Literature of Liberty: Hayek & Spontaneous Order

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Throughout F.A. Hayek’s encyclopedic writings, we frequently hear a characteristically ‘Hayekian’ leitmotif sounding in either major or minor key: his belief in spontaneous ordering—through decentralized, free individual action—of social, legal, and economic institutions in contradistinction to the Cartesian and statist “error of constructivism,” the belief that centralized control, planning, and coercion are required to coordinate economic and social activities. This theme animates his early psychological study The Sensory Order (which Hayek first drafted as a student paper in 1919–1920). In a recent interview Hayek commented on this book which examines the way we order and process the welter of information that comes through our senses. This sensory ordering process is a system too complicated to be understood in detail, but in general terms it is “the conception of the spontaneous formation of an order, the formation of extremely complex structures…”