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An anatomy of authority: Adam Smith as political theorist
Author: Khalil, Elias L.
Journal: Cambridge Journal of Economics
Volume: 29
Year: 2005
Pages: 57—71

Authority for Smith arises ironically from the desire to attain a high station in life. Given that most people fail, they ‘free ride’: they identify their ego with high-ranking agents, through ‘vicarious sympathy’. Vicarious sympathy gives rise to status and, if combined with utility, would occasion political allegiance, the basis of political order (an invisible hand argument). Smith's theory challenges liberal political theory (of the classical type à la Locke or of the social type à la Bentham). It also challenges traditionalist political theory that deposits authority in the hands of selected guardians (from Plato to Strauss).