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Minarchism is a libertarian political philosophy which advocates for the State to exist solely to protect citizens from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud. Minarchists generally propose that the only legitimate governmental institutions are the military, police, and courts. However, some advocates propose fire departments, prisons, the executive, and legislatures as legitimate government functions. Such states are regarded as night-watchman states.[citation needed]


Minarchists argue that it is malum in se for a government to interfere in transactions between people by taxing for services not directly related to the protection of citizens.

Some minarchists argue that a state is inevitable,[1] thus believing anarchy to be futile. Minarchists justify the necessity of the state on the grounds that private defence agencies and courts could be biased by unevenly representing the interests of higher paying clients.[2] Robert Nozick, who publicized the idea of a minimal state in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, argued that a night watchman state provides a framework that allows for any political system that respects fundamental individual rights, and is therefore morally justifiable.[3][4]

Minarchists believe a laissez-faire economy is not only the best system ethically, but also pragmatically.[citation needed] They contend that exceedingly low tax rates as a result of minimal government institutions allows for economic benefits.


Anarcho-capitalists argue that governments are malum in se in their nature and violate the non-aggression principle arguing that the market should supply all goods and services. Anarcho-capitalists criticize state sanctioned monopolies, citing them as corrupt and inefficient due to their ability to artificially limit competing services via laws and regulations.

Social anarchists criticize the state as being founded around the protection of private property and the mode of production that surrounds it. Thus, the minarchist state is a reductionist form of the welfare state, and not substantially different in purpose. Social anarchists argue that only with the abolition of the state can truly just economic relations and prosperity arise.[citation needed]

Proponents of an economically interventionist state argue it is best to evaluate the merits of government intervention on a case-by-case basis in order to address recessions (see Keynesian economics) or existential threats.

Social liberals and social democrats argue that a government should be able to appropriate private wealth in order to better reach a society-wide optimum (as opposed to each actor sub-optimizing for themselves). Those exact obligations of the state to its citizens are decided by consensus and ultimately the parliamentarian democratic process. This may include ensuring care for disadvantaged or dependent people such as the elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, immigrants, the homeless, and the poor.[citation needed]

Social conservatives argue that the state should maintain a moral outlook and legislate against behavior commonly regarded as culturally destructive or immoral, proposing that the state cannot survive if its citizens do not have civic virtue.

See also[edit]

Minarchist or similar models and concepts
  • Night-watchman state – a popular model of minarchy which recognizes only police, courts, and national defense forces as legitimate provisions of government
  • Small government – a government intended to intervene little on peoples' economic and individual activities
  • Limited government – a government whose actions are limited by its law
Minarchist projects
Related or encompassing philosophies
  • Big government – a government with a large bureaucracy that intervenes in many sectors of civil society, perceived as inefficient, corrupt, and lacking in transparency
  • Statism – general support for large-scale state intervention and highly centralized government authority, coined by Ayn Rand
  • Economic interventionism – state intervention into economic affairs, either to generate demand for particular goods and services, nationalize industry, reshape the wealth distribution and combat material inequalities attributed to market freedom, restrict private sector competition, or promote domestic over foreign trade (see protectionism)
  • Nanny state – a pejorative term for an overprotective, overinvolved, and paternalistic welfare state
  • Paternalism – the belief that a state (or other organization) ought to make decisions on behalf of individuals who are presumed to be unable or unwilling to do so
  • Social engineering (political science) – the concept of a state or other powerful group manipulating society
  • Welfare state – the concept of state promoting well-being of citizens, leading to intervention on a great number of sectors


  1. ^ Emmett, Ross B. (2011-08-12). Frank H. Knight in Iowa City, 1919–1928. Emerald Group Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78052-008-7. 
  2. ^ Holcombe, Randall G. http://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_08_3_holcombe.pdf. "Government: Unnecessary but Inevitable". 
  3. ^ Nozick, Robert (1974). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-09720-3. 
  4. ^ Gordon, David (2008). "Minimal State". In Hamowy, Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. pp. 332–34. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n204. ISBN 978-1412965804. LCCN 2008009151. OCLC 750831024.