Minarchist: A Definition of the Night-Watchman State
By | Updated May 9th, 2022
What is a Minarchist?
A Minarchist is someone who believes that the state should only exist for the purpose of maintaining law and order. Minarchism is a Libertarian political philosophy where the state’s only function is protecting individuals from theft, breach of contract, fraud, and aggression.
The government would still maintain the military, police, courts, fire departments, prisons, and legislatures, but the state would have no ability to interfere with the capitalist interactions and transactions of the people.
Minarchists believe that this standby approach to the economy will result in improved economic prosperity compared to the current system. Essentially, the word “minarchist” means “minimal statism” or “minimal state.”
They want as little interference as possible other than to protect the contracts between two private individuals. They want the government and state to act as a checks and balances system rather than enforcement of the system.
This method of governing is most popular with Libertarianism of the United States and the right-libertarian political philosophy. That said, it’s also been popular with libertarian socialists and other leftists.
Some of them believe that a minimal welfare state is appropriate only when social safety nets are put in place for the working class. They believe that eliminating welfare programs would only make sense if you also eliminate capitalism. Some more extreme leftists believe that it would be better to repeal corporate welfare rather than social welfare for underprivileged and poor people.
The minarchism definition means “minimal government intervention.” The main thing to remember is that people with this ideology believe that the government still has its role in society, but they need to take a step back and let the people transact as they please.
Many confuse minarchists with Anarchists who believe that the government has no role and should not have any purpose in maintaining checks and balances. Anarchists believe that you should be responsible for defending your property, enforcing your own laws, and backing up your own contracts with as much or as little force as necessary.
Ideology and Philosophy of a Minarchist
Many minarchists justify that a state still has its role in providing logical consequences for aggression. Some believe that it’s impossible to have any form of society without a state because the optional enforcement of laws makes for an unviable political system.
They’re saying that when you take away the state, you’re basically saying that the people should be responsible for defending themselves and everything they work hard for. This thinking would obviously not work in 99% of situations where there are many people unable to defend and protect themselves on their own.
Another issue is the privatization of defense and courts. Most minarchists believe that privatizing law enforcement, military, and courts would create a bias that would unevenly represent those who are capable of paying more for their protection.
Of course, there is a lot of skepticism over whether or not that happens in government already because a political system built on total government control has the potential for bias as well. Most minarchists believe that a night-watchman state can develop a political system that respects individual rights.
Taxation is another big issue addressed by minarchists and libertarians alike. Some support taxation because they believe it’s a necessary evil to prevent “free riders.” Others strongly oppose it and think that it’s wrong for the people to have to pay for government funding in a free society.
Ayn Rand is one of the most notable opponents of taxation, but she also believes that the removal of tax should occur gradually so as not to cripple the economic society. This also brings up the issue of whether or not a minarchy would require the people to pay tax or fees for the services provided.
When you call for a tow truck to tow your car, you have to pay for that service; it’s not a human right. In a capitalist democracy, police, firefighters, courts, and legislature are rights available to citizens provided that they pay the necessary tax to receive those rights.
It’s a grey area as to whether or not the minarchist state would pay for these services on a case-to-case basis and how they would enforce these rules.
Objectivism is the Ayn Rand philosophy that states that a night-watchman state is responsible for the court system, military, and police. It believes that the government is a means of providing retaliatory force with objective control.
So, the thinking believes that government is necessary and important to society. In order to protect the rights of all people, the government is required to intervene when necessary and provide the proper force they deem correct for the situation.
The main difference here is that Rand believes that the government has no right that isn’t provided to it by the citizens. The government is not responsible for developing its own policies and procedures, the people are in charge of what the government does, and that’s how you create a system that works for the people, rather than against it.
Objectivism states that the government is only here to protect people from criminals as the police, protect people from invaders as the military, and settle disputes as the courts.
Rand continues to preach the importance of understanding the differences between Objectivism and Libertarianism. She states that Libertarianism is a political philosophy that only focuses on public policy while she offers a fully integrated philosophical system.
She goes on to say that the issues currently facing the country are not political issues, they’re philosophical issues, and the whole system is broken.
Etymology of Minarchism and the Night-Watchman State
The term “night-watchman state” was first said by a German socialist named Ferdinand Lassalee in 1862. He spoke before Berlin by criticizing the bourgeois liberal government, comparing it to a night-watchman whose primary duty was to stand guard and prevent theft.
The phrase gained steam by being a description of a capitalist government, while liberalism became the term to describe a heavily involved state that is more heavily involved in micro-managing people’s private affairs.
A man named Ludwig Von Mises responded to Lassalee by saying that he makes the limited government look silly, but it’s no more ridiculous than the governments that involve themselves in the process of everything, including business and trade.
He used the phrase “the preparation of sauerkraut” to describe the fact that the government is far too involved in our daily lives and needs to stand on the sideline and let people live and conduct business how they please.
Those who believe in the productivity of a night-watchman state are referred to as “minarchists,” which in Greek means “first place power.”
Essentially, the history of this thought process relates to the fact that they were displeased by the lack of attention from the government, but others wished that their government would back off and act as more of a night-watchman rather than a micromanager. Minarchism believes that your government should not play a major role in any of your decisions unless requested.
Criticism Against Minarchism
The biggest criticism comes from anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-capitalists. They believe that the government is already violating the non-aggression principle by forcing people to pay even though they haven’t committed any crimes against society, and they’ve never committed fraud.
The government is essentially a monopoly that controls everything, and most anarchists think that this is the least efficient way to run a country and the most likely to be corrupt.
Based on things we see each day in the media, it doesn’t sound too far off. When you put a specific group of people in charge of anything for a prolonged period of time, you’re creating an opportunity for them to take advantage of the situation and lean it in their favor.
Anarchists are still afraid that this will happen in a minarchy and believe that you have to go one way or the other. You need to either believe in no government or government without in-betweens.
We can clearly understand this perspective because even if you’re still putting people in charge of a limited form of government, there’s always a risk. You see it in local news all the time where someone is put in charge of a local municipality, and they steal tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a number of years.
You can’t trust anyone, so how could you trust that the officials in charge of the police, military, and courts aren’t corrupt and accepting kickbacks in exchange for favors? There’s no doubt that would happen just like it does now and has for decades.
The popular American economist and political theorist Murray Rothbard said that all government services are inefficient because they don’t possess a market-based pricing strategy regulated by the consumers.
If you think about it this way when Coca-Cola runs a highly successful ad campaign for a new soda flavor and millions go out to buy it, their stock goes up, investors make money, they invest more, and new investors jump in as well.
State and government-run programs don’t have the same effect. They depend entirely on their ability to extract money from citizens, and many libertarians believe this is a violation of our rights as free people.
They believe that each individual should be able to possess their own means of defending themselves, or the government should have a dedicated set of people to defend specified areas of the country. In this ideology, the people of that area would be responsible for funding and maintaining their own personal military and law enforcement.
On one side, you have social liberals who believe that the government needs this money from taxpayers to take care of disadvantaged and dependent people. They don’t believe that society has the ability to care for immigrants, the disabled, homeless, unemployed, and the elderly.
On the other side, social conservatives believe that it’s the state’s responsibility to form ethical dispositions of people, rather than the individual’s responsibility. They believe that a private or minimal state will result in more immoral behavior and culturally destructive actions that we cannot afford.
Economists believe that this limited government intervention will actually solve more problems and weed out those who aren’t willing to compromise and work with others. For example, if a company is responsible for spitting out wastewater into the drinking water of an entire city, they should be held responsible, correct?
The capitalist-democracy method would be for the government to intervene and fine that company until they stop. But why would the government want them to stop when they’re racking up fines that continue to put more honey in their pot?
The minarchy method would be to put the people in charge of determining how they will make that company pay for polluting the water. The power is handed to the owners of the private property because they’re the ones with the property rights, not the state.
The people whose drinking water was contaminated will have to hold the company accountable for their actions by assembling a task force to shut them down or using sheer brute force.
In the event that they’re unsuccessful, only then will they call upon the government to step in and assist them in the process, not lead it.
Another argument against a free market is that it would not be able to support education, regulation, and infrastructure, but many experts have debunked this over time. It’s believed that putting the educators in control of how they educate their students will not only provide them with more freedom to teach, but it will put more money in their pockets due to the lack of tight-fisted government regulations.
The response is clear from those in favor of a free market, limited government, and the night-watchman state. Reducing government intervention and putting power back in the people’s hands is the only way to thrive economically and socially.