This article was published in the Spring 1999 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation

a Legitimate Peer in the Family of Organizations

by Richard O. Hammer

(to table of contents of FNF archives)  (to start of essay)

Living Organizations
A Taxonomy of Organizations
Information Processing within Organizations Serves Survival
Implications for Libertarians and the Free Nation Movement

(to top of page)  (to outline)

"What is going on?" we libertarians sometimes ask ourselves as the state grows and infests ever more aspects of our lives. Our scholarship shows the state to be evil. And experience proves the state to be evil, at least as we interpret history. So we should be able to persuade the people who support the state to back off. But we seem incapable of doing this. Why?

I have developed my own answer to this question. I propose that the state is a living thing. As the body of a person is composed of cells, so the body of a state is composed of people. As the cells of my body might naturally be motivated to argue (if they have any public forums) for the continuation and even the expansion of my life, so the people who comprise the state are motivated to justify the continuation and expansion of the state. This theory grows out of the new science of spontaneous order.1,2 In previous articles I have described aspects of my theory.3,4

In this article I will repeat some points and add a few new points. In particular I will add a taxonomy, a way to classify living organizations. Finally I will tell what this theory implies for the free nation movement.

A few disclaimers are necessary. First, I am not professionally employed as a scientist and I do not know any scientists working in this field whom I can approach for feedback, so I may be overextended in the speculations which I present here. Further, my ideas are new and still changing; as I write sometimes I see that an assumption I had made is only partially correct and that more subtle analysis is needed. So I do not claim that any of this is solid or final. And lastly, you will notice that I adopt the thesis that life on Earth has evolved. Probably not all readers will agree with this assumption.

(to top of page)  (to outline)

Living Organizations

We have been trained to think of organisms when we think of living things. Generally an organism is a single living thing which is intact inside its own skin, bark, cell membrane, or other outer extremity. But the new and broader view of life challenges this view. William Morton Wheeler, for instance, has suggested that a bee hive, and not a single bee, can usefully be viewed as an organism.5

I have started to use our familiar word "organization" to name the broader class which seems suggested by this study. Organizations include organisms of course, since organisms are clearly organizations composed of smaller components. But molecules, firms, and states also qualify as organizations.

Here I will list, perhaps in logical order, several attributes which living organizations possess.

(to top of page)  (to outline)

A Taxonomy of Organizations

The points made above deal with organizations in general. But clearly we see that there are different types of organizations. Some organizations have characteristics which other organizations lack. I have noticed three such characteristics, and named them "member-aware," "self-aware," and "encoded." The accompanying table shows the eight types of organizations which can be distinguished by the presence or absence of each of these three characteristics.

(to top of page)  (to outline)


In some organizations the members are aware of the existence of the larger organizations. In other organizations this is not the case.

For example, the members of a club know about the club. But this is not the case in the type of organization which produces a pencil.8 Notice that this organization includes the workers who make the steel that goes into the saws of the loggers who cut the trees from which the shafts of the pencils are cut.

Of course, since primitive organizations probably lack any mental capacity of awareness, we need to include in the non-member-aware category all those organizations composed of primitive members. For example, I suppose that the cells which compose my body are not aware of me.

(to top of page)  (to outline)


Some organizations possess a self-awareness, by which I mean these organizations have headquarters which can make conscious decisions on behalf of the organizations. Other organizations lack this trait.

For example, I would say that a labor union possess self-awareness, in that it has a headquarters which knows that it can make decisions for the organization. Whereas I would say that the charity which organizes spontaneously in response to a catastrophe, such as a flood, lacks self-awareness, in that it has no headquarters which knows that it can make decisions for the organization.

Again we can separate out all organizations which seem to lack the capacity of awareness, such as bacteria and other low-level life. None of these could be self-aware.

(to top of page)  (to outline)


Some organizations have an ability to reproduce themselves. I call this "encoded" because I suppose that ability to reproduce requires that the constitution (or the set of decision rules) of the organization be codified somehow. Other organizations lack this trait.

For examples of encoded organizations, consider organisms. Organisms have codes in their genetic material telling how to make new instances. For examples of organizations which are not encoded consider most early cities. These grew spontaneously and I would assert that they lack any code telling how to make new instances.

Organizations which are encoded may equate generally with a "made" order. Whereas organizations which are not encoded may equate with a "grown" order. Hayek finds words in classical Greek for these two kinds of order: taxis for a "made" order; kosmos for a "grown" order.9

(to top of page)  (to outline)

Information Processing within Organizations Serves Survival

The model which I have sketched here suggests a framework within which our human mental processes have evolved. This in turn suggests what behavior we might expect from human minds.

Many libertarians invest heavily in the building of logical arguments. It seems to me that these libertarians overrate the fruits of human minds such as "truth" and "morality." In contrast I believe that our minds are mostly pragmatic, constructing whatever notions might prove useful to survival.

I would say that "truth" exists in our minds because and to the extent that it serves a practical function. In some information processing systems, those which have evolved to a high enough level, there will be a need to distinguish and to label those hypotheses which lead to reliable decision rules. "Truth" is such a label. So truth is good. We need it. But to me it is a category for sorting, not a deity.

Similarly I would say that "morality" exists in our minds because and to the extent that it serves a practical function. As life advances it often happens that circumstances become ripe for formation of new, and often larger, organizations. I propose that morality can be explained as a bias which makes existing organizations more likely to find the opportunities to form new organizations.10 So morality is good. We need it. But to me it is a useful bias, not a token of righteousness.

Since I see truth and morality thus, as useful but subordinate to the processes necessary for survival, I think we should expect minds to be self-serving before truthful or moral in our conception. One consequence of this is that the ethics of the members of an organization will evolve to conform with the circumstances in which the organization finds itself.

New rules will develop when circumstances change, such as when survival in an existing niche can be enhanced by following a new set of rules, or when extraordinary procreation and flourishing in a new niche are promised but only by following a new set of rules. One generation of truth seekers and moralizers may abhor the new rules, but a new generation will arise which embraces the new rules. Thus we should expect the information processing system of an organization to be truthful or moral — as we conceive truth and morality — only when and if this serves survival.11

When environmental circumstances allow the possibility that a new organization could succeed if existing organizations discover and follow a new set of rules, then we may expect a trend to discover and then follow that new set of rules. This trend will be limited by the costs and delays of discovering and implementing the new set of rules (by the costs and delays of organizing), but we should not expect the trend to be limited by our present morality. The new organization will grow its own ethic.

(to top of page)  (to outline)

Implications for Libertarianism and the Free Nation Movement

To me this explains statism. Because the state succeeds as an organization, giving benefits to the many people, and parts of people, whose active participation makes the state succeed, we should expect that there will be an ethic which supports the practice of statism. Statists think that they are doing the right thing. In this model of life nothing is inherently immoral: it is as acceptable for a statist to feed on a taxpayer as it is for a cannibal to feed on a Christian, or for me to feed on oatmeal.

If this is all true — and let me admit that I am motivated to think it is true because of my investment in the FNF approach — then it suggests that statists will not be talked out of statism while statism promises benefits to its adherents. And statism will promise benefits to its adherents while environmental circumstances allow the state to succeed as an organization.

As such I question whether it is wise for libertarians working in an environment such as America, which sustains a healthy and growing state, to try to talk statists out of statism. The alternative which I suggest through FNF is that we focus our energies on some small niche, remote from the interests of powerful statists, where we can purchase autonomy and there create an environment in which occasional seeds of state, which will surely find their way in, will whither for want of those circumstances which can sustain a state.

The way of organizing which I suggest through FNF fits the model of life presented here insofar as I perceive that circumstances are now ripe for a new form of organization to start growing on Earth. States have grown among humans because some larger-than-human organizations were bound to grow. But states have weaknesses, not the least of which is they make enemies of many humans. So, given our present understanding, we may consciously test a new and better form of larger-than-human organization, a nation whose primary principle of organization is protection from parasitic states. D

(to top of page)  (to outline)


1 M. Mitchell Waldrop, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, Simon & Schuster, 1992.

2 Michael Rothschild, Bionomics: Economy as Ecosystem, Henry Holt and Company, 1990.

3 "An Engineer's View of Morality, Set in a Model of Life," Formulations, Vol. V, No. 2 (Winter 1997-98).

4 "Libertarianism in a Context," Formulations, Vol. V, No. 4 (Summer 1998).

5 "The Ant Colony as an Organism," Journal of Morphology, 1911.  Cited in Kevin Kelly, Out of Control, Addison-Wesley, 1994, p. 7.

6 For a few examples see "An Engineer's View of Morality," op. cit.

7 Kelly, op. cit., pp. 106-108.

8 Leonard Reed, "I Pencil," Foundation for Economic Education. To my knowledge this essay deserves credit for originating the common use in libertarian literature of the example of how many people take part in making a simple pencil.

9 Friedrich Hayek, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Volume I, Rules and Order, University of Chicago Press, 1973, Chapter 2, "Cosmos and Taxis."

10 "An Engineer's View of Morality," op. cit.

11 By "survival" here I intend to include the broader sense in which a human might sacrifice herself in order that a meme might survive (See Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976, Oxford University Press).  What survives here is organizations — not organisms.

Richard Hammer, president of FNF, rarely listens to music and has almost no ability to perform it. Nonetheless he enjoys singing, and regularly joins a group of shapenote singers. He tries to compensate for what he lacks, in ability to find the correct pitch, by giving extra volume.

  (to table of contents of FNF archives)  (to top of page)  (to outline)