North’s Theory of Cultural Evolution

  • Matthijs Krul
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Economic Thought book series (PHET)


In the final stages of his New Institutionalist Economic History, Douglass North developed an elaborate theory of cultural evolution. Drawing on the work of Hayek, North sought to explain where institutions come from and how humans can cooperate sufficiently to produce and sustain them. In this chapter, Krul provides for the first time a systematic discussion of this theme in North’s work. As he shows, North rejected Hayek’s theory of spontaneous order, preferring to see culture as a unique case of an intentional evolutionary process, but one brought about by biologically given limits on our cognitive abilities. However, North’s attempt to find a non-Darwinian process of cultural evolution is insufficiently grounded in an understanding of evolutionary concepts to be viable or to explain cooperation.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthijs Krul
    • 1
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Social AnthropologyBerlinGermany

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