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Invisible HandsSelf-Organization in the Eighteenth Century$
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Jonathan Sheehan and Dror Wahrman

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226752051

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226233741.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 03 August 2021

Man-Made Apocalypse

Man-Made Apocalypse

The Public Emergence of Self-Organization

(p.93) Chapter 3 Man-Made Apocalypse
Invisible Hands

Jonathan Sheehan

Dror Wahrman

University of Chicago Press

In 1720, unrestrained financial speculations in a newly commercialized scene across much of Europe (especially John Law's System in France and the South Sea Bubble in Britain) led to the first major international financial collapse in history. This collapse of order generated acute anxieties: this was a wholly man-made apocalypse that showed clearly the unpredictability of aggregate behavior, the limitations of linear causal thinking, and the constraints on human agency in the workings of sophisticated economic and social systems. This chapter shows how these events pushed a significant number of Europeans – including the figures in the prologue – across the threshold of self-organizing thinking, a leap made possible through the developments described in chapters 1 and 2. In the wake of the extraordinary events of 1720, self-organization appeared on the European scene as a broad (if still tentative) cultural phenomenon.

Keywords:   financial speculation, South Sea Bubble, John Law, causality, self-organization, aggregate behavior, agency

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