All entries for Tuesday 03 May 2005

May 03, 2005

Smith on Organising Society

Looking though Frederick Hayek’s Law, Legislation and Liberty, I saw quoted (in the introduction to Chapter Two) this passage from Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.

[A policymaker] seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

It should be obvious that each person holds different opinions, has different aims in life and differing hierarchies of values. It’s evident when we have arguments over who should get the front seat in a car, and equally so when it comes to the more important issues of electing leaders. For this reason people should be sceptical of any organisation claiming it can achieve a given goal with certainty. It’s the height of arrogance to think members of society can be ‘organised’ like mere pawns. Such arrogance shouldn’t be rewarded with our unquestioning support.

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