Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I am a cosmos

Although I use the terms myself—for variety if nothing else—I have never been entirely comfortable with the designations "left" and "right" to explain political attitudes; similarly, I find "liberal" and "authoritarian" somewhat simplstic. I have kept in my mind, from my schooldays, the image of political affiliation as a torus and this seems to me the best way to think about such things; however, it is impossible to refer, practically, to a point on said ring.

Thus, it is with some interest that I note Chris Dillow's use of the Hayekian "cosmos" and "taxis".
In the Speccie, Fraser Nelson quotes Phil Collins, a former Blair speechwriter: “the key dividing line in politics is ‘no longer between left and right’ but ‘between liberal and authoritarian’.”

I’d prefer to express this slightly differently, using Hayekian terms. The dividing line is between those who favour what he called “taxis”—a consciously man-made order—and those who favour “cosmos”, the order that arises spontaneously when free individuals are left to themselves.

The difference between this and Collins’ dichotomy matters. Those of us who are sceptical of state interference don’t necessarily favour anarchy and disorder, but rather believe that freedom produces its own order.

Of course, any society will contain bits of both cosmos and taxis. The question is which bits should preponderate.

Supporters of cosmos include not only free market economists but also:
  • Those who favour free migration on the grounds that the market, not the state, will limit inflows;

  • Those who are relaxed about the breakdown of the nuclear family, believing people choose the best family structure for themselves;

  • Supporters of the legalization of drugs, who doubt that such a policy would lead to greater addiction;

  • Thinkers such as Bill Easterly, who believe developing economies will thrive best (pdf) if they adopt freedom rather than the advice of “development experts”;

  • Enthusiasts for “web 2.0”, the wisdom of crowds and the power of unstructured groups;

  • Philosophers such as Paul Feyerabend, who have advocated greater anarchy in scientific methods.

And, of course, your humble Devil's name might be added to that list, for I do indeed believe that freedom will produce its own order (and, of course, I believe that that order would be more beneficial for everyone).
And advocates of taxis are not only opponents of these positions, but also, variously, bosses (who believe in top-down management); paternalists who fret about binge-drinking and the “obesity epidemic”; and those leftists who moan about the “anarchy” of the market.

Of course, for most of Hayek’s life, the cosmos-taxis distinction mapped closely to a left-right distinction. The left (Stalinists and social democrats alike) favoured central planning—taxis—whilst the right favoured the invisible hand, cosmos. But as the above list shows, today the mapping is less clear. When lefties like me agree with classical liberals like Tim, it’s because we both support cosmos.

Indeed. An interesting concept and one that sums up my beliefs quite succinctly; I believe in small (almost non-existent) government but not because I am an anarchist but because I believe that people will organise themselves, along the lines that they wish to organise, and thus be happier for it. I do not believe that anarchy would be the result.

So, yes, you might call me part of the cosmos.


Anonymous said...

It's hard for me to place myself there. Though I most certainly do not think of myself as a "taxi", I am too conscious of the social consequences of mass immigration
to accept that the "market ... will limit inflows".

But then again, Ralph Harris complained to Enoch Powell that his opposition to immigration was in contradiction to his otherwise (apparently) libertarian views, and Powell found a reason to disagree. I just have to find that reason ...

Anonymous said...


It's because the free flow of goods (and non-personal services) acts as a substitute for flow of population. Roughly speaking, you can choose either to have cheap goods fom China or to have a billion Chinese come to the UK and work here producing the same goods for the same wages. Which would you prefer or, more to the point, why did Powell not recommend the latter?

Jock Coats said...

I dunno - but I quite like the notion of being a "cosmological geo-mutualist"...:) Or maybe it should just be "cosmic geo-mutualist"...:)

Anonymous said...

Interesting post by S&M, but it begs a question for Mr Dillow.

Historicism which is the central plank of Marxism would certainly be a taxi, you would also say it probably is the biggest taxi on the rank.

Libertarian Marxism is a very interesting paradox is it not? maybe its a taxi to the cosmos?

Anonymous said...

I am a cosmomentalist who would rather catch the bus than a taxi

Martin said...


While I would be delighted to agree with you, doesn't this analysis discount the importance of culture?

For example, Belgium seemed to function quite well for some time without a government. However the Belgians had not previously been at each others' throats, while an Iraq where the minority Sunnis dominated the majority Shia quickly turned into a bloody mess in an ungoverned state.

Can you think of any other societies where spontaneous order has just broken out, without the native culture having been at peace with itself? I can't -come to think of it, I can't think of any other examples of such societies at all. To play devil (Kitchen's) advocate for a second, if people will be peaceful regardless of how they are governed, what's the point of changing their form of government?

I don't trust this debate, because it's entirely based on assumption, not observation.

Anonymous said...

Anarchy does not necessarily mean chaos, it also means a lack of government. The argument here for "cosmos" is an anarchist argument. How much government do we need? I have heard anarchists argue that private defence firms would handle security in the place of the state. The difficulty with that is what would stop new states coming into being? I think we need a state, with a monopoly on violence.

FrankFisher said...


Of course the problem for the cosmic few is that, given the choice, many will choose taxis - and will impose it on the cosmophiles regardless of their wishes. Take away the State, and I'm afraid, sadly, you are left with gangs.

Ever had a hells angel stick a knife to your throat DK? It really clarifies your thinking.

Bill Sticker said...

"Ever had a hells angel stick a knife to your throat"
Well you never have, frankfisher. The tone of your post shows that.


FrankFisher said...

Well you never have, frankfisher.

Our survey said: WaWAAAAAAAAH

Jock Coats said...

Ever had a hells angel stick a knife to your throat DK? It really clarifies your thinking.

Well, not exactly a hells angel, but a care in the community case drunk on a night bus heading back towards Trafalgar Square one night. And you know what, having a state not only did not help me in that situation, but by preventing me from the legitemate means of defence against such an armed attack made matters worse.

The State, frankly, is the gang culture taken to such an extreme that people daren't question it any longer. Currently Gord's gang is bigger than Davey's gang and so Gord gets nearly half of everything the country earns, and if he doesn't get what he decides you owe him in protection money, even if you fundamentally object to what he's spending it on, he can take your freedom, your possessions, your home.

I imagine that having one's throat slit by a Hell's Angel (by the way I've never met a Hell's Angel who was not a genuinely nice guy so I don't know why we're focussing on them!) might even be preferable to a slow painful death because Gord's big gang says you must have his half-baked old wives' remedy for your cancer rather than the one your doctor says would do you most good.

FrankFisher said...

by the way I've never met a Hell's Angel who was not a genuinely nice guy so I don't know why we're focussing on them!

Because that was who was holding the knife. Lots of Angels are nice guys as individuals - but if you piss the club off, suddenly they are no longer nice guys.

While your argument that if the state fucked off we could take care of ourselves has some merit, the problem is that no matter how well tooled the individual is, he cannot beat a mob; remove the state and in 18 months you will have gang rule, in 18 years you will have warlord rule, and in 80 you will have states again.

It doesn't please me to say this, but it's the truth.

Bill Sticker said...

Sorry frankfisher. This doesn't knit with my experience. If you piss off a full patch member of the Hells Angels, you generally end up kissing your teeth goodbye at the very least. Unless of course they've mellowed a bit since I used to mix with them many years ago.

Sounds like you tangled with a 'prospect' or perhaps what those of us in the know call a 'weekend warrior'. Maybe it wasn't a proper Biker at all, but some kid on a moped, or more pitiful still, what is known as a 'Sidewalk commando' (Hasn't got a motorcycle but wears the gear - generally harmless). Clue: Not all bikers, or those wearing leather jackets are Hells Angels. Learn to tell the difference or it simply invalidates your metaphor and makes you sound like you're bullshitting.

FrankFisher said...

Ahem. Bill, I know what an Angel is. I rode a bike for 25 years. I edited a motorcycle mag, AWoL. I was involved in this situation with three fullpatch angels up close, another couple of dozen keeping the civilians at bay - chapters involved were Wessex and Tyne & Wear. They were objecting to an article in the magazine, written by another contributor, which had described their thuggery and intimidation, and decided to sort the situation out, with intimidation and thuggery.

Okay Bill?

Jock Coats said...

And yet, Frank, the existence of the state, and quite a well regulated and "armed" state at that, was not able to prevent your altercation with a gang.

And I do think your analysis is too pessimistic. At the very least, wiping the slate clean and building the structures necessary for the minimal support of the hapless and helpless and the maintenance of order and property rights would leave us with a state appropriate to modern needs and not a power structure hangover from more brutal times still.

Even in a mutualist's paradise there would be enough vested interests to ensure that it would be of benefit to ensure your neighbour's security, your customers' security and so on.

It's not been tried, really, so how what you say can be just "the truth" I don't know. It may be a leap of faith, but looking around the world at the moment I'm not at all sure that states in general are faring terribly well either.

Anonymous said...

Come on DK.. Admit it youre an anarchist or an anarcho capitalist if you prefer.. And a damn good choice if I say so myself...

Interesting article, explains a lot about the confusion that arises from the politics of liberty... Rgds as always..

Anonymous said...

S&M and indeed Hayek are not asking you to choose between taxis and cosmos.

"Of course, any society will contain bits of both cosmos and taxis. The question is which bits should preponderate"

and as such SM,DK and Hayek are not anarchists. A better question would be do you favour taxis or cosmos?

Anonymous said...

passer by,

I think it's clear which one to, 'preponderate'.

Cosmos of course... But maybe for someone holding THE gun to ones head, might prefer the taxis..

The moral distinction is quite clear... remove the gun, embrace voluntarism...

Anything else would be intellectual posing... Much regards...

Anonymous said...

DK, In the small village I grew up in, an unscrupulous developer got a covenant lifted on grazing land, and now proposes to ruin (from my pov) the village by building too many squashed-together houses on it. Left to the 'cosmos', a 'spontaneous' order has emerged whereby a corner-cutting, profit-seeking ruthless b*stard who doesn't care what villagers think of him has gained the upper-hand. I suppose you'd say a spontaneous counter-order will emerge, when villagers resist. But it's the flouting of the man-made order, the taxis, of the covenant that has caused the problem in the first.

Thatcher's Child said...

All the ney sayers are thinking without the state we will be over run by 'bad' people - but as I see it, we are 'protected by the state' and are still overrun by bad people!

At least in a proper anarchy, I can pay for proper protection, I don't have to worry about the state picking on me because I am too weak to fight back (as in the case of scameras, and the more rutheless police operations they don't show on police camera action!)

As for the anti biker statements on here - Hells Angels and all the other patch clubs keep themselves to themselves - unless you piss them off - when all hell breaks out - hippies call it Karma!

Jock Coats said...

Anon, If you follow the trail backwards, I think you'll find that the difficult position your village is now in is caused precisely because of the overbearing state apparatus involved in planning, and more importantly restricting, land use over decades.

Freeing up the planning system, even making it more like a private contract with the neighbours most affected rather than something brokered by people who really probably couldn't care less what little bit of a view is blocked or whether the plans are for something actually needed by the locality, together with switching the source of government revenue for our new minimal state from incomes and productivity to land values which would cause existing used land to be used more optimally efficiently before encroaching on unused stuff would I suspect have meant a more organic and consensual development of the village according to need and local opinion.

In fact, Land Value Tax would make it much less attractive, comparatively, for someone to develop on "marginal land" because the massive uplift in value they have achieved by getting the covenant lifted wold not flow to them but, as it should be, to the community, who has made the decision to allow that land to be brought into an alternative and far more valuable use.

Jock Coats said...

V, I referred at my blog the other day to a great line from Milton Friedman about what you say in your first line there:

"I was watching again the "Open Minds" interview with Milton Friedman the other day and when it was put to him, as in J S Mill's formulation, that democratic government is the way in which we put good, ungreedy and unselfish people in charge to prevent bad, greedy and selfish people from taking over his response was simple: "government is an institution whereby the people with the greatest drive to get power over their fellow men get into the position of controlling them"."

Anonymous said...

As for the anti biker statements on here - Hells Angels and all the other patch clubs keep themselves to themselves - unless you piss them off - when all hell breaks out - hippies call it Karma!

Yeah - let's all support the two wheeled mafia eh? Clueless muppet.

jock coats, you're right, the existence of the state didn't protect me from crime, as it fails millions of others - the best defence against crime would be an armed population, I think. But this still doesn't deal with the problem of organised crime - an organised gang will beat any disorganised populace. The only way to beat them is to become organised yourself, and then.... you're a gang.


DK, have a bash at that - how does a libertarian in a stateless world deal with organised crime.

Anonymous said...

Frank fisher...

Just google DRO's

Plenty of stuff there to keep your gang theory at bay... Much regards

Anonymous said...

Another problem with cosmos, is that Taxi has an unfair advantage. The human mind is wired for induction, when folks first think about a problem metaphorically they hail a cab.

A better question if you prefer cosmos, is to work out ways of getting other people not to think taxi.

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