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George Will on Matt Ridley – and Both on the “Foolish ‘Theism’ of Government Enthusiasts”

In his latest column, George Will is inspired by Matt Ridley’s latest book, The Evolution of Everything, to explain the ubiquity of spontaneous-ordering forces – and to sing their praises, especially as to how both the operation and the results of these forces compare with the operation and the results of attempts, by hubris-drunk humans, to override or to replace these forces with conscious human designs and direction.  Some slices:

Presidential campaigns inflate expectations that power wielded from government’s pinnacle will invigorate the nation. Thus campaigns demonstrate that creationists threaten the creative ferment that produces social improvement. Not religious creationists, who are mistaken but inconsequential. It is secular creationists whose social costs are steep.


Ridley applies to everything the perspective of Leonard E. Read’s famous 1958 essay “I, Pencil.” In it a pencil explains that “I am a mystery” because not a single person knows how to make me. The seemingly simple pencil is wood harvested by loggers using saws and ropes made elsewhere, wood transported by trucks and trains made by many thousands of people, to mills where machines — the products of ore mined by thousands and steel mills staffed by thousands more — prepare the wood to receive graphite mined abroad and the eraser from foreign rubber, held in place by aluminum mined somewhere and smelted somewhere else, before lacquer (castor beans and other ingredients) is applied, and. . . .

Behind a pencil stand millions of cooperating people, but no mastermind. Which is why worshipers in the church of government, the source of top-down authority, disparage a free society’s genius for spontaneous order: It limits the importance of government and other supposed possessors of the expertise that supposedly is essential for imposing order from above.