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Myths About the State of Nature and the Reality of Stateless Societies
Analyse & Kritik (2015)
  • Karl Widerquist
  • Grant McCall, Tulane University of Louisiana
This article is a spin-off of my book project (with Grant McCall), "Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy." This article makes the following points. Most justifications of government using social contact theory (contractarianism) require a claim we call, “the Hobbesian hypothesis,” which we define as the claim that all people are better off under state authority than they would be outside of it. The Hobbesian hypothesis is an empirical claim about all stateless societies. Many small-scale societies are stateless. Anthropological evidence from the smallest-scale human societies provides sufficient reason to doubt the truth of the hypothesis, if not to reject it entirely. Therefore, contractarian theory has not done what it claims to do: it has not justified state sovereignty to each person subject to it by demonstrating that they benefit from that authority. It considers several possible responses that contractarians might given and concludes that, to be justified in contractarian terms, states have to do something to improve the living standards of disadvantaged people under their rule.
  • State of Nature,
  • Hunter-gatherers; property rights; freedom; egalitarianism; social contract theory,
  • contractarianism
Publication Date
Citation Information
Karl Widerquist and Grant McCall. "Myths About the State of Nature and the Reality of Stateless Societies" Analyse & Kritik Vol. 37 Iss. 2 (2015)
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