This chapter discusses the theoretical substance and history of thought surrounding the theory of spontaneous orders. Whereas significant debate remains regarding the term’s particular origins and appropriate applications, this chapter provides a conceptual framework for categorizing orderly systems according to their agent types and the degree of complexity created by the presence of alternative interests. A substantial and meaningful difference is explained and argued for between the related concepts of emergent order and spontaneous order. While all spontaneous orders possess emergent qualities, the term spontaneous should be reserved to specifically complex human social orders as was originally intended by classical economists and the earliest developers of terminology. This framework is supported by textual references from the intellectual tradition of spontaneous order theorists.
The Oxford Handbook of Austrian Economics is available through Oxford University Press.