Beware of Social Engineers

by Don Boudreaux on May 25, 2010

in Civil Society, Complexity & Emergence, Seen and Unseen

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

David Brooks correctly argues that the Scottish Enlightenment, more so than the French Enlightenment, provides a deep understanding of the nature of society (“Two Theories of Change,” May 25).  He’s correct also to identify David Hume and Adam Smith as being among the greatest leaders of the Scottish Enlightenment.  But the most descriptive phrase that captures the wisdom of these 18th-century Scots comes from a lesser known, but nevertheless important, founder of this Scottish intellectual tradition: Adam Ferguson (1723-1816).

Ferguson described civilization – including each component part, such as language, law, and the economy – as being “the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.”*  Failure to understand not only that undesigned social orders are real, but also that these undesigned orders are superior to any arrangements that could be consciously designed and engineered, is perhaps the greatest source of tyranny and disorder of the past 200 years.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

* Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), Part Third, Sec. II, Para. 7.

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