The Idiocy of Minarchy


As a real (free market) anarchist, I always find that the most interesting debates come not with socialists (who are boringly wrong) or centrists (who are just boring) but with minarchists, those who believe in a small state. Minarchy, like full communism, is one of the most interesting of nonsense utopian ideology, as it flies in the face of logic, common sense and empirical evidence.

Indeed I would say that minarchists and anarchists are not actually ideological bedfellows. We may agree a lot with practical points, that X Y Z should be cut, but when it comes down to ideology and founding principles minarchists are as far from me as Stalin.

Anarchy, true anarchy, is a belief in voluntary interaction and co-operation. An action is only valid or justifiable if it is voluntary. You offering me a widget for £5 and me accepting is justifiable – we both agree to the action. You demanding I pay you £5 and then giving me a widget I do not want is not justifiable – I did not agree. Simply put, it is following the non aggression principle.

Minarchists seem to agree with this, to a point. They believe voluntary interaction is the best way to solve problems, except for in certain situations, security being the obvious example. In that case they argue that coercion and theft are the best way to solve the problem. In this way the minarchist agrees with the socialist. Theft, coercion and force are all justifiable, they simply disagree to the extent it is justifiable. Minarchists say a little, socialists say a lot, but that is just semantics; they fundamentally agree on the principle that might is right and that theft and coercion can be justified. In this way they are the same and are miles from the anarchist.

Minarchy is also illogical. Its proponents argue that voluntary interaction is best, that private firms can best provide a plethora of services. But then they decide there are a select few that the state can provide better. All the arguments they use against the state running services they don’t want it to run can be again applied to those they do want it to run: inefficiency, the problems of state monopolies, unaccountability, lack of market forces driving change etc etc. If you believe the free market can provide fundementals like housing, water, food, education, clothing better than the state, then why suddenly does the state become better when a select few industries are involved?

Finally minarchy is utopian because it defies all observations. States grow. Always. Even with the most constrictive of constitutions states manage to increase their size and oversight. Any level of government always looks to get bigger as priority number one. Minarchists, like socialists, fall at the first hurdle, thinking that the problem with government isn’t government itself but finding the right people to run government. Like bindweed government chokes life out of an economy and grows on the back of other people’s work; the problem is not with who is leading the choking, the problem is the choking itself. While anarchists correctly identify that like with a weed the only way to defeat the evils of government is pull it out by the roots, minarchists insist on living in a utopian fantasty where they just need to chop the head off the weed one more time and it will grow into a beautiful flower. It doesn’t. It never will.


  1. There is no profound difference between minarchy and anarchy, and saying so, in our present place and time, is like turning down a lift from London to Stockport, because you want to go to Manchester.

    If history teaches that a small state will grow into a large state, then it also teaches that the absence of a state will not last long without some kind of state forming in the vacuum.

    The day that minarchists and anarchists can no longer join together will be a great day indeed, as it will mean that minarchists have achieved their goals (for the time being, vigilance being the price of liberty), and anarchists have achieved 95% of their own.

  2. It’s a little harsh to describe minarchy as ‘nonsense utopian ideology’. Minarcy, as I understand it, is having a state which acts essentially as an umpire. Living in a minarchist society would mean that, provided you didn’t harm another human being (or maybe animal too), you could live as you wished.

    State revenue could come from some sort of land tax as no individual can justify philosphically absolute ownership of real property. And I agree that UKIP are not a libertarian party, despite having some excellent members.

  3. I think the problem is that you’re too concerned with the ideological differences, rather than focusing on where you agree practically (cutting X, Y and Z) and trying to get them cut.

  4. Certain goods are public goods. Explain how you build an effective road or railway network only through voluntary transactions between individuals? They require large-scale collective action and everyone benefits from the result – so everyone should pay. More to the point, how does one provide comprehensive care for the disabled, the old or orphaned? It’s not enough just to say “leave it to the kind and generous to make provision”, because that rewards selfishness. Mind you, anarcho-capitalists see no problem with selfishness (or am I being unfair?). As far as I can see, that will result in a society in which a feckless and selfish group leeches off the efforts of a generous and industrious group – i.e. exactly the society we have now.

    The are many intellectual flaws underlying anarcho-capitalism but one is a flaw common to some versions of leftist anarchism: that a pure form of freedom is ever achievable. Every action has potential consequences for the liberty of others. The mere act of ownership is a bar on the liberty of others to use the things you claim as yours, for example. Or you may decide to build a railway from your house to (let’s say) Newcastle, but that might piss off the people whose land lies in between. The resolution to such dilemmas cannot be provided purely by free markets; there must be other forms of collective action to resolve problems.

    The same can be said for laws, generally. The very existence of laws implies some collective organisation to enforce them – a de facto state, however small. You might say “to hell with laws” as many leftists do (and I often sympathise), but then how does one enforce the property rights essential to anarcho-capitalism? Or individual rights to life, liberty, safety etc? Pure, unsullied individualism is not even possible, let alone desirable.

    But ultimately, what is a ‘state’, anyway, but a collective, which may be coercive, or not to a greater or lesser degree? How is it different to a corporation (highly coercive bordering on fascistic) or a co-operative (less coercive but still restrictive). Anarchism (of any sort) requires the removal of all coercive hierarchies, but NOT necessarily all hierarchies. I’m not sure if I’m a minarchist, but they do at least recognise that hierarchies are unavoidable and take a pragmatic approach to minimising any element of coercion.

    Historically, states arose out of anarchy when warlords appropriated land and started extorting protection money from the population. This was called ‘rent’ and eventually ‘taxation’ but there is really no difference. Rent is a form of private taxation, every bit as coercive as feudalism. That is the basis of capitalism and it rests on the idea that there are no limits to private property ownership, which is the other really big flaw in anarcho-capitalism. (Incidentally, slavery is also a logical consequence of unrestricted property ownership).

    So, individual freedom without restriction eventually leads to total tyranny with power and land ownership concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite who were selfish enough to take it by force. This is the society we inhabit today. It is not collectivism per se that leads to state oppression then; it is the refusal to place any restrictions on the concentration of power, including ownership. Minarchism seems like a pragmatic and very logical attempt to deal with that problem.

    • Who builds the roads currently? Not Government, but private companies. You don’t need collective action to build roads, you only need demand for travel. Look at the railways, when they were first built it was all done privately, people wanted to go somewhere, entrepreneurs realised this so built them means to do so and boom they went. In an ancap society those who build the roads benefit by being able to sell them or charge people for usage, those who use them benefit by being able to travel and so pay people in thanks.

      In regards to imposing on others – it doesnt. If I build railway track on my land it doesnt impose, because it is my land, no property rights violated. If i try and build it on your land then its imposing ofc and that is not allowed

      Coercive hericarchies i.e government ofc should be banned, but not voluntary ones, if I voluntarily wish to work below you – say to learn from you, then thats fine because it is voluntary and un coerced.

      A state is the monopoly on the use of force, we never had anarchy, we have always had some statist system. David D Friedman cleverly outlines some hystorical systems such as in Iceland or Ireland where libertarian law systems operated but for the most part we have never come out of anarchy, as we never had it.

      As for laws, no law needs collective action, law is not of the collective but of the individual, it sets out what I do or do not want done to me or my property. In a free market system private security agencies will be able to uphold the laws of individuals – if I disagree with drugs no drugs can be taken on my land, if I disagree with murder no one may murder me etc. Going back to your railway example one obvious law is no one can use my land without my permission, so I couldnt build a railway to newcastle on your land as it would violate your law

      • Yes, the railways were built by private capital. If I’m being pedantic, I’d say it was neither government nor the private sector that built the railways but people: specifically workers with shovels and so on, not financiers, but I digress. There was a boom and then many of the investors were bankrupted. The resulting network was highly inefficient, which contributed to it being taken into public ownership. But regardless of whether we consider it to have been a success, my point is that it couldn’t have been done without the existence of a state. The railway boom took place within a framework of state regulation and with a state-regulated financial system.

        I agree with you about non-coercive hierarchies, but isn’t that a minarchist position? A non-coercive collective would have most of the characteristics of a state, even if on a small scale, surely? There would be rules and restrictions, duties and obligations, even if voluntarily accepted. Is it only the scale of the collective to which you object, or is there something else? If it is only the coercive aspect then I would ask you to conceive the idea of a non-coercive, minimal state: that’s exactly what minarchists are arguing for! I guess you think that’s impossible, but I don’t see why.

        My point about states arising from anarchy refers to early human history rather than recent events. Fifty thousand years ago, we did have anarchy. Somewhere along the line, it all went wrong. 🙁

        I found your last paragraph disturbing, I must say, as it seems to be advocating that ‘might is right’. Whilst this is a consistent position, that’s not a world I want to inhabit. But I don’t want to advocate Hobbes’ argument in favour of strong government, either, so … minarchism then!

        I would add that I believe that equality is a necessary precondition for freedom. Otherwise, concentration of power is inevitable and that’s how tyranny begins. Some kind of state (i.e. collective body politic) is required to prevent that concentration of power. The problem is how to design such a collective (or system of collectives) in a way that it does not become a tyranny itself. I can see the challenge, but I don’t think it’s impossible. I believe it’s necessary.

      • I have a bit of a problem with the last paragraph, if you disagree with murder, no one may murder you, which seems to overlook the somewhat self evident fact that even in today’s highly regulated society, and making the obvious but understandable assumption that people don’t choose to get murdered, murders happen. If people are free to make agreements, would they not be free to break agreements? What measures can be put in place to prevent people freely reneging on promises freely given? What sanctions would be available, that were not coercive, that either (or both) prevented/discouraged people from being harmful to others or provided compensation and/or punishment to wrongdoers?

    • I have to admit not hearing of Minarchism before but I think you’re right in that whilst it might not be the ideal, it does seem more pragmatic given where and who we are… And all the talk of anarcho-capitalism seems to be just to remove the “state” for the sake of it.
      Strikes me as…
      “The state’s bad, mmmmkay. We shouldn’t have a state… ‘cos it’s bad”
      But then perhaps I’m bad for being a little addicted, even if not as much as most!

  5. Right here is where I stand: I think that this is a good piece – albeit attacking the wrong people. However, I am a Minarchist, and for this reason: we live in an era which is not Libertarian, and as such, large oligopolies or corporations – which are worth billions or more – OWN certain markets. These companies are literally tasting as many pies with as many fingers as possible, and as such, if we in Britian, or if the people of Luxembourg were to go straight away from contemporary society to being Ancap, then there would be a very, very good chance that these companies could quite literally buy out entire sectors of defence, police, or whatever. Would it truly be a free society if a company with the riches of Glencore bought out the military? I don’t think so. You might say that it is unlikely, because of the free market and lots of different providers – to be honest I am not sure how a private military would work; different providers??!?!? that does not sound very efficient in a war or defending the walls to me! – but it is still possible for a small country like Luxembourg or Andorra to have its military bought out by a big corporation. Why would anyone want that? At least governments are somewhat accountable

    • no one suggests going straight to anarchy. The argument is about where the end goal lies. These big companies use the state to get big and powerful, keeping a state just allows them to stay big or rebuild

      • Further to Richard’s point, Olly, I’m not sure that response is sufficient. You’ve argued, quite convincingly, that states like to grow and aggregate more power and competence to themselves, but I’m unsure why you see that characteristic is unique to them among large organisations. It’s an observable fact that companies like to do the same thing where there’s profit and prestige to be had from it; so do co-operatives, charities and clubs. It seems to me that the desire to grow is more a feature of organisational life than of states in particular. Therefore, the problem arises of what would happen were a private security firm, in the absence of a state, to grow to the point where it achieved a monopoly over the effective use of force, and then to use that power coercively. You would, in effect, end up with a state by a different name, except without the possibility of its being held to account.

        Your argument that companies are only able to grow to a large scale, or remain at one, because of states seems highly questionable: how do you justify it? States were only able to form in the first place because groups of people were able to achieve monopolies over the effective use of force within their own territories; by definition the first ones didn’t need a pre-existing state to achieve that (call it ‘political cosmology’, if you will).

        Miarchists see the constitutionally minimal state, retaining the force monopoly and the mandate to protect all citizens from force and fraud, as a sort of backstop to prevent this sort of thing from happening. I’m yet to be convinced there’s a viable alternative.

        • I justified it in a piece here corporatism gives big corporations huge barriers to entry meaning they can’t be challenged.

          Christina is right, Long can answer that better than I, but simply put: competition. States do not allow competition, you cannot choose to set up a rival state in Britain because you get arrested. You can always choose to set up another company, another defence agency.

          • Thanks to both of you. I read Roderick Long’s article, and was intrigued to see I’d apparently reasoned out a Nozickian argument I hadn’t come across before. I have to say, of the responses he gives to the various objections, I find this one the weakest. Essentially he says he doesn’t think it would happen, mainly because companies would have good reason to renege on their agreements to co-operate with one another in establishing a coercive regime.

            It seems to me that argument rather weakens the overall case, since if you’re conceding that the incentive firms may have to cheat one another would be strong enough to ward off the threat of bad consequences, it would presumably also be strong enough to endanger the provision of good ones, such as firms negotiating fairly with one another to resolve their disputes. You can say that firms would be unlikely in the long run to cheat their own clients when they can profit by it because that would soon lead to them getting a bad reputation, and I’d agree, but what’s to stop them cheating one another on their clients’ behalf and profit through acquiring a reputation for being effective? You could respond, well, other firms would just refuse to do business with them, but if we think a boycott would hold under those circumstances there’s equally no reason to think it shouldn’t hold in the event they were trying to set up a coercive cartel, so that just brings us back where we started.


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