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Minarchism is a libertarian political philosophy which advocates for a particular variety of minimal state that acts only to enforce conditions of capitalism, while all other functions are provided by the free market, like in a laissez-faire economy. Such a state could also be called a minarchy. It is distinct from anarcho-capitalism, in which a de jure state would hypothetically not exist and so the conditions of capitalism would not be centrally enforced.

Different minarchists may disagree about which functions should be exercised by a minimal state and to what extent, therefore there are different models of it. One of them is the night-watchman state, which is commonly defined as a state whose only legitimate function would be the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud and whose only legitimate governmental institutions would be the military, police, and courts.


Minarchists argue that the state has no authority to use its monopoly of force to interfere with free transactions between people, and see the state's sole responsibility as ensuring that contracts between private individuals and property are protected, through a system of law courts and enforcement. Minarchists generally believe a laissez-faire approach to the economy will most likely lead to economic prosperity.

Some minarchists argue that a state is inevitable.[1] Another common justification is that private defense and court firms would tend to show bias, unevenly representing the interests of paying clients.[2] Robert Nozick 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.[3]

Ayn Rand is notable for her opposition to taxation, while also holding that the elimination of taxation in a society should occur gradually.[4]


Anarcho-capitalists generally argue that actual governments of today violate the non-aggression principle by their nature. They argue that such a government's only legitimate uses of force are against those who have stolen private property, vandalized private property, assaulted someone, or committed fraud.[5][6] Many also argue that monopolies tend to be corrupt and inefficient.

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 from it in purpose, according to this analysis. Social anarchists argue that only with the abolition of the state, whether it be the faux-compassionate welfare state or the boldly unconcerned austerity state, can truly just economic relations and prosperity for all come about.

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 children, the elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, immigrants, the homeless, the poor, the unemployed, caretakers, or victimized minority groups; it may also feature none of that.

Social conservatives argue that the state should maintain a moral outlook and legislate against behavior commonly regarded as culturally destructive or immoral; that, indeed, the state cannot survive if its citizens do not have a certain kind of character, integrity and civic virtue, and so ignoring the state's role in forming people's ethical dispositions can be disastrous.

See also

Minarchist or similar models and concepts
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
  • 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Holcombe, Randall G. http://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_08_3_holcombe.pdf. "Government: Unnecessary but Inevitable". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Nozick, Robert (1974). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-09720-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Rand, Ayn; Robert Mayhew (2005-11-01). Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-451-21665-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Long, Roderick, Market Anarchism as Constitutionalism, Molinari Institute.
  6. Plauché, Geoffrey Allan (2006). On the Social Contract and the Persistence of Anarchy, American Political Science Association, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University).