Thomas Paine, Ralph Waldo Emerson on Spontaneous Order
Thomas Paine, in “Rights of Man” writes:
Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. The landholder, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and every occupation, prospers by the aid which each receives from the other, and from the whole. Common interest regulates their concerns, and forms their law; and the laws which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws of government. In fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to government.
And in “A Speech on Affairs in Kansas,” commenting on the not so “Wild Wild West,” Ralph Waldo Emerson says:
I am glad to see that the terror at disunion and anarchy is disappearing. Massachusetts, in its heroic day, had no government – was an anarchy. Every man stood on his own feet, was his own governor; and there was no breach of peace from Cape Cod to Mount Hoosac. California, a few years ago, by the testimony of all people at that time in the country, had the best government that ever existed. Pans of gold lay drying outside of every man’s tent, in perfect security. The land was measured into little strips of a few feet wide, all side by side. A bit of ground that your hand could cover was worth one or two hundred dollars, on the edge of your strip; and there was no dispute. Every man throughout the country was armed with knife and revolver, and it was known that instant justice would be administered to each offence, and perfect peace reigned. For the Saxon man, when he is well awake, is not a pirate but a citizen, all made of hooks and eyes, and links himself naturally to his brothers, as bees hook themselves to one another and to their queen in a loyal swarm.
What these Paine and Emerson passages really explain is the true anarchic nature of order in society. Not only does it not come from the top-down might of a centralized government, but in fact that government-imposed “order” is no order at all and is directly detrimental to human cooperation.
This is because order is a horizontally-structured, decentralized phenomenon, a result of the combination of individual and rational self-interest and commercial interaction in the marketplace.
It is spontaneous, too complex and unpredictable to be centrally-planned or managed, anarchic, and fundamentally stateless.
The Internet, manners, customs, language, the scientific method, the thousands of mutual-aid organizations, property rights, voluntary exchange and business transactions; these are all examples of spontaneous market order that tends to emerge without taxation or coercive state power.
This idea, supported by Paine and Emerson and thousands of other classical liberals, is the key to a more orderly, peaceful, prosperous, and just civilization.