Cato Unbound: Hayek and the Common Law

Lynne Kiesling

This month’s issue of Cato Unbound has a topic that sits at the core of the issues of interest here: Hayek’s concept of spontaneous order, its universality, and its applicability to orders beyond market processes, including the common law.

Examples abound. No one individual or committee sets market prices; those who have tried have always failed. No designer created the English language, and artificial languages have never met with any great success. Scientific discovery through repeated experiment causes truth to emerge, but scientific truth is not forged through rationalistic design. Instead, it is a product of many uncoordinated searches, serendipity, and replication across the scientific community.

Timothy Sandefur’s lead article lays out what he sees as four problems with Hayek’s normative conclusions arising from his analysis of spontaneous (or, as I prefer, emergent) social orders and the processes by which they evolve. John Hasnas, Dan Klein, and Bruce Caldwell provide responses to Sandefur’s argument. Taken as a whole, these four articles provide a thoughtful and thorough critical examination of Hayek’s arguments. If you have any interest in legal and regulatory institutions and the processes by which they evolve, these articles are well worth reading and thinking about carefully.