When words lose their meaning people will lose their liberty.
Words as Guides to Action
Trade, migration, and the increase and mixture of populations must not only have opened people's eyes, but also loosened their tongues. It was not simply that tradesmen inevitably encountered, and sometimes mastered, foreign languages during their travels, but that this must have forced them also to ponder the different connotations of key words (if only to avoid either affronting their hosts or misunderstanding the terms of agreements to exchange), and thereby to come to know new and different views about the most basic matters. I should like now to consider some of the problems relating to language that attend the conflict between the primitive group and the extended order.
All people, whether primitive or civilised, organise what they perceive partly by means of attributes that language has taught them to attach to
groups of sensory characteristics. Language enables us not only to label objects given to our senses as distinct entities, but also to classify an infinite variety of combinations of distinguishing marks according to what we expect from them and what we may do with them. Such labelling, classification, and distinction is of course often vague. More importantly, all usage of language is laden with interpretations or theories about our surroundings. As Goethe recognised, all that we imagine to be factual is already theory: what we `know' of our surroundings is our interpretation of them.
As a consequence, various difficulties arise in analysing and criticising our own views. For example, many widely held beliefs live
only implicitly in words or phrases implying them and may never become explicit; thus they are never exposed to the possibility of criticism, with the result that language transmits not only wisdom but also a type of folly that is difficult to eradicate.
It is also difficult to explain in a particular vocabulary - because of its own limitations and because of the connotations it bears - something that differs from what that language had traditionally been used to explain. Not only is it difficult to explain, or even to describe something new in received terms, it also may be hard to sort out what language has previously classified in a particular manner - especially a manner based on innate distinctions of our senses.
Such difficulties have driven some scientists to invent new languages for their own disciplines. Reformers, and especially socialists, have been driven by the same urge, and some of them have proposed deliberate reformation of language in order the better to convert people to their own position (see Bloch, 1954-59).
In view of such difficulties, our vocabulary, and the theories embedded in it, are crucial. So long as we speak in language based in erroneous theory, we generate and perpetuate error. Yet the traditional vocabulary that still profoundly shapes our perception of the world and of human interaction within it - and the theories and interpretations embedded in that vocabulary - remain in many ways very primitive. Much of it was formed during long past epochs in which our minds interpreted very differently what our senses conveyed. Thus, while we learn much of what we know through language, the meanings of individual words lead us astray: we continue to use terms bearing archaic connotations as we try to express our new and better understanding of the phenomena to which they refer.
A pertinent example is the way transitive verbs ascribe to inanimate objects some sort of mind-like action. Just as the naive or untutored mind tends to assume the presence of life wherever it perceives movement, it also tends to assume the activity of mind or spirit wherever it imagines that there is purpose. The situation is aggravated by the fact that, to some degree, the evolution of the human race seems to repeat itself during the early development of each human mind. In his account of The Child's Conception of the World (1929:359), Jean Piaget writes: `The child begins by seeing purpose everywhere.' Only secondarily is the mind concerned with differentiating between purposes of the things themselves (animism) and purposes of the makers of the things (artificialism). Animistic connotations cling to many basic words, and particularly to those describing occurrences producing order. Not only `fact' itself but also `to cause', `coerce', `distribute', `prefer', and `organise', terms indispensable in the description of impersonal processes, still evoke in many minds the idea of a personal actor.
The word `order' itself is a clear instance of an expression which, before Darwin, would have been taken almost universally to imply a personal actor. At the beginning of the last century even a thinker of the stature of Jeremy Bentham maintained that `order presupposes an end' (1789/1887, Works:II, 399). Indeed, it could be said that, until the `subjective revolution' in economic theory of the 1870's, understanding of human creation was dominated by animism - a conception from which even Adam Smith's `invisible hand' provided only a partial escape until, in the 1870's, the guide-role of competitively-determined market prices came to be more clearly understood. Yet even now, outside the scientific examination of law, language and the market, studies of human affairs continue to be dominated by a vocabulary chiefly derived from animistic thinking.
One of the most important examples comes from socialist writers. The more closely one scrutinises their work, the more clearly one sees that they have contributed far more to the preservation than to the reformation of animistic thought and language. Take for instance the personification of `society' in the historicist tradition of Hegel, Comte and Marx. Socialism, with its `society', is indeed the latest form of those animistic interpretations of order historically represented by various religions (with their `gods'). The fact that socialism is often directed
against religion hardly mitigates this point. Imagining that all order is the result of design, socialists conclude that order must be improvable by better design of some superior mind. For this socialism deserves a place in an authoritative inventory of the various forms of animism - such as that given, in a preliminary way, by E. E. Evans-Pritchard in his Theories of Primitive Religion (1965). In view of the continuing influence of such animism, it seems premature even today to agree with W. K. Clifford, a profound thinker who, already during Darwin's lifetime, asserted that `purpose has ceased to suggest design to instructed people except in cases where the agency of men is independently
probable' (1879:117). The continuing influence of socialism on the language of intellectuals
and scholars is evident also in descriptive studies of history and anthropology. As Braudel asks: `Who among us has not spoken about the class struggle, the modes of production, the labour force, the surplus value, the relative pauperisation, the practice, the alienation, the infrastructure, the superstructure, the use value, the exchange value, the primitive accumulation, the dialectics, the dictatorship of the proletariat ...?' (supposedly all derived from or popularised by Karl Marx: see Braudel 1982b).
In most instances, underlying this sort of talk are not simple statements of fact but interpretations or theories about consequences or causes of alleged facts. To' Marx especially we also owe the substitution of the term `society' for the state or compulsory organisation about which he is really talking, a circumlocution that suggests that we can deliberately regulate the actions of individuals by some gentler and kinder method of direction than coercion. Of course the extended, spontaneous order that has been the main subject matter of this volume would have been as little able to `act' or to `treat' particular persons as would a people or a population. On the other hand, the `state' or, better, the `government', which before Hegel used to be the common (and more honest) English word, evidently connoted for Marx too openly and clearly the idea of authority while the vague term `society' allowed him to insinuate that its rule would secure some sort of freedom.
Thus, while wisdom is often hidden in the meaning of words, so is error. Naive interpretations that we now know to be false, as well as profoundly helpful if often unappreciated advice, survive and determine our decisions through the words we use. Of particular relevance to our discussion is the unfortunate fact that many words that we apply to various aspects of the extended order of human cooperation carry misleading connotations of an earlier kind of community. Indeed, many words embodied in our language are of such a character that, if one habitually employs them, one is led to conclusions not implied by any sober thought about the subject in question, conclusions that also conflict with scientific evidence. It was for this reason that in writing this book I imposed upon myself the self-denying ordinance never to use the words `society' or `social' (though they unavoidably occur occasionally in titles of books and in quotations I draw from statements of others; and I have also, on a few occasions, let the expressions `the social sciences' or `social studies' stand). Yet, while I have not hitherto used these terms, in this chapter I wish to discuss them - as well as some other words that function similarly - to expose some of the poison concealed in our language, particularly in that language which concerns the orders and structures of human interaction and interrelationship.
The somewhat simplified quotation by Confucius that stands at the head of this chapter is probably the earliest expression of this concern that has been preserved. An abbreviated form in which I first encountered it apparently stems from there being in Chinese no single word (or set of characters) for liberty. It would also appear, however, that the passage legitimately renders Confucius's account of the desirable condition of any ordered group of men , as expressed in his Analects (tr. A. Waley, 1938:XIII, 3, 171-2): `If the language is incorrect ... the people will have nowhere to put hand and foot'. I am obliged to David Hawkes, of Oxford, for having traced a truer rendering of a passage I had often quoted in an incorrect form.
The unsatisfactory character of our contemporary vocabulary of political terms results from its descent largely from Plato and Aristotle who, lacking the conception of evolution, considered the order of human affairs as an arrangement of a fixed and unchanging number of men fully known to the governing authority - or, like most religions down to socialism, as the designed product of some superior mind. (Anyone who wishes to pursue the influence of words on political thinking will find rich information in Demandt (1978). In English a helpful discussion of the deceptions brought on by metaphorical language will be found in Cohen (1931); but the fullest discussions of the political abuse of language known to me occur in the German studies of Schoeck (1973), and in H. Schelsky (1975:233-249). I have myself treated some of these matters earlier in my (1967/78:71-97; 1973:26-54; 1976:78-80).)
Terminological Ambiguity and Distinctions among Systems of Coordination
Elsewhere we have tried to disentangle some of the confusions caused by the ambiguity of terms such as `natural' and `artificial' (see
Appendix A), of `genetic' and `cultural' and the like, and as the reader will have noticed, I generally prefer the less usual but more precise term `several property' to the more common expression `private property'. There are of course many other ambiguities and confusions, some of them of greater importance.
For instance, there was the deliberate deception practiced by American socialists in their appropriation of the term `liberalism'. As Joseph A. Schumpeter rightly put it (1954:394): `As a supreme if
unintended compliment, the enemies of the system of private enterprise have thought it wise to appropriate its label.' The same applies increasingly to European political parties of the middle, which either, as in Britain, carry the name liberal or, as in West Germany, claim to be liberal but do not hesitate to form coalitions with openly socialist parties. It has, as I complained over twenty-five years ago (1960, Postscript), become almost impossible for a Gladstonian liberal to describe himself as a liberal without giving the impression that he believes in socialism. Nor is this a new development: as long ago as 1911, L. T. Hobhouse published a book under the title Liberalism that would more correctly have been called Socialism, promptly followed by a book entitled The Elements of Social Justice (1922).
Important as is this particular change - one perhaps now beyond remedying - we must concentrate here, in accordance with the general theme of this book, on the ambiguities and vagueness caused by the names generally given to phenomena of human interaction. The inadequacy of the terms we use to refer to different forms of human interaction is just one more symptom, one more manifestation, of the prevailing, highly inadequate intellectual grasp of the processes by which human efforts are coordinated. These terms are indeed so inadequate that we can, in using them, not even delimit clearly what we are talking about.
We may as well begin with the terms generally used to distinguish between the two opposed principles of the order of human collabor- ation, capitalism and socialism, both of which are misleading and politically biased. While intended to throw a certain light on these systems, they tell us nothing relevant about their character. The word `capitalism' in particular (still unknown to Karl Marx in 1867 and never used by him) `burst upon political debate as the natural opposite of socialism' only with Werner Sombart's explosive book Der moderne Kapitalismus in 1902 (Braudel, 1982a:227). Since this term suggests a system serving the special interests of the owners of capital, it naturally provoked the opposition of those who, as we have seen, were its main beneficiaries, the members of the proletariat. The proletariat was enabled by the activity of owners of capital to survive and increase, and was in a sense actually called into being by them. It is true that owners of capital made the extended order of human intercourse possible, and this might have led to some capitalists proudly accepting that name for the result of their efforts. It was nevertheless an unfortunate development in suggesting a clash of interests which does not really exist.
A somewhat more satisfactory name for the extended economic order of collaboration is the term `market economy', imported from the German. Yet it too suffers from some serious disadvantages. In the first instance, the so-called market economy is not really an economy in the strict sense but a complex of large numbers of interacting individual economies with which it shares some but by no means all defining characteristics. If we give to the complex structures resulting from the interaction of individual economies a name that suggests that they are deliberate constructions, this yields the personification or animism to which, as we have seen, so many misconceptions of the processes of human interaction are due, and which we are at pains to escape. It is necessary to be constantly reminded that the economy the market produces is not really like products of deliberate human design but is a structure which, while in some respects resembling an economy, in other regards, particularly in not serving a unitary hierarchy of ends, differs fundamentally from a true economy.
A second disadvantage of the term market economy is that in English no convenient adjective can be derived from it, and such an expression indicating the appropriateness of particular actions is indeed needed in practice. Hence I proposed some time ago (1967/1978b:90) that we introduce a new technical term, one obtained from a Greek root that had already been used in a very similar connection. In 1838 Archbishop Whately suggested 'catallactics' as a name for the theoretical science explaining the market order, and his suggestion has been revived from time to time, most recently by Ludwig von Mises. The adjective
`catallactic' is readily derived from Whately's coinage, and has already been used fairly widely. These terms are particularly attractive because the classical Greek word from which they stem, katalattein or katalassein,
meant not only `to exchange' but also `to receive into the community' and `to turn from enemy into friend', further evidence of the profound insight of the ancient Greeks in such matters (Liddell and Scott, 1940, s.v. katallasso). This led me to suggest that we form the term catallaxy to describe the object of the science we generally call economics, which then, following Whately, itself ought to be called catallactics. The usefulness of such an innovation has been confirmed by the former term's already having been adopted by some of my younger colleagues and I am convinced that its more general adoption might really contribute to the clarity of our discussion.
Our Animistic Vocabulary and the Confused Concept of `Society'
As such examples illustrate all too well, in the study of human affairs difficulties of communication begin with the definition and naming of the very objects we wish to analyse. The chief terminological barrier to
understanding, outranking in importance the other terms we have just discussed, is the expression `society' itself - and not only inasmuch as it has, since Marx, been used to blur distinctions between governments and other `institutions'. As a word used to describe a variety of systems of interconnections of human activities, `society' falsely suggests that all such systems are of the same kind. It is also one of the oldest terms of this kind, as for example in the Latin societas, from socius, the personally known fellow or companion; and it has been used to describe both an actually existing state of affairs and a relation between individuals. As usually employed, it presupposes or implies a common pursuit of shared purposes that usually can be achieved only by conscious collaboration.
As we have seen, it is one of the necessary conditions of the extension of human cooperation beyond the limits of individual awareness that the range of such pursuits be increasingly governed not by shared purposes but by abstract rules of conduct whose observance brings it
about that we more and more serve the needs of people whom we do not know and find our own needs similarly satisfied by unknown persons. Thus the more the range of human cooperation extends, the less does
motivation within it correspond to the mental picture people have of what should happen in a `society', and the more `social' comes to be not the key word in a statement of the facts but the core of an appeal to an
ancient, and now obsolete, ideal of general human behaviour. Any real appreciation of the difference between, on the one hand, what actually characterises individual behaviour in a particular group and, on the other, wishful thinking about what individual conduct should be (in accordance with older customs) is increasingly lost. Not only is any group of persons connected in practically any manner called a `society', but it is concluded that any such group should behave as a primitive group of companions did.
Thus the word `society' has become a convenient label denoting almost any group of people, a group about whose structure or reason for coherence nothing need be known - a makeshift phrase people resort to when they do not quite know what they are talking about. Apparently a people, a nation, a population, a company, an association, a group, a horde, a band, a tribe, the members of a race, of a religion, sport, entertainment, and the inhabitants of any particular place, all are, or constitute, societies.
To call by the same name such completely different formations as the companionship of individuals in constant personal contact and the structure formed by millions who are connected only by signals resulting from long and infinitely ramified chains of trade is not only factually misleading but also almost always contains a concealed desire to model this extended order on the intimate fellowship for which our emotions long. Bertrand de Jouvenel has well described this instinctive nostalgia for the small group - `the milieu in which man is first found, which retains for him an infinite attraction: but any attempt to graft the same features on a large society is utopian and leads to tyranny' (1957:136).
The crucial difference overlooked in this confusion is that the small group can be led in its activities by agreed aims or the will of its members, while the extended order that is also a `society' is formed into a concordant structure by its members' observance of similar rules of conduct in the pursuit of different individual purposes. The result of such diverse efforts under similar rules will indeed show a few characteristics resembling those of an individual organism possessing a brain or mind, or what such an organism deliberately arranges, but it is misleading to treat such a `society' animistically, or to personify it by ascribing to it a will, an intention, or a design. Hence it is disturbing to find a serious contemporary scholar confessing that to any utilitarian `society' must appear not `as a plurality of persons ... [but] as a sort of single great person' (Chapman, 1964:153).
The Weasel Word `Social'
The noun `society', misleading as it is, is relatively innocuous compared with the adjective `social', which has probably become the most confusing expression in our entire moral and political vocabulary. This has happened only during the past hundred years, during which time its modern usages, and its power and influence, have expanded rapidly from Bismarckian Germany to cover the whole world. The confusion that it spreads, within the very area wherein it is most used, is partly
due to its describing not only phenomena produced by various modes of cooperation among men, such as in a `society', but also the kinds of actions that promote and serve such orders. From this latter usage it has increasingly been turned into an exhortation, a sort of guide-word for rationalist morals intended to displace traditional morals, and now increasingly supplants the word `good' as a designation of what is morally right. As a result of this `distinctly dichotomous' character, as Webster's New Dictionary of Synonyms appropriately puts it, factual and normative meanings of the word `social' constantly alternate, and what at first seems a description imperceptibly turns into a prescription.
On this particular matter, German usage influenced the American language more than English; for by the eighteen-eighties a group of German scholars known as the historical or ethical school of economic research had increasingly substituted the term `social policy' for the term `political economy' to designate the study of human interaction. One of the few not to be swept away by this new fashion, Leopold von Wiese, later remarked that only those who were young in the `social age' - in the decades immediately before the Great War - can appreciate how strong at that time was the inclination to regard the `social' sphere as a surrogate for religion. One of the most dramatic manifestations of this was the appearance of the so-called social pastors. But `to be "social" ', Wiese insists, `is not the same as being good or righteous or "righteous in the eyes of God" ' (1917). To some of Wiese's students we owe instructive historical studies on the spreading of the term `social' (see my references in 1976:180).
The extraordinary variety of uses to which the word `social' has since been put in English is brought home vividly when in the Fontana
Dictionary of Modern Thought (1977), cited earlier in another context, is found, appropriately preceded by `Soap Opera', a series of no less than thirty-five combinations of `social' with some noun or other, from
`Social Action' to `Social Wholes'. In a similar effort, R. Williams's Key Words (1976), the author, although generally referring the reader, with the conventional 'q.v.', to corresponding entries, departed from this practice with regard to `social'. Apparently it would have been impractical for him to follow his policy here, and he simply had to abandon it. These examples led me for a while to note down all occurrences of `social' that I encountered, thus producing the following instructive list of over one hundred and sixty nouns qualified by the adjective `social':
point of view
Soziolekt (group speech)
rule of law
Many of the combinations given here are even more widely used in a negative, critical form: thus `social adjustment' becomes `social maladjustment', and the same for `social disorder', `social injustice', `social insecurity', `social instability', and so on.
It is difficult to conclude from this list alone whether the word `social' has acquired so many different meanings as to become useless as a tool of communication. However this may be, its practical effect is quite clear and at least threefold. First, it tends pervertedly to insinuate a notion that we have seen from previous chapters to be misconceived - namely, that what has been brought about by the impersonal and spontaneous processes of the extended order is actually the result of deliberate human creation. Second, following from this, it appeals to men to redesign what they never could have designed at all. And third, it also has acquired the power to empty the nouns it qualifies of their meaning.
In this last effect, it has in fact become the most harmful instance of what, after Shakespeare's `I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel suck eggs' (As You Like It, 11,5), some Americans call a `weasel word'. As a weasel is alleged to be able to empty an egg without leaving a visible sign, so can these words deprive of content any term to which they are prefixed while seemingly leaving them untouched. A weasel word is used to draw the teeth from a concept one is obliged to employ, but from which one wishes to eliminate all implications that challenge one's ideological premises.
On current American usage of the expression see the late Mario Pei's Weasel Words: The Art of Saying What You Don't Mean (1978), which credits Theodore Roosevelt with having coined the term in 1918, thus suggesting that seventy
years ago American statesmen were remarkably well educated. Yet the reader will not find in that book the prize weasel word `social'.
Though abuse of the word `social' is international, it has taken perhaps its most extreme forms in West Germany where the constitution of 1949 employed the expression sozialer Rechtsstaat (social rule of law) and whence the conception of `social market economy' has spread - in a sense which its populariser Ludwig Erhard certainly never intended. (He once assured me in conversation that to him the market economy did not have to be made social but was so already as a result of its origin.) But while the rule of law and the market are, at the start, fairly clear concepts, the attribute `social' empties them of any clear meaning. From these uses of the word `social', German scholars have come to the conclusion that their government is constitutionally subject to the Sozialstaatsprinzip, which means little less than that the rule of law has been suspended. Likewise, such German scholars see a conflict between Rechtsstaat and Sozialstaat and entrench the soziale Rechtsstaat in their constitution - one, I may perhaps say, that was written by Fabian muddle-heads inspired by the nineteenth-century inventor of `National Socialism', Friedrich Naumann (H. Maier, 1972:8).
Similarly, the term `democracy' used to have a fairly clear meaning; yet `social democracy' not only served as the name for the radical Austro-- Marxism of the inter-war period but now has been chosen in Britain as a label for a political party committed to a sort of Fabian socialism. Yet the traditional term for what is now called the `social state' was `benevolent despotism', and the very real problem of achieving such despotism democratically, i.e., while preserving individual freedom, is simply wished away by the concoction `social democracy'.
'Social justice' and `Social Rights'
Much the worst use of `social', one that wholly destroys the meaning of
any word it qualifies, is in the almost universally used phrase `social justice'. Though I have dealt with this particular matter already at
some length, particularly in the second volume on The Mirage of Social Justice in my Law, Legislation and Liberty, I must at least briefly state the point again here, since it plays such an important part in arguments for and against socialism. The phrase `social justice' is, as a distinguished man more courageous than I bluntly expressed it long ago, simply `a semantic fraud from the same stable as People's Democracy' (Curran, 1958:8). The alarming extent to which the term seems already to have perverted the thinking of the younger generation is shown by a recent Oxford doctor's thesis on Social justice (Miller, 1976), in which the traditional conception of justice is referred to by the extraordinary
remark that `there appears to be a category of private justice'. I have seen it suggested that `social' applies to everything that reduces or removes differences of income. But why call such action `social'? Perhaps because it is a method of securing majorities, that is, votes in addition to those one expects to get for other reasons? This does
seemtobeso,butitalsomeansofcoursethateveryexhortationtousto be `social' is an appeal for a further step towards the `social justice' of socialism. Thus use of the term `social' becomes virtually equivalent to the call for `distributive justice'. This is, however, irreconcilable with a competitive market order, and with growth or even maintenance of population and of wealth. Thus people have come, through such errors, to call `social' what is the main obstacle to the very maintenance of `society'. `Social' should really be called 'anti-social'.
It is probably true that men would be happier about their economic conditions if they felt that the relative positions of individuals were just. Yet the whole idea behind distributive justice - that each individual ought to receive what he morally deserves - is meaningless in the extended order of human cooperation (or the catallaxy), because the available product (its size, and even its existence) depends on what is in one sense a morally indifferent way of allocating its parts. For reasons already explored, moral desert cannot be determined objectively, and in any case the adaptation of the larger whole to facts yet to be discovered requires that we accept that `success is based on results, not on motivation' (Alchian, 1950:213). Any extended system of cooperation must adapt itself constantly to changes in its natural environment (which include the life, health and strength of its members); the demand that only changes with just effect should occur is ridiculous. It is nearly as ridiculous as the belief that deliberate organisation of response to such changes can be just. Mankind could neither have reached nor could now maintain its present numbers without an inequality that is neither determined by, nor reconcilable with, any deliberate moral judgements. Effort of course will improve individual chances, but it alone cannot secure results. The envy of those who have tried just as hard, although fully understandable, works against the common interest. Thus, if the common interest is really our interest, we must not give in to this very human instinctual trait, but instead allow the market process to determine the reward. Nobody can ascertain, save through the market, the size of an individual's contribution to the overall product, nor can it otherwise be determined how much remuneration must be tendered to someone to enable him to choose the activity which will add most to the flow of goods and services offered at large. Of course if the latter should be considered morally good, then the market turns out to produce a supremely moral result. Mankind is split into two hostile groups by promises that have no realizable content. The sources of this conflict cannot be dissipated by compromise, for every concession to factual error merely creates more unrealizable expectations. Yet, an anti-capitalist ethic continues to
develop on the basis of 'errors by people who condemn the wealth generating institutions to which they themselves owe their existence.
Pretending to be lovers of freedom, they condemn several property, contract, competition, advertising, profit, and even money itself. Imagining that their reason can tell them how to arrange human efforts to serve their innate wishes better, they themselves pose a grave threat to civilisation.