This article argues the following points. 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, is an empirical claim about all stateless societies. It is an essential premise in most contractarian justifications of government sovereignty. Many small- scale societies are stateless. Anthropological evidence from them 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. To be justified in contractarian terms, states have to do something to improve the living standards of disadvantaged people under their rule.
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