Chaos Gets a Bad Rap: Importance of Chaology to Liberty

Column by L.K. Samuels.

Exclusive to STR

Chaos gets a bad rap—from the academic and scientific world, even from some uninformed libertarians. Few people realize that without the dynamics of chaos, order would not exist. In fact, nothing would exist. Without chaos there would be no creation, no structure and no existence. After all, order is merely the repetition of patterns; chaos is the process that establishes those patterns. Without this creative self-organizing force, the universe would be devoid of biological life, the birth of stars and galaxies—everything we have come to know.

But few researchers--especially the recipients of government grants--are willing to explore the relationship of chaology to political and socioeconomics. If they did, they might discover that political systems are the embodiment of system failure. And that governmental systems thrive in just one way—they succeed by failing.

Because of this lack of research, I started to write about the sociological and political significances of chaos theory and complexity over 20 years ago. And what I found was that chaology provides the scientific tools and evidence to verify why open-ended, adaptable and evolving systems work far better in society than closed-ended, rigid, deterministic systems. Not only do dynamic, nonlinear systems work better, but they promote a healthy byproduct—the liberty of action. As it turns out, the nature of the physical world favors the free movement of people to self-organize and self-govern without the interference of external command-and-control structures.

So strong are the attributes of chaology that I now consider myself more of a chaologist than a libertarian. The reasons are clear. No theory delves deeper into the core reasons for embracing a non-aggressive society. Chaology is the foundation of every concept that embraces the free and unrestricted movement of people, ventures and ideas. This is why I wrote my book In Defense of Chaos—to present my findings to a wide audience.

I eventually coined a term to identify this phenomenon —“social chaology,” which has some similarities to Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine’s social thermodynamics, non-equilibrium and social entropy. Even Prigogine realized that social scientists were doing a poor job. When he was once asked why he, a chemist by profession, was exploring social problems, he countered, “because they are too important to be left to social scientists.”

I refer to social chaology as the study of the complex, holistic, and self-organizing nature of society in relationship to the linear, predatory and "planned chaos" predispositions of government. Social chaology provides a way to analyze the systemic failures found so predominantly in command-and-control structures that burden socioeconomic systems. Unlike other complex systems, political systems peddle the totality of dominance, seeking to forge a mechanistic society, preconceived and premeditated, all without the benefit of synergic emergence, autopoiesis, or open dissipative structures. Instead, political systems often latch onto already established social systems, and mandate top-down edicts that are often at odds with their own bottom-level body politic. In other cases, political systems hungrily feast on what others have created, cannibalizing other people’s resources like a tribe of pragmatic headhunters with an attitude problem.

With the help of Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle, Chaos theory proves that the universe is not based on the old Newtonian physics of order and precision, but rather on probability and uncertainty. Events often arise by chance, with no more reliability than a pinball machine. The future leaves no footprints. The probability that the sun will come up each morning is just that – a high probability, not a certainty.

This is an important point to consider, because the denizens of the political deep end put their faith behind linear, deterministic structures that don’t allow for spontaneous order, decentralization or free choice for the individual agent. Political linearists not only fail to think outside the box; they would have us ban the box. Political systems are inherently top-down vertical systems that suffocate anything within their wake. But to chaologists, the universe is chockfull of micro-events that can result in large and unpredictable consequences. This is known as the Butterfly Effect.

What the Butterfly Effect illustrates is that an effect is not proportional to its cause. A ball hit twice as hard will not necessarily fly twice as fast. This shocking revelation flew in the face of traditional linear theory, which proclaimed that output motion is directly related to input force. The whole notion of “deterministic predictability”—of a fixed, replicable state of reality that obeys when called upon—is completely invalid. In other words, the universe is not static, most things are irregular, turbulent and wavelike. One shoe size does not fit all. In a sense, this is a death blow to central planning, collectivism and hard determinism. As physicist Paul Davies wrote: “There is no detailed blueprint, only a set of laws with an inbuilt facility for making interesting things happen. The universe is free to create itself as it goes along.”

With the Butterfly Effect comes another factor--the ubiquitous nature of unpredictability. Stephen Hawking puts this in perspective. He writes: “one certainly cannot predict future events exactly if one cannot even measure the present state of the universe precisely!”

If you cannot measure the present state precisely, how can anyone predict the future? This is a critical point. You cannot control what you cannot predict. Accurate measurements are almost impossible because the universe is mostly non-linear, dynamic and paradoxical. Even the motion of planets, once considered the epitome of predictability, has a flighty nature. In 1992, Gerald Sussman, an MIT professor of electrical engineering, and Jack Wisdom, an MIT professor of planetary sciences, completed a detailed calculation of the motion of the nine planets. Calling planetary orbits chaotic, these scientists found that planetary positions, just four million years in the future, cannot be predicted with any certainty.

And yet, statists believe they can predict the future with great certainty. They have to proclaim such nonsense to remain in authority. They often go through life as if they know what will happen. They act as if they can foresee the future. But of course, this is just a farce. The only thing they can predict well is the amount of money they will get in their next government paycheck.

But despite this obvious uncertainty, politicians routinely chisel into stone thousands of new laws each year on countless promises that they can improve societal conditions. And one argument they employ to justify their interventionism is that they believe they are, as Butler Shaffer puts it, “controlling that which determines events.”

Social chaologists understand that lawmakers are chasing a moving, evolving and mutating target. Even if a politician introduced a bill that appears to be right on the mark, which is highly unlikely, by the time it is enacted, it might not only be useless but dangerous to society and the economy. Then again, how would politicians know? They rarely read the proposed bills; often they enact laws they have not written; and in some cases, they approve legislation without a vote (i.e. “deem and pass” procedure).

But even beyond this, the bureaucracy and staffocracy have no pressing need to make substantial changes to improve socioeconomic conditions. They can only make things worse. In the final analysis, bureaucrats have no need to alter the course of the ship of state—they have already discovered that it is much easier to just readjust the compass.

And worse, nobody knows what these thousands of conflicting and confusing laws will do—except one thing; they will magnificently distort reality and common sense under the nightmare of unintended consequences. Also called the “boomerang effect,” this is a situation where if anything can go wrong, it will.

This is where chaology and complexity science help to understand what is going on in the political arena. This is where chaology can validate the science behind why and how liberty works so well.

Your rating: None Average: 9.8 (4 votes)
Lawrence Samuels's picture
Columns on STR: 10

L.K. Samuels is the editor and contributing author of Facets of Liberty: A Libertarian Primer, first published in 1985. His new book, In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action, was published in 2013. All of his books are available at


Glen Allport's picture

Terrific column, Lawrence. I love seeing the underlying science behind a subject -- especially this one -- explained engagingly and in plain language. You've done a nice job demystifying the voodoo of coercive government.

Mark Davis's picture

Excellent!  What Glen said.

mjackso6's picture

It's nice to see sociology, one of the "soft sciences", tied to complexity theory (admittedly a bit slippery itself). I can see the parallels that Mr. Samuels is drawing here; I've had similar thoughts, but nothing as well defined as this.

Paul's picture

"With the help of Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle, Chaos theory proves that the universe is not based on the old Newtonian physics of order and precision"

Well, Quantum Mechanics disproved Newtonian Physics, not Chaos theory - although a better way to put it was to say Newtonian Physics was shown to be an approximation.

"But despite this obvious uncertainty, politicians routinely chisel into stone thousands of new laws each year on countless promises that they can improve societal conditions."

Well, the promise to improve social conditions is just the propaganda supporting government action. It's a mistake to take it too seriously. Laws are passed to make a payoff. Legislators are in office to enjoy the exercise of power and to reward their friends.

Samarami's picture
    "...If you cannot measure the present state precisely, how can anyone predict the future? ... You cannot control what you cannot predict..."

You've described intellectually, Lawrence, what I ended up doing by the seat of my britches, since I could locate no "organized libertarian guidelines" -- just free human action. Put simply, I had to start being free.

I was gettin' too old to wait for someone other than myself to make-it-happen. If freedom was to be, it was up to me. I recognized the absolute necessity of my being free. Here. Now. Where I'm "at". And to tolerate you as you are -- religious, atheistic, political -- good or bad. I can't be truly free if I can't tolerate your manifestation of what defines your "freedom". For you.

I was faced with “social chaology", but could not have defined my frustration as eruditely as you have outlined it. I didn't have time to wait to read your essay. :-)

I declared myself "a sovereign state". I think I might have had a couple of motives at the time for choosing that moniker: 1) I wanted to distance myself from collectivist "movements" (that give rise to the suspicion, ire and fear of dangerously armed psychopaths); and 2) recognizing the impracticability of "organizing freedom", I used the evil word "state" to subtly jab those in the eye who seemed to insist that "we" should be working to do so -- to "bring-about-freedom" (in others); to "bring-an-end-to-the-state".

With me as one of The Founding Fathers. Sam