Most of Life Is Anarchy

The other day, I saw a poster on Facebook showing a quote from Jeff Tucker to the effect that "most of our lives take place under anarchy." (I quote from memory.) This is similar to the question one sees that, since spontaneous social orders appear with great regularity, what the heck do we need government leaders for? Let's examine this idea a bit further and see what is going on.

There are many phenomena in the world, life being one of the most notable, that are referred to as self-organizing. (I would prefer saying that they are organized by an inner principle, but no mind, we will use the popular term.) No one has to construct a bacterium: they emerge spontaneously from other bacteria.

Let us say someone notices this, and decides it is a lovely thing, all this inner-directed activity, a beautiful anarchy, let us say. But they notice one exception: certain creatures, humans foremost amongst them, have developed brains, organs of top-down control, that direct the activities of many other parts of the bodies in which they reside. This strikes them as an ugly marring of this otherwise lovely picture, and so they become "anti-brainers": to be free, they tell us, we must get rid of these awful, controlling brains. "Slice it out!" is their slogan. (Well, at least until they take their own advice.)

What they have missed is that the brain is, itself, the product of that very self-organization that they love. It was not inserted into an otherwise spontaneous organic order by evil alien scientists: it is a part of that order.

And now you probably see where I am going: government is a product of the "beautiful anarchy" loved by Tucker. Government was not imposed upon humans by space aliens: it arose spontaneously in human societies, again and again. Of course, things can go very wrong when it tries to do more than its proper function, just as we would be in a fix if we decided we should consciously regulate all of our cellular processes. But there is no need to "hate the state" because one appreciates beautiful anarchy: the state is itself a part of that spontaneous order.


  1. Government was the result of cultural evolution in the same sense as the market order evolved. Believing in our theories so strongly that we are willing to eliminate the state altogether is the fatal conceit.

  2. And if beef isn't meat, then I'm a beautiful vegetarian.

    There is clearly a *meaning* to the phrase "spontaneous order." I'm not saying you have to be an anarchist if you like the idea--Hayek himself wasn't an anarchist. But it is an abuse of language to say the state is an example of spontaneous order.

    If you want to talk about something more specific, like the 3/5 compromise, OK I will listen.

    1. I wave my bottom at your oh silly silly complaint here, you Irish so-called k-ni-git.

  3. Hmmmmm. I can sort of see the point if you are talking about a small kingdom in the 14th century or something. Sort of. But the nation state of today? Part of the spontaneous order? I can't even imagine what that could mean.

    But but but: thanks for the shout out! truly.

    1. "But the nation state of today? Part of the spontaneous order?"

      Of course it is, Jeff. Do you think it has launched itself into space? I clarify here.

  4. Interesting.

    How do we distinguish "natural" from "artificial," or "spontaneous order" from "planned development?"

    I'd say you've put your finger on something, to the extent that there's not a thin bright line there.

    And it would be silly to argue against the proposition that political government, i.e. "the state" has emerged independently enough times for it to seem to have a natural/spontaneous basis.

    Furthermore, wherever that line is (if it exists at all), it seems likely that various societies have, in various internal features, wandered perpetually back and forth across it and continue to do so.

    Personally I'd put the Peace of Westphalia, Hobbesian social contractarianism, etc. on the "artificial/non-spontaneous" side of the line, but that may just be a prejudice/bias of mine.

    Well played, sir.

    1. Tom, read the follow up post, because I think it really clarifies the way I am looking at this.

  5. Gene, there is one "fatal conceit" in your post that I can see:

    "more than its proper function"

    What springs to mind instantly is "define proper?", but that's a rhetorical question that points out that what is proper for you is not proper for me, and what works for both of us will not work for everyone else.

    What is proper is different between individuals. But government, the institution of coercion, cannot allow that variance. The institution of coercion violates the very spontaneity with which you try to support it.

    Your same argument can be made for murder. Murder was not imposed upon humanity by space aliens, it is natural, spontaneous. It has happened everywhere throughout history.

    But there is no need to "hate murder" because one appreciates beautiful anarchy: murder is itself a part of that spontaneous order.

    Or slavery, a perfectly natural and legal institution through the vast majority of human history.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. "But there is no need to "hate murder" because one appreciates beautiful anarchy: murder is itself a part of that spontaneous order."

      That is absolutely correct, Curt: that is NOT the reason to hate murder, or slavery!

    3. "but that's a rhetorical question that points out that what is proper for you is not proper for me, and what works for both of us will not work for everyone else."

      And given this relativism, what if I insist murder is "proper" for me, and I don't care if it is proper for the victim?

    4. OK, Curt, in your last post you called me "reprehensible," a "coward," and a "bully."

      Bye-bye, Curt.

    5. Really? Now, why would I do something like that?

    6. Well, Curt, *you* have to tell me why you did something like that. You were drunk? Really upset that day? Always a jerk? I don't know.


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