Notions of Order and Process in Hayek: the Significance of Emergence


Abstract: This article explores the notions of order and process to which Friedrich Hayek subscribed. It is argued that a satisfactory understanding of Hayek’s conceptions of ‘order’ and ‘process’—and in particular a clear understanding of those how the two concepts relate to each other in his scheme of thought—requires an appreciation of the ontological categories of ‘emergence’ and ‘emergent properties’. Ultimately, for Hayek the capacity of liberal market economies to co-ordinate people’s actions in the face of tacit and dispersed knowledge is an emergent property that arises only when people’s interactions are governed by certain sets of rules. This static analysis of the co-ordinative powers of the market as an emergent property of a given system of rules must be supplemented by a dynamic account of the process through which the set of rules in question comes into being. Hayek provides such an account in his account of society as developing through a multi-level evolutionary process. Key implications of Hayek’s accounts of order and process for debates about the co-ordinative powers of free market economies are drawn out.