Adam Smith and Gaston Fessard on the Roots of Authority
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Adam Smith
Common Good

How to Cite

Adam Smith and Gaston Fessard on the Roots of Authority. (2023). The Political Science Reviewer, 47(1), 323-349.


The demise of authority has been greatly exaggerated. Political and scientific authority persist, but they can no longer be persuasively legitimated by metaphysical appeals to The Common Good, as some post-liberals propose. This essay asks after alternative foundations by comparing Adam Smith’s psychological account of authority in The Theory of Moral Sentiments with the communion-oriented approach of Gaston Fessard, SJ. Smith persuasively shows why human sympathy generates authority in every social order, yet claims that its non-rational basis makes it an unreliable guide for liberal politics. Fessard also sees authority as a basic ingredient of social coordination, but his foundational affirmation of relational goods permits him to sketch the proper goals of authority as something more than a necessary evil. Though the absence of shared goods renders Smith’s account incomplete, his psychological insights complement Fessard’s focus on conflict and communion in the ongoing quest for a compelling theory of authority grounded on experience.

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