June, 2011

Under What Conditions May Social Contracts Arise?

Evidence from the Hanseatic League
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Social contractarians commonly take social contracts to be solely hypothetical and refrain from elaborating on the factors that influence the feasibility of the formation of social contracts. In contrast, this paper aims at providing a discussion of the conditions affecting the feasibility of social contracts. I argue that the more aligned the preferences of group members for public goods are, the more the individuals share similar social norms, and the smaller the group is the more feasible a genuine social contract becomes. I provide evidence in support of my contention from the medieval Hanseatic League. At the Hanseatic Kontor in Novgorod, one of the four major trading posts of the Hanseatic League in cities outside of Germany, German merchants agreed to live under the rule of a constitution that gave rise to a political authority for the Kontor society.

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