Why Minarchists Are the Enemy

Column by Per Bylund.
Exclusive to STR
Libertarians want to roll back government to a much less oppressive size. In this goal, libertarian minarchists and anarchists often stand together and aim for the same goals, at least short term. In a limited sense, this may not be such a stupid idea. After all, pushing back the powers of government is a good thing, is it not?
But what about those libertarians rejecting anarchism because they think government, for one reason or the other, is inevitable? Even with these, we can often stand shoulder to shoulder against numerous policies, political power, and oppression. After all, we all want to go in the same direction: push back and restrict the powers of government.
Furthermore, we have people like Robert Nozick, who famously argued that it might be possible that a government emerges without violating any individual’s rights. Even though it sounds like pure fiction, if the argument is sound, we are bound to accept it. But if it is true, should we not join these minarchist libertarians, be convinced by their arguments as we see the truth unfold before our very eyes, and embrace that limited government that is created without anybody’s rights being either violated or restricted?
The answer is no. Whether rights are violated or not does not matter in our view of what must be.
There are plenty of reasons to reject government in all its forms, almost regardless of the definition used. But even though many anarchist libertarians would agree with this, they join forces with minarchist libertarians in the struggle to restrict and roll back the constant push for more political power. There seem to be many reasons to do this, if not only to increase our numbers in the fight for what is right and just.
But there is a problem with joining forces with minarchists; there is a fundamental difference that makes a minarchist-anarchist union utterly impossible. This difference is the principle of force and power – the principle of government. It is our very core belief as anarchists that force and power are wrong; that any involuntary subjection is always comparable to the end of the world. We have a true passion for justice, while minarchists do not.
Allow me to rephrase this statement: What separates libertarian anarchists from libertarian minarchists is what also makes the former different from statist socialists: they have a fundamental belief in government as a means and end that we do not and cannot share. Minarchist libertarians may not agree with every policy assumed by government and they may even reject almost all that which government is about. The problem is that they support the fundamental principle of government, and on this issue, we cannot find common ground.
I have many times been attacked (verbally, at least) by anarchist and minarchist libertarians alike for my principled dismissal of minarchists as allies in our stand against government. However, I am convinced that they are both very mistaken in their views, even though their rhetoric at times is attractive. Yes, it certainly sounds wonderful if we could join forces with those who share most of our beliefs to repeal almost all government and then turn to fight each other when it truly matters – when we already have established a very limited minarchist government. But this argument completely misses the point. Government is not a technical issue of size; it is a matter of principle.
From a principled standpoint, it does not matter if government controls a fraction or all-but-a-fraction of society. In this sense, minarchist libertarians are not different from big-government statists (of whatever variety). Wanting to repeal policies and roll back government is a matter of taste, but it is not a matter of principle. Some want it smaller, others want it bigger – and yet others want it to stay the same. Neither of them is willing to discuss whether government should be – only size matters. On the contrary, government’s existence is treated as a given fact, perhaps even a necessity.
In this sense, minarchist libertarians are nothing but gutless wimps; they are statist socialists with a fetish for smaller government. While big-government statists at least tend to have the decency to argue for their principled stand (that government is “good”), minarchists hide behind the myth of functioning government to protect them from hard-to-handle arguments. Most of us have faced opponents pushing for beyond-any-doubt answers we cannot supply: who will take care of the individual born without parents or relatives and who is mentally disabled and does not have any friends, cannot move or think or eat or breathe without help – and lacks all means to support him- or herself? Who will ensure this person’s well-being in a “free” society?
The question, whether posed in this extreme way or not, usually has only one purpose: to make the opponent appear to be a cold bastard who should not be taken seriously. The anarchist, of course, cannot supply a short and convincing answer, whereas the minarchist would be better off to (and usually does) reach for the trump card hidden in his sleeve: “government will take care of this matter.” Government is the final arbiter, the last resort, and the final guarantee of goodness. As well as a champion of freedom and health and all that is good and necessary and wished-for, when push comes to shove.
The truth, of course, is that government is hardly a solution, in the case of the poor individual described above or any other case. Who would notify the “authorities” if this poor person has no one and not even himself? Truthfully, would he or she be better off in a government-run society, where people are necessarily subject to their network of people with political influence, or in a decentralized society with a strong civil society where any individual’s actions make a difference? The answer is quite obvious, but to most audiences it would require the kind of explanation that can never fit in TV-friendly one-liners.
The point is not that freedom is difficult to defend – it surely is not. The point is that minarchists tend to evade the tough questions; they always end up relying on government as a guarantee when they are pushed back by a skilled rhetorician. They are not principally opposed to government, and in this sense they are statists as much as any other. From a point of view of principle, statists are all the same. As a principled anarchist, I cannot stand shoulder to shoulder with a minarchist against government. In fact, I refuse – because I know that when push comes to shove, the minarchist is like any other statist. He will not hesitate to pull the trigger on anyone with a principled opposition to government.

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Per Bylund's picture
Columns on STR: 63

Has a passion for justice.


tzo's picture

The chains of a Constitution? Parchment makes for a poor defense against bullets. Wouldn't recommend it.

kenfreedomrings's picture


When I refer to force, I am referring to the initiation of force, not defensive action which I don't consider force.

It seems you completely miss my point. It may very well be that protection associations will devolve into fiefdom wars. The police force of one protection association comes and arrests or kills me may very well be an initiation of force. You may if you like suggest that then, the protection association has become a govt. Maybe so. But how long has that societal construct survived?

I don't know the answer to that question and neither do you.

As I work to achieve liberty and move us into the direction we both want, I am on your side, and not the enemy.

To not understand that is to believe that anarchism is going to spontaneously erupt from wanton statism into liberty. Not gonna happen. I agree with Thoreau's view that no govt. at all is best when people are ready for it. I'm not convinced that we've reached that point.


P.S. I'm surprised you would be so bold as to inquire for information on my dealings with the IRS when you consider me an enemy.

BrianDrake's picture

"not defensive action which I don't consider force."

So using a shotgun to drive you off my land is not force? You can define words however you want, but that seems like an unnecessary personal definition, more likely to confuse than communicate. But fair enough, in talking with you, I'll refer to "defensive action" and "force" as opposites.

"But how long has that societal construct survived?
I don't know the answer to that question and neither do you."

I honestly don't understand the question. What societal construct?

"As I work to achieve liberty and move us into the direction we both want, I am on your side, and not the enemy. "

That depends on how you define liberty. If you are working for liberty in terms of self-ownership, you are working for the abolition of the state, the prime violator of liberty. Violating my sovereignty, "for my own good" or "out of necessity" (because not enough people are "ready"), is still violating my liberty. You're within your rights to choose for you how to protect yourself. If you deem to choose for me as well, what kind of "liberty" are you proposing?

Even if market provision of protection was indeed inadequate, how does that magically give you the right to use force to impose the single solution you prefer (a state) on me?

"I'm surprised you would be so bold as to inquire for information on my dealings with the IRS when you consider me an enemy."

Really? If nothing else, Sun Tzu admonishes us to know our enemies ("If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself."). ;) Seriously, you threw down the claim that you haven't paid taxes. I'm curious how genuine that claim is (in its sustainability). If you don't want to answer, that's fine.

BTW, I'm a Christian (yeah I know, irrational whim worshiper - not necessarily aimed at you, but to many STR commentators). So recognizing you as my enemy means I have to love you. No harm to you.

BrianDrake's picture

"I don't know the answer to that question and neither do you."

That admission doesn't seem consistent with your previous assertion that those who propose a "system" without using force (which, as you define it, is aggression) are "delusional".

kenfreedomrings's picture

Let me clarify. I think it is delusional to believe that any system of human action is not going to devolve from time to time into the initiation of force. Not that we shouldn't strive for that.

In any system of human action, there will be cases of initiation of force. My point is: I am not convinced that a purely anarchistic system will end up with less initiation of force than in a system of very minimal govt. with a constitution that has better checks and balances than the current one.

It doesn't mean that it wouldn't be my ultimate goal. I am just not so self assured about those prospects as evidently everyone else on this website is.

Further, my position doesn't not infringe on your ability to form your own anarchistic system. I believe every individual or groups of individuals have the right to secede.


BrianDrake's picture

"I believe every individual or groups of individuals have the right to secede. "

Then you are an anarchist/voluntaryist. If by secede you truly mean that I may maintain my property and simply opt out of the jurisdiction of your "minimal" state. If you "allow" me to leave, property intact, then whatever system you remain within is no longer a state. It is simply a "government-ish provision company" that you have chosen to remain with as a customer. Thus market anarchy. There is no withering of the state involved. The moment you acknowledge the right to self-secession, you have become an anarchist. Of course, your decision alone affects nothing and the state persists...but I appreciate the thought at least.

kenfreedomrings's picture

Voluntaryist, yes. One could be a socialist or communist voluntaryist also. I would call myself a libertarian voluntaryist.

Alternative systems can certainly develop that would certainly be better than what we have today.

But we can't ignore the 8000 pound gorilla. The US and all other nation states will hugely effect what goes on in those alternative systems. So I still care about what goes on in them. And major systems like that--I am not sure are ready for anarchy. And I am still not even convinced that there would not be more initiation of force with protection associations than with a very minimal government, fully understanding all the problems that entails.

I guess my point is that there is no utopia. But to get closer to that goal, I think, requires moving the culture and the political environment with various methods considering the circumstances, sometimes radical, other times more gradual. I would venture to guess that most people on this website didn't get here with a flash revelation or axiomatic insight. Heck, some might even have read Milton Friedman first. To call Milton Friedman the enemy is counterproductive, arrogant, stupid, and just plain wrong.

BrianDrake's picture

I wonder if the response would be a little better if you had titled this:

"Why Minarchist Philosophy is the Enemy"

Because minarchy is simply a form of statism, and statism the enemy of liberty.

As has been written above (by myself and others), those who are simply stuck at minarchism because they don't know better are certainly not enemies. It is the degree of belligerent attachment one demonstrates towards that enemy philosophy, when presented with critique that ultimately determines whether they are a true enemy or not.

Mark Davis's picture

I've never understood the term minarchist, which is misleading and leads to confusion. Are they for minimal anarchism? There is no such thing. They are for a minimal state. The proper term for that position should be ministatist or perhaps minstatist.

kenlefeb's picture

"archism" = "statism"

an-archism is anti-statism, so min-archism is a synonym for mini-statism.

Doc's picture

Although the comment below yours defined the word correctly, I think the term for someone who wants a state, no matter the size, is "statist".

dhowlandjr's picture

Hi guys, I really enjoyed all of the discussion. Words can be tricky, but when I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean, no more and no less! (my paraphrase of humpty dumpty, look it up if you want the exact quote). Actually, anarchy is the status quo, in spite of the fact that many free sovereign individuals choose to believe that someone else is responsible for their actions and their life, and thus has the authority to rule over them. There are also many criminals who pretend to believe (and perhaps many others who actually do) that their predations are beneficial, or necessary, or inevitable. On the other hand, while I do not consider myself a statist, how can you have a loving family that does not act as a state in that the parents rule over their children and when necessary will resort to force to protect them from danger. As soon as two reasonable adults disagree about the age of majority (in spite of the fact that I'm over 50, I continued to make a lot of mistakes and came to a lot of erroneous conclusions until just recently, lol!) it seems that a rule may have to be imposed on someone. I wish I knew how to state it more clearly, but in spite of the fact that I wish to rule over no one and none to rule over me I was a child once, and am a parent now, and I am also aware that parents often resort to preemptive force (not allowing a child to leave the yard until competent to cross the street, for example). Most of us agree that we would have to draw a line somewhere, but it's also true that once an arbitrary line has been established, strict adherence to the rule will result in certain cases of injustice. There is also some difficulty in how property rights can be properly applied when most of the property in the world, other than what is still in the hands of the producer, who has resorted to no coercion or taxpaying in its production, could be considered to be unjustly acquired. These issues don't make me any less desirous of freedom, just less sure that I always have the answer. I hope I could be wise enough to make the right choice even if some statist were ordering me to do so, but our distaste for obedience many times could lead us astray? Our desire to allow our children their sovereign freedom could lead to their making choices on their own prematurely that could enslave them much worse than our loving control? It's not quite as easy to draw the line as some would arrogantly assume.

tzo's picture

I would recommend listening to Gary Chartier's presentation here:


It is the top right video. It relates to this very strongly.

Darkcrusade's picture

Lemme guess,100% of Anarchists where first Minarchists.So it is really just a half-step away in waking up to the facts of the situation.

The masonic roots should be adequate evidence for the most stalwart Minarchist.
With the reverse robinhood,stealing from the poor and giving to the rich,bankster bailouts it would be a feeble shrug to deny the repeating history of the situation.

John T. Kennedy's picture

"Whether rights are violated or not does not matter in our view of what must be."

I am baffled by this statement that stands completely unsupported in this article. Any action which doesn't violate rights is morally permissible. Any action which violates rights is not morally permissible. That certainly matters in my view of what ought to be.

I've read Nozick's argument for a voluntary government and find that it simply fails and all such arguments fail in principle.