Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ruth Bendict, Spontaneous Order Theorist

Austrian economists ought to familiarize themselves with the work of anthroplogist Ruth Benedict. Her book, Patterns of Culture argues that cultures are, essentially, spontaneous orders (though she does not use the term). Consider the following quote, wherein Benedict argues that the integration of the various parts of a culture into that particular culture

is not in the least mystical. It is the same process by which a style in art comes into being and persists. Gothic architecture, beginning in what was hardly more than a preference for altitude and light, became, by the operation of some canon of taste that developed within its technique, the unique and homogeneous art of the thirteenth century. It discarded elements that were incongruous, modified others to its purposes, and inverted otehrs that accorded with its taste. When we describe the process historically, we inevitably use animistic forms of expression as if there were choice and purpose in the growth of this great art-form. But this is due to the difficulty in our language-forms. There was no conscious choice, and no purpose. What was at first no more than a slight bias in local forms and techniques expressed itself more and more forcibly, integrated itself in more and more definite standards, and eventuated in Gothic art.

What has happened in the great art-styles happens also in cultures as a whole. All the miscellaneous behavior directed toward getting a living, mating, warring, and woshipping the gods, is made over into consistent patterns in accordance with unconscious canons of choice that develop within the culture. (47-8)

What we see here is art as a spontaneous order. She also mentions the catallaxy (getting a living), the institution of marriage, the political order and instituttions (warring), and the religious order and institutions (worshipping the gods), but if we generalized this out, we would see the same arguments made for language, morals, technology, science, etc. These are network effects resulting in a variety of orders and institutions within those orders.

I am currently reading Benedict's Patterns of Culture, and I must say that so far I keep seeing her describing spontaneous order after spontaneous order. If Austrians have not yet discovered her work, they should.

No comments:

Post a Comment