Saturday, October 23, 2010

Joseph Conrad's Praxeology

Joseph Conrad's Praxeology by Cox at -- an excerpt from "Literature and the Economics of Liberty: Spontaneous Order in Culture".

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I would like to officially welcome Allen Mendenhall and Dario Fernandez-Morera as regular contributors. Dario Fernandez-Morera contributed to Literature and the Economics of Liberty, and Allen Mendenhall writes on law and literature at The Literary Lawyer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mises Institute

We were just mentioned on

And we are listed on their Outside Links.

Also, check out this on Paul Cantor at Mises.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa wins Nobel literature prize

Classical liberal writer Mario Vargas Llosa today won the Nobel prize in literature. Seeing as there are very few literary writers who are also supporters of the free market, this is cause for celebration indeed.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Shelley, Spontaneous Order, Beauty

Rereading Percy Bysshe Shelley's Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, I noticed in the first stanza that Shelley seems to be describing a spontaneous order:

The awful shadow of some unseen Power
Floats through unseen among us, -- visiting
This various world with as inconstant wing
As summer winds that creep from flower to flower, --
Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,
It visits with inconstant glance
Each human heart and countenance;
Like hues and harmonies of evening, --
Like clouds in starlight widely spread, --
Like memory of music fled, --
Like aught that for its grace may be
Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.

This certainly sounds like Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand," or Hayek's Spontaneous Order. Most striking is that Shelley connects this to beauty:

Spirit of Beauty, that dost consecrate
With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
Of human thought or form, -- where art thou gone?

In connection to this, I would direct you to my posting where I connect beauty and spontaneous order.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the poet who said that "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" in his A Defense of Poetry should have had this insight.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Beauty and the Spontaneous Order

Beautiful works of art and literature help us to both understand and live well within spontaneous social orders. Indeed, beauty may be the missing piece that has caused us to feel alienated within these orders. We do not have to feel that way.

In "On Beauty" Elaine Scarry argues that beauty brings us to justice because of beauty’s attention to symmetry, leading us to an understanding of “a symmetry of everyone’s relation to one another” (97, quoting John Rawls from "A Theory of Justice"). While symmetry is certainly part of beauty, it is in fact only one half of beauty, the other half being asymmetry. A perfectly symmetrical tree would be a ball on a column – hardly beautiful (equating symmetry with beauty also denies the fact that Japanese works, which focus on asymmetry, are also beautiful). Rather, a beautiful tree is one that has symmetry, yes, but also is ragged around the edges, uneven in its evenness, even in its unevenness. If this is the case, justice may in fact be distributive, as Scarry argues, but it cannot be purely symmetrical, as Scarry implies. Rather, it would exhibit qualities of symmetry and asymmetry simultaneously – as network theory in fact says happens in complex network systems. It seems likely that spontaneous orders are the only systems capable of exhibiting such qualities – and of doing so without prejudice. This claim would be strengthened if it turned out that spontaneous orders were, themselves, beautiful.

One aspect of spontaneous orders is that they allow for equal access to all (which is far different from equal outcome, as outcomes depend on many different things). In a truly spontaneous legal order, for example, there is equality under the law. In a truly spontaneous economic order, there is an equal ability to enter into economic transactions, broadly defined. Scarry observes that “the equality of beauty” in part resides “in its generously being present, widely present, to almost all people at almost all times” (108-9). Beauty is accessible to all, though the more engaged one is with the beautiful object, the more benefits one derives from it, the more beautiful it becomes. The same is also true of participation in spontaneous orders.

We see, using two different ways of defining both beauty and the nature of spontaneous order, a commonality: paradox. A beautiful object must be both symmetrical and asymmetrical. To have a just legal order, one must have equal treatment under the law (laws applying to all people equally), resulting in unequal outcomes. Contrariwise, to get equal outcomes, you must treat people unequally and, as a consequence, unjustly – as Vonnegut brilliantly demonstrated in “Harrison Bergeron.” The affirmation of paradox seems to lie at the heart of both the nature of beauty and of spontaneous orders. Beauty must contain both complexity and simplicity. Simple rules and feedback generate complex spontaneous orders (see diZerega, Hayek, and also Stephen Wolfram’s The Making of a New Science). Indeed, feedback, or reflexivity, is another feature of beauty. Both beautiful objects and spontaneous orders are ordered, evolutionary (changing over time), rule-based, simultaneously digital and analog, generative and creative (as Scarry also argues of beauty), scale-free hierarchies (what Turner calls heterarchies in The Culture of Hope) in structure, patterned/rhythmic, unified in their multiplicity, synergistic, novel, irreducible, unpredictable, and coherent (see Turner’s The Culture of Hope on these qualities of beauty and Christian Fuchs on these qualities of self-organizing systems). It seems, as I note in my book Diaphysics, that “there is a correlation between self-organizing complex systems and beauty. Each have the same attributes.” More, “all beautiful objects are information-generating systems. And to the extent that something is a self-organizing system, it is beautiful” (84).

If one of the problems with understanding spontaneous orders is that they are more complex than we are, we being nodes within the network, and a less complex entity cannot fully understand a system more complex than itself (Hayek, The Sensory Order, 185), then understanding the relationship between spontaneous orders and the nature of beauty (especially in regards to the internal structures of beautiful things, and how they interact to create the beautiful whole) could help us to understand the nature of spontaneous orders. More, learning to better appreciate and understand beauty – whether in nature or in works of art, music, literature, etc. – should help each of us to learn how to better live within the extended order and positively contribute to its health and growth. This then brings us back to the importance of the liberal arts. Plato saw beauty as a sort of master concept informing all the other concepts (or, ideas, to come closer to the Greek word) (Phaedrus). As we see here, there is much truth to that – and, as Keats reminds us, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” (“Ode on a Grecian Urn”). The truth-seeking orders, such as the scientific order, are more truth-seeking the more they are truly spontaneous orders – which is to say, the more beautiful they are. “Virtue aims at the beautiful” according to Aristotle (Nicomachian Ethics), and more goodness emerges out of the moral order the more it is a truly spontaneous order. And if beauty is fair, and the fair is just (Scarry), the closer the legal and the democratic orders are to being truly spontaneous orders, the more just they and the extended order will be. In fact, if beauty, truth, virtue, and justice are indeed so deeply related, it logically follows that spontaneous social orders, being beautiful, are going to generate people who are truthful, virtuous, and just – and if these are elements not typically associated with the market order, this is a failure as much of the critics of the market order as it is of the economy having yet become a full spontaneous order – or, more, the almost complete failure of money to have become a spontaneous order (which only serves to undermine the catallaxy).

If we come to embrace beauty, which is, as Frederick Turner observes, the “value of values” (Beauty), we can come to feel at home in the extended order. We evolved in the midst of an evolutionary drama – and this is precisely what a spontaneous order is (Turner, 131). We can find beauty in the social spontaneous orders precisely because they have all the qualities of the evolved, evolving natural ecosystem. Ironically, precisely as our social world has become more and more a set of spontaneous orders within the extended order, we have abandoned beauty as a value – thus cutting ourselves off from the very thing that would have helped us know how we fit in. As Roger Scruton says in Beauty, “When we are attracted by the harmony, order, and serenity of nature, so as to feel at home in it and confirmed by it, then we speak of its beauty” (72). While I would argue against the inclusion of “serenity,” certainly the other two, and the list I gave above, equate beauty and spontaneous orders. Educated in beauty, we could learn to feel at home in the universe, including our spontaneous orders.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Immanent Criticism in the Artistic Orders

The relationship between works of art and criticism evolved over time, eventually becoming a spontaneous order. In the oral tradition, the poet would have had immediate audience feedback, to which he would have adjusted his performance. The critic was the audience. IN many cased, they directly participated in the performance. When the arts became increasingly specialized, a full-fledged spontaneous order emerged. Outside of buying and selling, the readers/viewers/lsiteners ceased being critics -- precisely because there was little face-to-face feedback. The artists were freed to be more adventurous, and the professional critic arose to explain to everyone -- reader/viewer/listener and artist alike -- what it was they were encountering. In this way, criticsm provides feedback -- but the question is if it acts within the spontaneous order, or if it acts as imminent criticism which arises out of the spontaneous order of the arts. For example, Reader Response criticism makes sense as being immanent criticism if the reader is included in the literary spontaneous order. Art criticism is imminent criticism if it address the complete order. Thus, reader response, canon criticism, cultural criticism, etc. that take on the system as a whole, or at least consider individual works as parts within that whole, represent imminent criticism, while critical stances that dealt with individual works might more aptly be included within the spontaneous order itself. If we were to place this kind of criticism within the spontaneous order, then metacriticism would be included in the realm of imminent criticism. For example, one might consider Frederick Turner's "The Culture of Hope," "Beauty," and "Natural Classicism" immanent criticism, but essays and collections that deal with specific works, like "Literature and the Economics of Liberty," Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox, eds. as being within the spontaneous order itself (although the introductory essay by Cantor would more properly be considered immanent criticism).

Friday, October 1, 2010

What Should Literary Austrians Be Doing?

What should Literary Austrians (to coin a term) be doing? Doing Misesian analyses of characters' actions? Trying to understand the sociological/spontaneous order origins of storytelling, genre, etc.? Trying to explain, using spontaneous order and entrepreneurial theory, why some works of literature are successful, and why others fail? Finding hints of Austrian-style (and other free market) economic understanding in works of literature? (Others I'm not thinking of at the moment?) Some combination thereof?