Classic Sources on Emergent Order

Ferguson, Adam. An Essay on the History of Civil Society, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1980 (1767). 280 pp.

A pioneering description of how social order can arise that is “the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.” (p. 122) Though the term did not yet exist, Ferguson applies these ideas to the field of sociology.

Mandeville, Bernard. The Fable of the Bees: or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, 2 vols. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988 (1722, 1728). V. I. 558 pp, V. II. 486 pp.

In Hayek’s words, Mandeville made “the definitive breakthrough in modern thought of the twin ideas of evolution and of the spontaneous formation of an order. . . Perhaps in no case did he precisely show how an order formed itself without design, but he made it abundantly clear that it did, and thereby raised the questions to which theoretical analysis, first in the social sciences and later in biology, could address itself.” (Hayek on “Dr Bernard Mandeville”, pp. 250-1). The most important part of Mandeville’s work for this bibliography is volume II.

Paine, Thomas. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Common Sense and Other Political Writings, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, 504 pp.

The opening of Paine’s The Rights of Man contains a very clear as well as early description of how order arises in society without recourse to controlling authority. This is simply one of many editions where one can find The Rights of Man.

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 2 vols., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976 (1776)

The classic statement of economic theory which first brought to widespread attention the importance of emergent order or, as Smith put it, invisible hand” explanations.

Smith, Adam. Considerations Concerning the First Formation of Languages, Adam Smith: Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Letters, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983 (1761). Pp. 203-26.

Smith’s analysis of how language can arise through what we would call emergent processes.

Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, vol. I., New York: Schocken Books, 1961.

Volume one of Democracy in America contains several descriptions of Tocqueville’s finding order where initially chaos and confusion abound in a political and social system without over arching control, as “The appearance of disorder which prevails on the surface, leads him [a European visitor] at first to imagine society is in a state of anarchy; nor does he perceive his mistake until he has gone deeper into the subject.” (p. 89)

Titles not yet annotated:

Hume, David.

Kames, Lord (Henry Home)

Millar, John.