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In civics, Minarchism, sometimes called minimal statism, is the view that government should be as small as possible. Many minarchists consider themselves part of the libertarian tradition, and claim that what they call minarchy continues the traditions of classical liberal philosophy. Minarchists are opposed to anarchism, believing it na´ve and overly simplistic.

Minarchists often disagree on government's ideal size. Radical minarchists usually agree that government should be restricted to its "minimal" or "night watchman" state functions of government (e.g., courts, police, prisons, defense forces). Some minarchists include in the role of government the management of essential common infrastructure (e.g., roads, money). Others, in a stance sometimes labeled a "slippery slope", include much additional infrastructure (e.g., schools, hospitals, social security). Some of these minarchists, in a manner more pragmatic than principled, tolerate the government's current domain and consider it more urgent to prevent the expansion of government than to reduce its role. Minarchists are generally opposed to government programs that either transfer wealth or subsidize certain sectors of the economy.

Minarchists usually explain their vision of the state by referring to basic principles rather than arguing in terms of pragmatic results. For example, in his book Anarchy, State and Utopia Robert Nozick defines the role of a minimal state as follows:

"Our main conclusions about the state are that a minimal state, limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on, is justified; that any more extensive state will violate persons' rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified; and that the minimal state is inspiring as well as right. Two noteworthy implications are that the state may not use its coercive apparatus for the purpose of getting some citizens to aid others, or in order to prohibit activities to people for their own good or protection."

Prominent minarchists include Benjamin Constant, Herbert Spencer, Leonard Read, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, James M. Buchanan, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, John Hospers, Robert Nozick, Henry David Thoreau (See especially his essay "Civil Disobedience", online at Wikisource ).

A directly competing theory is eco-anarchism, which some consider a form of minarchism. This view considers anarchism basically correct about all relationships between humans, but requires some rules for dealings with non-humans and the ecosystems that provide nature's services to them. The "night watchman" can thus be distilled into a "forest ranger" or "game warden" but the basic anarchistic principles are unchanged.


See also:

  • Anarchism, the opposition to all forms of government (minarchism included).
  • Libertarian socialism (or "classical anarchism"), the political movement that wishes to do away with all forms of government and abolish capitalism.
  • Marxism, whose final goal is the abolition of government and private property, and the creation of a communist society.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 05:15:18
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01