Hierarchy and generative orders: some introductory thoughts

This is now the whole article. Comments have been closed on the previous post.

Part One

To command nature, we must obey it

Francis Bacon, 1624

The commitments that bind us to the social body are obligatory only because they are mutual; and their nature is such that, in fulfilling them, one cannot work for others without at the same time working for oneself.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762 


Hierarchies and Generative orders

A great theme running through economic and political theory is the distinction between hierarchies and markets as means of cooperation. This is at the centre of Hayek and of Coase. Here I’ll sketch some ideas that paint all this on an even larger canvas.  So as not to get too bogged down I’ll sketch some of these ideas in dot point form. Take this as notes to myself.

    • Language and culture are both generative orders (I’ll elaborate on what they are further below), though they co-evolved and we can also think of them as parts of a single order.
    • They create an inter-subjective human world. This functions in a way that is similar to the order within the natural world. Like the order of the natural world, we inhabit a generative order. We inhabit our language and our culture. It has an objective reality outside ourselves (though that reality is determined by other people around us, not by nature).1
    • The market is the next great generative order that emerged in human history (or prehistory).
    • At this point, we encounter certain important facts. Generative orders are built on one another – each successive generative order uses the previous generative orders as part of its operating system. Further, generative orders tend to be less fundamental than the generative orders from which they’re built.
      • This is true by definition historically, but it’s also true in terms of contemporary significance. Thus markets create an order that people can inhabit, but they move in and out of markets whereas language and culture create an order so ubiquitous that our whole lives are lived within it (even to a substantial extent when we’re dreaming).
    • As this process continues a range of quite specialised generative orders come into existence. To give a contemporary example, lawyers are trained by teaching them ‘the practice of law’ which can be regarded as a generative order. It is a set of values and practices that have a significance that is independent of any individual lawyer. Accordingly, I’m going to use the terms ‘specialised’ and ‘general’ generative order to specify the level of generality of a generative order.
    • Placing ideas like those I’ve discussed at the heart of his thought, Hayek used the terms ‘cosmos’ and ‘taxis’ to distinguish between an evolved order and one that was built deliberately by those with sufficient power and insight to do it – as formal institutions are built. (I also think Hayek overdoes the ‘spontaneous’ part of spontaneous order. Even though they come to operate in a decentralised way, some of these orders are often subject to heavy shaping by power and may continue to rely on it).2
    • I’d also mention similar phenomena but which tend to be discrete. They may constitute part of an order, like the liquidity that markets generate with growing depth. But they stop short of being orders in themselves. I call such phenomena emergent public goods. Thus the place at which a market for goods is established is an emergent public good rather than a generative order. A word as it takes on its meaning in a community could also be regarded as a small, discrete emergent public good. Hayek gives an example of one such phenomenon emerging in the animal kingdom as cattle form a path through a field. It’s not part of a generative order.
    • It’s interesting to note at this point that Adam Smith’s two books were each dedicated to anatomising the emergence of culture (The Theory of Moral Sentiments) and markets (The Wealth of Nations). In each case, he told the story of the emergence of a generative order – a social world for humans to inhabit. In his Lectures on Rhetoric, he described a form of exposition as superior to the ancients’ rhetorical methods and he deployed this method in his two great books. This was the “Newtonian method”. Modelled on Newton’s system of celestial mechanics, it was built on an “immense chain of the most important and sublime truths . . . connected together by one capital fact, of the reality of which we have daily experience”. Where Newton had done this for the natural order in his contributions to natural science, Smith followed Hume’s call to build a science of humanity.
    • The Newtonian structure of The Wealth of Nations is built up from the singular innate human tendency to “truck, barter and exchange”. And the ‘secret sauce’ behind the miracle of the market is that cognition and motivation are entangled, cognate in the generative order. Adam Smith explained this. Hayek doubled down on it: The price system in a market is a system of social cognition enabling economic decision-makers to understand the relative scarcity (the economic value) of the various goods they can produce or consume. Meanwhile, the motives generated within the generative order for people to serve their own interests, are (unbeknownst to them), motives for them also to serve society’s interest. Market prices motivate economic actors to produce what has the most social value (what is most scarce) and consume what has least social value (what is least scarce).
    • The apparatus in The Theory of Moral Sentiments works remarkably similarly. First, it’s predicated on a single innate human trait of which we have daily experience – in this case, ‘sympathy’. Being both cognitive and affective, sympathy works analogously to the price system.
      • It provides the primary ‘sense’ through which we comprehend our social world. We can know nothing of how others think and experience their lives except by imagining ourselves in their place.
      • It is also an emotion that primes us to judge our social world and motivates us to act well in it.
    • In this manner, Smith builds his ‘Newtonian’ exposition of how sympathy knits the social world together binding human beings to one another in circles of sympathy of an intensity that diminishes – as does Newton’s force of gravity – with proximity. From this, Smith builds a theory of human psychology in which culture emerges as a social asset, the glue that holds society together – with the help of government which vouchsafes the rule of law. Without this regularity and justice in social life, Smith argues society would “crumble to atoms”.
    • In each case, the order of culture and markets emerge without being imposed from on high. They emerge as an ongoing residue of the repeated patterns of life itself.
    • Smith was a slow and painstaking writer. He worked over things for decades before publishing them and then updated them with each edition released. He substantially revised The Theory of Moral Sentiments in the last year of his life to take into account his reaction to the French revolution which was very similar to his friend Edmund Burke.3 Though he’d been working for years towards finishing a third great work which would complete the intellectual task of his life – a book on Jurisprudence which today only exists as hints in students’ notes from lectures decades before – his instructions on his death were for all his papers to be burned. There were just a few exceptions most or all of which were early pieces of which we can surmise he was proud. Remarkably they include essays on two other generative orders.
    • Smith’s Considerations concerning the first formation of languages proposed that it evolved as a generative order as defined here. He wouldn’t have used this language, but from what he did say, he’d have agreed with Tomasello’s claims at the turn of the twenty-first century. “Just as money is a symbolically embodied social institution that arose historically from previously existing economic activities, natural language is a symbolically embodied social institution that arose historically from previously existing social-communicative activities”.
    • His Principles which lead and direct philosophical enquiries; as illustrated by the history of astronomy is an exploration of the generative order of science. It’s multi-faceted, but has a strong, if not quite ‘Newtonian’ focus on a single psychological motive which is wonder and surprise and the desire to pacify them by normalising the phenomena that gave rise to them in our mind – i.e. by bringing them within our scientific understanding.

Part Two

Key features of the generative order

Based on the similarities between the generative orders of culture and language on the one hand and markets and money on the other I offer the following observations regarding a generative order:

  1. It is an emergent public good which is to say it is a thing of great value – including economic value – that is freely available and is not commoditised.
  2. It co-evolves with the relationships occurring within it. 
  3. Its production and consumption are conjoint, not distinct as they are with traditional economic goods, (in which I include both private and public goods).
  4. Being a free good, it is useful to clarify (at least for the economists) how it comes into and remains in existence – that is, how people are motivated to build and maintain it. The ‘motive force’ behind its creation is the desire of its participants to interact with each other in some way. 
  5. Dominant norms evolve within it – ways of doing things – which gain practical and ethical significance. 
  6. These norms constrain actors within the generative order.
  7. Given these constraints, why would anyone voluntarily participate in the order? Participants are drawn into submitting themselves to these constraints so that they can exercise their agency within the order (operating within the order enables one to achieve things one can’t achieve outside the order). This parallels Francis Bacon’s sublime observation that, to command nature, we must obey it.
  8. The resources of the generative order foster social cognition and motivate action. Thus, prices within markets enable participants to apprehend economic value and motivate them to do so through trade. As discussed above, rules in culture and language have a similar function. 
  9. Though the generative order imposes the costs of conforming to its norms as the price of admission, unlike a top-down system, the order remains in principle open, accessible to all without anyone requiring permission to participate.
  10. Thus, the norms pervading the generative order are the emergent product of patterns emerging from participants’ choices, rather than their adherence to commands from some independent source of power.
  11. Those patterns are driven by human purposes, which will be different in different situations and for different groups and individuals.
  12. Thus, this permissionlessness and mutual voice and adjustment throughout the generative order gives it profound advantages over orders that flow from top-down command. Nevertheless, we cannot presume that generative orders are preferable in all circumstances and respects.
  13. The decentralised nature of a generative order is its strength and also its weakness, creating situations in which changes are needed which require greater authority than will cohere within the order.
  14. Participants’ compliance with dominant norms perpetuates and replicates them. Their deviation from those norms, it if leaves any trace, nurtures innovation and renewal – for good or ill.

Part Three

Some further observations

Hierarchies and generative orders in the political order

Once humans emerge from often communist hunter/gatherer cultures, public goods tend mostly to be supplied by the powerful. Thus city walls are often built by those with the most power. They’ll send their goons round to demand taxation to pay for it (At least this is how it happens in Robin Hood movies I’ve seen, but it checks out – trust me.) In the ancient world, big men were often the source of great public monuments and improvements to them – for instance Cimon of Athens used his great wealth and the spoils of his victories as a general to contribute to the city wall, improve the agora, plant trees for shade there and at the Academy (or the site where it would be founded). As modern liberal orders emerge, the power of those at the top starts to become subject to constitutional constraints. Thus an order emerges which is progressively less about power imposed from the top and becomes a web of relationships fostered by the rule of custom and law.

Before these structures evolved, specifying ‘human rights’ on paper mattered naught for they’d not have been honoured by those with power. But what happened was that an order evolved in which the powerful were drawn into a network in which they mutually constrained each other – theorised by Montesquieu and taken up by America’s Founding Fathers as the separation of powers. In England in 1649 when they cut of the head of King Charles I, no sufficiently powerful network of mutual constraint existed. And after a couple of decades of bloodshed, it couldn’t quite be brought into existence. By 1688 when they ran King Charles I’s nephew out of town and got in his niece and her Dutch husband (if I’ve got the bloodlines right) to run the show, the network was stroganoff strong enough to produce constitutional monarchy. As we know, this process of constitutionalisation has continued since then. And this allows increasing complexity to emerge in the political order, though we seem to be taking some steps back down the time tunnel in the last few years.

Hierarchies and generative orders in science and cosmology

The contrast between the two kinds of order figure in science and cosmology. Different cosmologies suggest hierarchy and the generative order respectively. As Prigogine and Stengers put it in Order out of Chaos:

Lucretius, following his masters Democritus and Epicurus, writes that the world is ‘just’ atoms and void and urges us to look for the hidden behind the obvious . . . Yet it is well known that the driving force behind the work of the Greek atomists was not to debase nature but to free men from fear, the fear of any supernatural being, of any order that would transcend that of men and nature.4

In other words, atomism springs from the intuition that the world is not a hierarchy but rather a generative order (with appropriate modifications for having non-conscious beings making up the generative order in the numbered points above). Or to put it another way, the world was built ‘bottom-up’, not top-down. Indeed, one of the more convincing demonstrations of the likelihood that biology is a bottom-up process is the paradoxical assertion that the degree of complexity we observe is more likely to have been brought about by the blind forces of order without design – bottom-up evolution – than it is by a singular ‘watchmaker’, blind or otherwise.

There’s been an ironic twist in modern science. The scientific revolution was built on a metaphysical presupposition that the world was in fact built from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down. This worked out incredibly well, but in some ways too well. The fabulous success of Newton’s system of celestial mechanics was probably a terrible guide for the philosophers who promptly got into what Mary Midgley engagingly calls ‘swashbuckling‘ mode. We’ve seen Adam Smith do this above, though it doesn’t do much harm because social science has not yet uncoupled itself from rhetoric, has not neurotically fixated itself on the ‘is/ought’ or ‘positive/normative’ distinction. So despite appearances, Smith’s Newtonianism functions mostly as rhetorical and exegetical strategy where it does little harm and perhaps some good. And Smith’s means of imitating Newton doesn’t run to an axiomatic structure with a strict deductive schema as (intriguingly) two of the greatest pre-Newtonians did – Hobbes and Descartes (I think this also applies to Spinoza, but I know next to nothing about him I’m afraid).

Be that as it may, the philosophy of science falls in love not just with a bottom-up universe but with a monistic one – one built up from a single causal system. This of course, calls for a theory of everything. 5 But even as we flail around in search of our theory of everything the popularisers of science and cultural descendants of Comte – like Richard Dawkins, keep this monistic vision alive. And so the intellectual authoritarianism of the Catholic Church has now given way to the intellectual authoritarianism of the monistic philosophers of evolution, philosophy and economics and no doubt other disciplines (feel free to suggest them in comments).

As far as science itself is concerned, things have turned out differently – at least judging from this passage from Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers:

What are the assumptions of classical science from which we believe science has freed itself today [this was written in 1984]? Generally those center­ing around the basic conviction that at some level the world is simple and is governed by time-reversible fundamental laws. Today this appears to be an excessive simplification. We may compare it to reducing buildings to piles of bricks. Yet out of the same bricks, we may construct a factory, a palace, or a cathedral. It is on the level of the building as a whole that we apprehend it as a creature of time, as a product of a culture, a society, a style. But there is the additional and obvious problem that, since there is no one to build nature, we must give to its very “bricks” that is, to its microscopic activity a description that accounts for this building process.

Keeping the generative order healthy

Finally, I have an observation on the preconditions of a healthy generative order. For a market, those preconditions are well summarised in the two central terms in modern accounting – respectively the concepts ‘accounts’ and of ‘audit’. The two terms reflect markets’ origins as oral phenomena.6. Imagine you’re an Italian Renaissance prince and someone acting on your behalf sells some good of yours by travelling to a foreign port, selling it and bringing back the money net of costs.7

When they return they produce an account of what happened. After a period such accounts are formalised into the entries on a ledger. On presentation of these ‘accounts’, you the prince are wary that they are a true reflection of what happened. You’re planning to get Raphael to paint your mistress’s portrait and Raphael isn’t cheap. So you want the accounts of the person you’ve hired to be consistent with others’ version of the same story. If so they’ll be the truth. (This truthfulness is part of that network of constraint I referred to above) So you want to hear from others who have audited, or heard what went on.

Thus if we’re to build a bottom-up world, that bottom-up world has to ‘hang together’ as a web in which those in the web hold others in the web to common standards of truthfulness. This order of audited accounts entangles people in a system of mutual constraint. It creates an inter-subjective order which is the same as the inter-subjective order of science – where everyone is checking out everyone else’s ideas to see if they’re good enough to rely and build upon. Thus, just as Francis Bacon’s aphorism quoted at the head of this piece describes science or the technology that might arise from it as something that is not imposed upon nature but which comes about from successful entanglement with it, so a generative order is an inter-subjective human order which must be obeyed if it’s power is to be accessed for any party’s individual benefit.

So what undermines a generative order? Counterfeiting. What does that mean in the generative order of language and culture? First, as I argued in my recent essay Trust and the Competition Delusion, bullshit is to culture what counterfeit currency is to the economy. But we have far less effective means for protecting against bullshit. If you have good money in a market (gold coins that people know are not adulterated) people go out of their way to trade with you. That is, counterfeiters trade in the market at a disadvantage to you. At least in my lifetime, people have become increasingly happy to trade in bullshit and we’re awash in it. Rather like a slovenly response to the virus, we find ourselves immersed in the problem without the tools to cope.

  1. Wittgenstein sought to defend this proposition with his private language argument which held that the idea of a private language was a contradiction. Language is a social inter-subjective reality, not a mere private mapping of external things or concepts to internal signs.
  2. Karl Polanyi argued this regarding the way markets were shaped by the powerful. As Fukuyama points out in his Origins of Political Order. “Hayek was simply wrong about certain of his historical facts” (p. 254). “The later evolution of the Common Law might have been a spontaneous process, but its existence as a framework for legal decision-making required centralized political power to bring it into being” (p. 258).
  3. See his comments on the ‘man of system’: “The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit, and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it: he seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board; he does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.”
  4. Note that, because Christianity the Greco-Roman world was not monotheistic. Once monotheism gets going under Christianity, this makes the ‘top-down’ view much more monolithic.
  5. There were no shortage of these in the 19th century. Comte figured the world was really made of teensy little billiard balls – (which seems more ‘scientific’ than turtles or Honda Accords, but maybe that’s not right. And if it is more scientific than turtles, it’s logical inconsistencies with other things we knew about the world became obvious as the 19th century wore on.)
  6. It is kind of cool to realise that in his Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith allowed himself the speculation that there might be some more elemental force than the innate tendency to truck barter and exchange on which to build his Newtonian exposition of markets – the desire to persuade!. Smith’s first lectureship was in Rhetoric. Not in this context this observation about the emergence of coinage in Ancient Greece. “The physical location of the market was in the general place of meeting for citizens, the agora. This was the place where speakers addressed the people (άγορενο), and the same was now the place where people bought wares (άγοραζο). This last verb had been unknown to Homer’s vocabulary. The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece, David Schaps, p 111.
  7. There’s also a debate about whether money is a ‘thing’ of value like a gold coin, or whether money is also the product of accounts about the passage of debts through the financial system. Note that this is what money was when it first made its way onto the human record via Mesopotamia’s clay tablets, which are (as I understand it) accounts of transactions.
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14 Responses to Hierarchy and generative orders: some introductory thoughts

  1. Mike Pepperday says:

    Sorry Nick, You lost me at the first sentence.

    “A great theme running through economic and political theory is the distinction between hierarchies and markets as means of cooperation. This is at the centre of Hayek and of Coase.”

    A distinction of market and hierarchy (or regulation) is not a great theme running through political science – I’ll just state that on my own authority – and, though I am an economic ignoramus, I think I can show it is not true for economic theory either and that there is a triple, not dual, distinction that pervades discussion of social relations.

    (i) Markets. Markets aren’t cooperative; cooperation is anti-market. What did Adam Smith say about merchants getting together? Cooperation undermines a market and is usually illegal. For a market to work the traders must not cooperate. They do have to be in contact in order to negotiate (truck, barter and exchange) but to call that “cooperation” is to drain the meaning from the word. It is like saying two armies cooperate by turning up for the battle.

    There is a version of “I Pencil” on the internet which carries endorsing remarks by Milton Friedman. Years ago, I looked carefully and found that Read does not use the word cooperation to describe the complex web of interactions needed to manufacture a pencil but Friedman does. You could call it sloppy thinking but with a propagandist like Friedman it looks calculated. Cooperation is a nice word and he was probably irritated that the left seems to own it so he appropriated it. It is believable that Hayek and Coase might claim markets and hierarchy are means of cooperation; I would be interested to see specific evidence.

    As Hayek and others never tire of pointing out, the resource distribution efficacy of the market is a marvellous thing, a wonder to behold. It works if, and only if, cooperation is strictly excluded. The news this morning is that the ACCC is going to allow (!) supermarkets to cooperate – that’s the ACCC’s word – to ensure supplies during the corona crisis.

    (ii) Hierarchy. Is hierarchy cooperative? Strictly, yes, for in a hierarchy people cooperate with their superior. However that is behind the scences. Your sense, in relation to the market, is “regulation” and that is coercive, not cooperative. You, along with Hayek and Coase, are distinguishing, and opposing, regulation and the free market and an important task of that regulation is to PREVENT cooperation.

    Regulation is necessarily by a hierarchy. It is good if a hierarchy includes cooperation for that would be more efficient than if its members only obeyed through fear. But this is another matter; this cooperation is within the hierarchy, not in the economy. Firms competing in the free market are also cooperative, and hierarchical, internally.

    I once wrote (not on Troppo) that the economists who favoured hierarchy had died out with the Methodenstreit at the end of the 19th century. A couple of people told me Coase would be an exception so I looked into him. I came to the conclusion that he was actually very much for markets, though possibly not as enthusiastically as Hayek.

    Hayek saw socialism and its attendant government regulation as the road to serfdom. The subsequent history in Europe surely shows he was wrong. Any extremism – socialism, free market, or fascism – would be a road to oppression.

    Hierarchy is not studied. There is a substantial literature on bureaucracy but hierarchy itself is not discussed. How many ranks should there be? What actually is rank? Why is the ranking system so often explicitly divided into an upper, or officer, class and lower non-officers? It should be rich research territory to explicate the nature of inter-rank relations both on duty and off duty (e.g., when the brigadier plays billiards with the lieutenants) but it seems no one does. Everyone involved understands how it works but power and authority are vitiated by talk so it is not analysed. Mentions of hierarchy seem to consist solely of criticism from outsiders who don’t like it. Every academic complains about the rules and instructions stemming from the university administration but no academic studies the phenomenon itself. Hierarchy is a mighty sociological lacuna.

    A hierarchy has a pyramid structure of tiered ranks. The authorised interactions are that individuals compete with their peers, coerce their subordinates and cooperate with their superior. Hierarchy characterises bureaucracy with its titles and remuneration schedules and is expressed most overtly in security organisations with their uniforms (showing everyone is the same) and badges of rank (showing how people differ) and medals (showing how each person is performing). With social animals, it may be that wherever three or more are gathered together, there is an incipient hierarchy. Foucault reckoned that two people made a hierarchy but, again, that is a trivialisation which drains meaning.

    Hierarchy has nothing to do with markets. But a market can only function with regulation and regulation requires a hierarchy.

    Market and regulation aren’t enough to describe the economy. Economists recognise the “third sector” (NGOs and charities where cooperation pervades) and the division into these three really is a great theme of economics. At


    I recently listed 12 thinkers who have explicated the three along with their specific words and expressions. They are extracted from a paper by economist Rick Wicks who includes many more than on that list. I could myself add a dozen more.

    Those scholars are of stature comparable with Hayek and Coase. So Hayek, Coase (and you) are out-voted. Moreover, Wicks presents the actual evidence which for some theorists includes more than one triplet. The vocabulary is very varied but the evidence is (a) that there are three ways people can interact pro-actively and (b) that these three ways do actually form a great theme of economics and other social sciences.

    Well – all that on your first sentence.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Thanks Mike

      Happy if you proceed.

      Of the passage you quoted, you can agree or disagree about the first sentence. Clearly the burden of what I’m getting at in the second sentence – that the distinction between hierarchies and markets as a means of cooperation is central to Hayek and Coase.

      As for the rest of it, you clearly think that words have the meanings that you plausibly give them, irrespective of context. So you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to remonstrate with me but I’m afraid it’s a case of non-contactamundo.

      You need to find a way to understand and address the ideas I was trying to express.

  2. Nicholas
    Small point, the post republican Roman world was very top down , questioning the status of the emperor was good for your health .
    Christianity adapted to the realities of Roman world. Prior to Constantine and the needs created by becoming an official state religion ,the faith was really very diverse.

  3. Nicholas Gruen says:

    This was written by the German Hans Ritschl in 1931 (and though we might read it as if he were a proto-Nazi, he was actually a left of centre Christian Democrat.

    We are all alike born into the community ofthe nation and the citizenship of the State. The history and fortunes of State and nation are common to us. The images through which we understand this bond all derive from the closest blood ties. The fatherland and the mother tong~ make us all brethren together. Anyone is welcome to the exchange society who obeys its regulations. But to the national community belong only the men and women of the same speech, of the same ilk, the same mind. They have in common love of their homeland, of its mountains, woods and rivers, its villages and cities; they have in common the great figures of its past, the same hatred and suspicion of the “hereditary” enemy; they have in common joy of victory, the sacrifice oftheir sons, maternal sorrow, the griefofdefeat and the bitterness ofbondage. “All for each and each for all” is the motto ofcommunity. But the exchange society’s motto is “Chacun pour soi, Dieu pour nous tous.” Through the veins of society streams the one, same money; through those of community the same blood.

  4. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Another German – I’m reading a few of them right now ” ON TAXATION

    The general necessity of individual contributions to the community rests not on arbitrary individual decision, but on the essentially dual nature of human personality, with its communal and individual aspects. The concept of taxation, on the other hand, depends upon the emergence of the idea of the State. The first process occurs without anyone being conscious of it, the second is not conceivable until man achieves consciousness of the nature, functions and powers of the State. So long as a community follows only its own natural laws and thereby evolves from abstract community into concrete society, the differences in the amount and disttibution of individual contributions are ~ue to the nature of the social order. The laws of social life do indeed impose some kind of order on these contributions, but it is an order determined and enforced by the ruling class in its own interest, rather than one deriving from a consistent body of law and independent administration, as implied by the idea of the State. Such contributions never constitute taxation, but an exaction, the form of which may vary greatly according to the social order. All this changes with the ascendancy of the idea of the State as a free association of equal citizens.

  5. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Truth lives, in fact, for the most part on a credit system. Our thoughits and beliefs ‘pass’ so long as nothing challenges them, just as bank notes pass so long as nobody refuses them. But this all points to direct face-to-face verifications somewhere, without which the fabric of truth collapses like a financial system with no cash basis whatever. You accept my verification of one thing, I yours of another. We trade on each other’s truth. Beliefs verified concretely by somebody are the posts of the whole superstructure. …

    Between the coercions of the sensible order and those of the ideal order, our mind is thus wedged tightly. Our ideas must agree with realities, be such realities concrete or abstract, be they facts or be they principles, under penalty of endless inconsistency and frustration. …

    All human thinking gets discursified …

    This regulative notion of a potential better truth to be established later, possibly to be established some day absolutely, and having powers of retroactive legislation, turns its face, like all pragmatist notions, towards concreteness of fact and towards the future. Like the half-truths, the absolute truth will have to be made, made as a relation incidental to the growth of a mass of verification-experience, to which the half-true ideas are all along contributing their quota. I have already insisted on the fact that truth is made largely out of previous truths. Men’s beliefs at any time are so much experience funded. But they are themselves parts of the sum total of the world’s experience, and become matter, therefore, for the next day’s funding operations.

    William James, PRAGMATISM’S CONCEPTION OF TRUTH’, emphasis in original

  6. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I observe, that it will be for my interest to leave another in the possession of his goods, provided he act in the same manner with regard to me. . . . And this may properly be call’d a convention. . . . [T]he stability of possession . . . arises gradually, and acquires force by a slow progression, and by our repeated experience of the inconveniences of transgressing it. . . . In like manner are languages gradually establish’d by human conventions without any promise. In like manner do gold and silver become the common measures of exchange.

    David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Volume II (1739)

  7. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Note the link because ‘atomistic’ social arrangements – by which I mean no more than some sense of the equality of all as ‘selves’ is a precondition for the collective outcome – which is self-guided collective action – validated by consent – and the superiority of that.

    Without justifying this suggestion here – these are notes to myself – this brings to mind the warp and weft of the generative order – accounting (reflecting self-report of reality) and audit (testing its ‘objectivity’ or alignment with others’ sense of reality)

    I suggest that to distinguish between person and self is useful as a pathway to understanding collective action. Where oppression and autocracy are the cen- tral operative principles of an organization, those in power will socially repro- duce their privileged position by upholding a notion of a commoner person as a subaltern category. This is an irrational person incapable of social morality or other kinds of analytical reasoning. Hence, the persons most responsible for the governance of society will be restricted to an elite who alone are perceived to pos- sess the requisite moral capacity, training, and experience. A cultural design for cooperation, however, that aims to be inclusive, will embrace a more uniformitar- ian folk theory of mind that transforms subaltern to citizen. In a uniformitar- ian folk theory, all adult group members are considered to have the capacity for the moral reasoning of the socially intelligent conditional cooperator. An impli- cation of this idea is that, potentially, recruitment into positions of governing authority can be opened to persons of all social statuses. This is like Robert Dahl’s (1989: 105) “Strong Principle of Equality,” in which every adult “member of an association is sufficiently well qualified, taken all around, to participate in making binding collective decisions.”

    From: How Humans Cooperate: Confronting the Challenges of Collective Action, by Richard E. Blanton with Lane F. Fargher

  8. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Likewise from the same reference as before.

    “The fundamental theoretical problem underlying the question of coop- eration is the manner by which individuals attain knowledge of each others’ preferences and likely behavior.” (N. Schofield 1985: 218)
    To produce cooperative groups “individuals must be highly visible to one another in order to reduce the severity of the free-rider and assurance problems.” (Hechter 1990b: 21) …

    Schofield’s point, from the quote above, that cooperation depends on knowledge of other’s likely behavior, and Hechter’s reference to the importance of intervisibility, are useful starting points for visual-themed theory-building. But the direct intervis- ibility alluded to by Hechter will be an extremely costly option outside of small- group contexts, so my focus in this section will be on how knowledge of other’s likely behavior can be gained effectively in spite of large social scale.

    I’m not a big fan of neologisms, but I like ‘intervisibility’. And it sits nicely with Bentham’s notion of the authoritarian one way visibility of all – the panopticon.

  9. Nicholas Gruen says:

    The maintenance and growth of dynamic order in society entails a kind of liberty that goes far beyond the claims of personal freedom. Individuals, participating in the building up of a dynamic order, all act independently. They are not fulfilling another’s instructions, elaborating details of another person’s scheme, as is the subordinate official’s duty. On the contrary, any specific desire of any other person, regarding the course of their future action, would be rejected by such an individual as improper, and injurious to his own function. Presented with the entire scope of a situation calling for initiative, and judgment of a higher order, he must be given freedom to act according to his own conviction.

    This freedom is in many ways the opposite of private freedom. This freedom is in many ways the opposite of private freedom. It is not meant for the satisfaction of the desire to be left alone, or to do as you please. A judge may enjoy discharging his office, but that is not the purpose of granting him independence. The scientist’s passion for research gives him immense satisfaction, but that is a poor reason for giving him the security of academic freedom. Nor should any business man in the modern world believe that his property rights over capital are given him for his pleasure. The freedom with which we are concerned here is not for the sake of the individual at all, but for the benefit of the community in which dynamic systems of order are to be maintained. It is freedom with a responsible purpose; a privilege combined with duties, as exacting as any that are shouldered by man. It may well be called, therefore, Public Liberty-as opposed to Private Freedom.

    Polanyi, M., 1941. The growth of thought in society. Economica, 8(32), pp.428-456, p. 438. (Emphasis added).

  10. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I ran into this from Vaclav Havel, which points out the way in which thoroughly pernicious aspects of culture travel in a similar way. This draws our attention to what might be called the ‘ethical integrity’ of the culture itself. Culture is a substrate on which life is led. Is the culture conducive to human freedom and development or antithetical to it. The discussion is about two people – a greengrocer and an office worker – both having the expected propaganda sign “workers of the world unite” in their workplace.

    The woman who ignored the greengrocer’s slogan may well have hung a similar slogan just an hour before in the corridor of the office where she works. She did it more or less without thinking, just as our greengrocer did, and she could do so precisely because she was doing it against the background of the general panorama and with some awareness of it, that is, against the background of the panorama of which the greengrocer’s shop window forms a part. When the greengrocer visits her office, he will not notice her slogan either, just as she failed to notice his. Nevertheless, their slogans are mutually dependent: both were displayed with some awareness of the general panorama and, we might say, under its diktat. Both, however, assist in the creation of that panorama, and therefore they assist in the creation of that diktat as well. The greengrocer and the office worker have both adapted to the conditions in which they live, but in doing so, they help to create those conditions. They do what is done, what is to be done, what must be done, but at the same time-by that very token-they confirm that it must be done in fact. They conform to a particular requirement and in so doing they themselves perpetuate that requirement. Metaphysically speaking, without the greengrocer’s slogan the office worker’s slogan could not exist, and vice versa. Each proposes to the other that something be repeated and each accepts the other’s proposal. Their mutual indifference to each other’s slogans is only an illusion: in reality, by exhibiting their slogans, each compels the other to accept the rules of the game and to confirm thereby the power that requires the slogans in the first place. Quite simply, each helps the other to be obedient. Both are objects in a system of control, but at the same time they are its subjects as well. They are both victims of the system and its instruments.

    If an entire district town is plastered with slogans that no one reads, it is on the one hand a message from the district secretary to the regional secretary, but it is also something more: a small example of the principle of social auto-totality at work. Part of the essence of the post-totalitarian system is that it draws everyone into its sphere of power, not so they may realize themselves as human beings, but so they may surrender their human identity in favor of the identity of the system, that is, so they may become agents of the system’s general automatism and servants of its self-determined goals, so they may participate in the common responsibility for it, so they may be pulled into and ensnared by it, like Faust by Mephistopheles. More than this: so they may create through their involvement a general norm and, thus, bring pressure to bear on their fellow citizens. And further: so they may learn to be comfortable with their involvement, to identify with it as though it were something natural and inevitable and, ultimately, so they may-with no external urging-come to treat any non-involvement as an abnormality, as arrogance, as an attack on themselves, as a form of dropping out of society. By pulling everyone into its power structure, the posttotalitarian system makes everyone an instrument of a mutual totality, the auto-totality of society.

    Everyone, however, is in fact involved and enslaved, not only the greengrocers but also the prime ministers. Differing positions in the hierarchy merely establish differing degrees of involvement: the greengrocer is involved only to a minor extent, but he also has very little power. The prime minister, naturally, has greater power, but in return he is far more deeply involved. Both, however, are unfree, each merely in a somewhat different way. The real accomplice in this involvement, therefore, is not another person, but the system itself.

  11. Nicholas Gruen says:

    And this from a very different source:

    At elite conferences, they wonder how to regain trust, or otherwise deal with the rising atmosphere of populist discontent. They acknowledge that something is deeply wrong. But they dare not lay the blame at their own feet, caused by their own overreaches and dysfunction. Anyone who did would immediately be under suspicion. No longer one of us, but one of them. So, those who might otherwise lead the difficult but necessary elite self-critique instead keep their mouths shut, or they say the wrong thing without ideological, psychological, and social preparation for the consequences and get cast out. Only the true believers incapable of self-critique, the incompetent, and the cynics, remain as voices in the public forum. They talk in circles, never quite able to correct course and come to any new conclusions, except the need to double down on current ideological practices.

    And this:

    I spent 10 years of my life writing. I wrote neighbourhood plans, partnership strategies, the Local Area Agreement, stretch targets, the Sustainable Community Strategy, sub regional infrastructure plans, funding bids, monitoring documents, the Council Plan and service plans. These documents describe the performance of local government and its partners.

    I have a confession to make. Much of it was made up. It was fudged, spun, copied and pasted, cobbled together and attractively formatted. I told lies in themes, lies in groups, lies in pairs, strategic lies, operational lies, cross cutting lies. I wrote hundreds of pages of nonsense. Some of it was my own, but most of it was collated from my colleagues across the organisation and brought together into a single document. As a policy, partnerships and performance officer in local government, this was my speciality and my profession.

    Why did I do it? I did this because it was my job.

  12. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Note to self — here’s Oscar Morgenstern observing the difference between the natural and social sciences. Note the multiplicity of purposes.

    The reviewing of books is a matter of importance, responsibility, and difficulty in any field of scientific activity, but is an especially troublesome task in the social sciences. The reason is that the body of established doctrine is not very well determined so that the personal equation assumes undue significance. In other sciences the goal toward which scientific efforts are directed may be clearly discernible, while in our field a good deal depends upon the selection made out of a great number of possible goals. They can be approached by such a multitude of means and methods that a fair appraisal and complete understanding of the endeavour of the scholar is not always assured. Differences of such kind no doubt account for much of the confusion that has always marked economic discussions; and only later, when the purposes of the particular investigations as well as the bases upon which they rest become more clearly discernible, can greater unity be achieved.

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