On the Scottish Enlightenment

by Don Boudreaux on April 13, 2009

in Complexity & Emergence

Here's a letter that I sent recently to the Wall Street Journal:

Bravo to the letter writers who challenge Thomas Frank's denigration of
"eighteenth-century man" (Letters, April 11).  The 18th century gave us
history's most momentous advance in the social sciences.  I speak here
of the Scottish Enlightenment, led by David Hume and Adam Smith.  These
thinkers were the first fully to grasp the fact that complex and
productive social order emerges from – and can emerge only from –
millions upon millions of individual actions of countless persons, each
of whom aims to achieve only very localized goals.  These Enlightened
Scots taught us not only that a peaceful and productive society
requires no great planner or overseer, but also that efforts to
enthrone any such planner or overseer inevitably lead to poverty and
tyranny.

Alas, far too many twenty-first century men, such as Mr. Frank, remain insufficiently astute to learn this lesson.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

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