Is justice the primary feature of the state? Adam Smith's critique of social contract theory

Elias L. Khalil

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6 Citations (Scopus)


In light of the question of whether justice is the differentia specified of the state, this paper reviews Smith's views on justice and social contract theory. The paper finds that Smith did not regard justice, what supposedly motivates agents to enter into a social contract with the sovereign, as the core of the polity. He rather explicitly criticized social contract theory a la John Locke. Smith argued that the state is not only based on the protection of rights, but is also founded on the principle of authority, which stems from the admiration of high-rank agents who have desirable traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-230
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Law and Economics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Beneficence
  • Civil contract
  • Justice
  • Political contract
  • Red Queen Paradox
  • Social contract theory

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