Social creationism

One of the many, many great contributions Friedrich Hayek made to civilization was his decades-long attack on constructivism, a.k.a. constructivist rationalism, “a conception which assumes that all social institutions are, and ought to be, the product of deliberate design.” [source] He wrote about it in book after book but outside of a fairly narrow scholarly circle the idea is not very popular. One of the reasons is that few people have the time or inclination to wade through the sources. Another reason is that the name isn’t very catchy.

I’ve been using another term for it for a few years in private conversation: social creationism. The metaphor is apt, I think, and more likely to be understood. Creationism as a theory about the natural world is scoffed at (correctly) by most people, at least most people whose trade is ideas, but paradoxically many of these people think the world of human institutions is “the product of deliberate design” and push to remake it in their own images. It’s a rare thinker who consistently acknowledges the evolutionary development of social institutions and the exceedingly complex interplay between them.

The error comes partly from people observing that some institutions, e.g. legislation or university policies, are deliberately designed, and assuming that the same kind of telos operates on a wider scale. First, there is no one intelligence behind all institutions. Not even The Protocols of the Elders of Zion attributed that much power to its supervillains. Second, even if it were true that each institution were deliberately designed, the complex web of interactions, reactions, adjustments, etc. in a world with free will would make the overall final product different from what was intended. Just as biological entities develop and change and weren’t created in one pass, the final product of human interaction, society, is beyond anybody’s capacity to bring about.

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2 thoughts on “Social creationism

  1. Pingback: Contra Hayek, Maybe: The Intellectuals and Christianity | Randall F. McElroy III

  2. Pingback: Housing supply and demand in New Zealand | Randall F. McElroy III

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