Constitutional Political Economy

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 173–190 | Cite as

Under what conditions may social contracts arise? Evidence from the Hanseatic League

  • Alexander FinkEmail author
Original Research


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.


Social contracts Constitutions Hanseatic League Trading posts Kontor 

JEL Classification

D71 H41 N43 



The author thanks Simon Bilo, Peter Boettke, Nicholas Curott, Harry David, Stewart Dompe, Thomas Hogan, Ole Jürgens, Peter Leeson, William Luther, Adam Martin, Douglas Rogers, David Skarbek, Daniel Smith, Nicholas Snow, Virgil Storr, Elif Uncu, Lawrence White, and participants of the Southern Economics Association Meetings 2009 for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. The standard disclaimer applies. He gratefully acknowledges generous research support from the Mercatus Center.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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