, now, that is what's exciting!). The result? He gets lost. When one is in the savannah, jungle, or desert, this means certain death. The same is true of those societies that try to construct something completely different, ignoring tradition, ignoring what works. The constructivist, seeking to make something completely new, ignoring what is, places himself in much danger of getting lost, of getting killed -- or, in the case of a society, getting everyone lost, and killing many of one's citizens. Running ahead without consideration of where you came from, and you become food to predators, get stuck in mud or quicksand, etc. But if you make a blze, and are able to keep in sight of known territory, you can learn of the dangers and avoid them. And you can always find your way back home.

The second thing Sandefur is missing -- and one really cannot fault him for missing this -- is the fact that Hayek, being an Austrian, was culturally in many ways a German. German philosophy was obsessed with the Greeks, and both groups of philosophers believed the world was made of "physis" and "nomos". "Physis" is the natural world, and included all non-human nature. "Nomos" was essentially human culture and tradition. Many Greeks believed that the best society was one in which "nomos" mapped well onto "physis," meaning that the ideal society was a reflection of nature in its deepest tendencies. Indeed, Hayek does use the term "nomos." I would argue that Hayek understood the naturally-occurring, bottom-up spontaneous order as being the social equivalent of the self-organizing systems found in nature (he knew Bertalanffy and certainly knew of his work on biology and general systems theory). Hayek understood the brain to be a self-organizing system, and he thought the best society would be one that most resembled these natural processes. This is a normative thing if you understand the relationship between "physis" and "nomos" as the ancient Greeks and their German followers/imitators did. A constructed order would not be a "nomos," but a "techne," which is not a product of "physis" and does not resemble "physis," thus making it inappropriate as a model of society. If you understand that constructed orders are "techne," while spontaneous orders are "nomos," you begin to understand the real differences between the two. A "techne" is a human construct -- a "nomos" is not, but is rather something which emerges out of voluntary human interactions. A pencil is a "techne" just as much as a corporation is a "techne". Neither are the appropriate models for society.

If you combine both observations, I think it becomes clearer where Hayek is coming from with his concept of spontaneous order. It is not non-rational, and there is a place for the proper kind of rationality within it. In my Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference paper, I argue that within each spontaneous order there is a rationality that arises that is relevant to that order, but may be inappropriate for critiquing other orders. Thus, we may in fact have a plurality of rationalities. Does that mean that there is not one rationality to rule them all? Of course not. But I think we need to learn as much as we can about these many rationalities first to learn what they all have in common. Then we may end up having that rationality Sandefur seems to think we already have that will be able to be used to judge from "outside" -- not that we can, in reality, ever get outside of the system we are in. All critiques are always from the inside, meaning we don't know what the outcome will be. We can always only hope for the best.
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