Is Minarchy Possible?

Here’s your chance to sell me on the notion so make it good. Bare in mind, however, that I’m a critical thinker and I’m looking for logical arguments without the usual presumptions like “It’s always been done this way.” If we invented really efficient and clean-running hovercrafts, it would be silly to cling to the idea of wheels just because that’s how it’s been done for thousands of years. I’m also tired of arguments from need which are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how much we need unicorns if they don’t exist or voodoo spells if they don’t work. There’s no point in having a discussion about the benefits of unicorns and their healing and purifying magical powers until someone convinces me they exist or they can create them.

And of course, there is the ever common presumption that minarchy “works”, but that would be circular because that’s the point of this post. I don’t believe it can work and in fact I think it’s counter-intuitive to think that it would. I see no historical evidence that societies are better off thanks to the existence of monopoly governments and I see no evidence that such things can stay small, and that’s what I mean by “work”. I think the record for a semi-smallish monopoly government is about 8 and a half minutes for the American version before the tyrannical power grab known as the Constitution, give or take a few years.

So please make an effort to abandon the common presumptions. Pretend I’ve not been to the government indoctrination centers known as public schools and that I haven’t spent my developing years immersed in a society that takes it as a given that the way to less violence is through violence. I would also appreciate if you will have your discussion with me and not just continue some discussion you’ve had with other anarchists. I am not proposing an alternative to your minarchist system. I’m sure that may seem convenient, but it’s the only way I can be intellectually honest. I suggest this post of mine for clarification, but I will put it another way. As a minarchist, you are the one suggesting one magic pill that cures all ills. I am not suggesting that such a thing exists or can be created. I am not aiming to replace your blanket system with some other. I do not have to know a cure for cancer to demand proof that voodoo spells are anything other than a complete waste of time and resources or that certain voodoo rituals may even be harmful to the intended recipient.

So to be clear on semantics, what I am referring to is an authoritarian style monopoly on violence being presented as a means to achieving a more civilized society than we could have if we withdrew our support from such things and began to individually but cooperatively oppose tyranny and mystical claims to authority in all its forms whenever it pops up its ugly head. Please attempt to disregard previous discussions with other anarchists and whatever straw-men arguments they have conveniently provided you to knock down. You are not arguing against something. You are arguing for something. There are many problems that societies face in their attempts to work out the differences among themselves and I posit that there are many solutions to those problems and I see every reason to allow people to try whatever they think might work as long as they aren’t violating anyone’s rights in the process, the one thing that minarchists insist must be done for their magic pill to work.

Here’s a tip. When you inevitably ignore my request against arguments of need and argue that we need authority figures because humans are inherently incapable of civilized behavior without them, please explain where that authority will come from that will cause those particular flawed humans to be morally superior to the others. For instance, if it originates from some god who is presumably superior morally to us flawed humans, you’re going to first have to take a few steps back and convince me of its existence. You will then need to convince me that this god has in fact granted its authority to some particular mortal agents causing them to overcome this otherwise tragic flaw in human nature. If you have a magic piece of paper, a magic badge, a magic title, or a magic black robe that corrects this inherent flaw of moral imperfection in human beings, you’ll need to explain to me how the ritual works that creates these talismans. And I’m afraid “majority support” is epic fail as an answer so can we please keep the discussion moving forward? Majorities have been violently exploiting minorities for all of recorded history.

Are you beginning to get a sense of why I am skeptical of Utopian magic pill solutions? Humans are as varied in personalities and motivations as snowflakes which makes for some complicated problems when we try to get along in a civilized manner. It will likely take us a lot of trial and error in a free market to find good solutions for these many problems. Monopoly governments have been doing more harm than good for thousands of years. All I suggest is that we finally abandon our fantasies so we can begin to get to work on real solutions. But if you actually have the snake oil elixir that fixes everything and it really works, I will gleefully burn all my anarchist and voluntaryist t-shirts and stand in line to buy some from your booth at the next Porcfest! Until then, I hope you will understand why I find the notion thoroughly worthy of ridicule in comic strip form.

In closing, I have a crazy notion for you to consider. Let’s change individuals. With each individual who learns what it really means to behave morally and to co-exist in a civilized manner with his or her neighbors, society gets a little bit better. That’s one more person who will contribute his ingenuity and brotherly love to humanity’s many problems. That’s one more person who will appreciate the value of peace and tolerance for others and their differences and pass on that value to his children; teach that value to his neighbors. It’s a realistic and gradualist approach. It’s not an attempt to suddenly and violently overthrow governments. It’s not Utopian. Blanket solutions for all of society are mystical. Individual changes are realistic and possible and those changes can ripple out to other individuals and have an exponential positive impact and make quantifiable steady progress toward peace and prosperity. Those of us who have chosen to be civilized will be better equipped than any slave for working together voluntary to protect our rights and provide for our mutual benefit. Anarchy is not a violent system that we attempt to impose on millions of people with or without their consent. Simply choose right now to consistently reject arbitrary and mystical claims to rulership of one man over another. Such designs are inherently exploitative and harmful. Anarchy is possible. Anarchy is in your head and in your heart the instant you are ready to embrace it.

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Discussion (32)¬

  1. Minarchist says:

    Great post.
    You write as well as you draw.
    I have no arguments that will convince you nor do I want to because you are on your path.
    I support anarchists and minarchists… both are tools to use to make the government smaller.
    Certain tools are better for certain things.
    I do think that minarchists can/are/will make progress in some areas. For example, you register your car. In a perfect (anarchist?) world there would be no mandatory registration but for now most people register their car (yes under threat of penalty) but they do register it. Wouldn’t it be better to have to pay less and do it every 2 or 3 or 4 years vs every year? That will only come about with ‘inside the system’ people. and there are many other foolish laws that we can try an remove until we get to anarchy.

    But I agree with your conclusion.. talk to one individual at a time in a respectful, non violent manner.

  2. Mike says:

    My concerns aren’t that minarchy will work or that anarchy won’t.

    I think there will ALWAYS be men and groups of men that seek to control others, that seek to steal and hurt others. Quite simply there will always be evil doers and I don’t think evil responds to market forces. It seeks to circumvent it.

    There will always be a time when force has to be used, when it is considered legitimate.

    My only reason for being a minarchist is I want that legitimate use of force to have rules and guidelines (like a criminal justice system and Bill of Rights) and I haven’t been convinced that can happen via the market.

    I would love to be convinced otherwise though.

  3. Paul Ott says:

    It’s simple. In order for any solution to exist within a society, it must be embraced by the people of that society. I believe minarchy has a better chance of existing in our society at this point in history. I’m not saying it is moral, and I’m not saying it is Utopian or the best solution. I think it is much more likely to actually happen than many alternatives, and much better than what is currently taking place. If at any point I view another, better alternative as feasible (in the sense of being embraced by the people of a society), then I will happily no longer consider myself a minarchist.

    Minarchy does not reflect my personal beliefs. I do not view promoting minarchy as an attempt to establish my personal code of ethics within society. The Philosophy of Liberty, although great for a government, is not my religion. I try to keep my politics and my spiritual beliefs separate. Sure, there are times they mix but the reason I care about liberty is because I want to be left alone to pursue my peaceful spiritual beliefs. I don’t really care if it is through minarchy or anarchy, as long as I am for the most part left alone.

  4. Dale says:

    I’m getting an overall tone of pessimism so far as a sort of justification. It seems to have devolved into a discussion of tactics based on the best we can do given a pessimistic outlook on human nature. I will admit that I’m a very optimistic person with a very optimistic outlook about the potential for peace and prosperity if we will start to take personal responsibility, but I understand and acknowledge that we live in an imperfect world and I acknowledge that it’s my responsibility to convey that optimism, and that’s no one post or one comic task.

    @Mike & Paul, for now, consider this. I don’t think we will ever be completely without criminals. I think that in our imperfect world, we will always have some violence and theft and so forth. Now, before we even begin to brainstorm about what tactics we should use to reduce that crime, do you think it is better to start from the shared position that we are opposing crime in order to achieve a society where crime occurs as rarely as possible or are we better off starting with the position that we need some crime?

  5. Dale says:

    “I don’t think evil responds to market forces. It seeks to circumvent it.”

    I’m sure that’s true, but it seeks to work through governments which is quite possibly the best way to circumvent market forces. The market will always be seeking better ways to prevent people from committing crimes. Crime prevention has high demand in the market. Governments don’t stop crime, however. They merely monopolize it and commit crimes far more efficiently than any petty thug can.

  6. Paul Ott says:

    “Now, before we even begin to brainstorm about what tactics we should use to reduce that crime, do you think it is better to start from the shared position that we are opposing crime in order to achieve a society where crime occurs as rarely as possible or are we better off starting with the position that we need some crime?”

    Which position will convince the most people around me to not commit a crime against me? That’s the one I will pick.

  7. Scott in Winnipeg says:

    I’m not going to try to convice you, becasue what you think is fine by me. The problem I have is when anarchist will pick a fight with minarchists, which seems silly to me. The end goal is the same, it’s preaching to the choir.

  8. FreeJake says:

    @Paul Ott

    “Which position will convince the most people around me to not commit a crime against me? That’s the one I will pick.”

    That’s your solution? Principle aside, just whatever the majority of the people decide? That’s not living like a free person.

  9. Dale says:

    “The problem I have is when anarchist will pick a fight with minarchists, which seems silly to me. The end goal is the same, it’s preaching to the choir.” -Scott in Winnipeg

    I’ve said many times that the government’s greatest weapon is its appearance of legitimacy that allows it to maintain a monopoly on violence and commit overtly criminal acts out in the open without accountability. Now, if you disagree with that, that’s fine, but that’s what I believe and I’ve argued it many times. From that point of view, if some minarchist is fueling government’s greatest tool for enslaving us, what good is it that her heart is in the right place?

    Having said that there are two different arguments that often get confused. The first is the debate over the philosophy of whether governments are the source of our enslavement by their very nature (anarchist / voluntaryist ) or whether governments are absolutely necessary to protect our freedom ( minarchist ). Both types love freedom but one or the other has a completely bass-ackwards notion of what the problem is and how we address it. So the philosophy argument, while separate from the debate over tactics, almost inevitably impacts any discussions we have about our tactics for achieving more freedom because your tactics could be hurting your goals.

    Minarchists, it’s because your philosophy is tragically misleading that I am doing a top ten list, but it’s because your heart is in the right place that you are worth the effort of a top ten list.

  10. Dale says:

    @Paul, what do you tell a socialist who believes aggression is justified for feeding people or providing healthcare? How is that wrong while out of the other side of your mouth, you’re saying aggression is justified in protecting people from aggression? How is one being socialist but not the other? Principles are pragmatic. When we truly believe what we are saying and we can demonstrate that with our consistency, our arguments are much more powerful. The minarchist argument is incredibly weak. This is a totally pragmatic stance. To those who think I speak well on FTL or in my blog posts, it’s because I have the power of conviction on my side. I hate the debate class approach of asking people to debate from a position that they disagree with. They’re teaching people the art of deception. Truth is the unstoppable force.

  11. “I think there will ALWAYS be men and groups of men that seek to control others …”
    “I’m getting an overall tone of pessimism so far as a sort of justification.”

    I think Mike’s post invented a new logical fallacy: Argument to acquiescence (or cowardice).

  12. Although I do think that working with minarchists, tactically and strategically, is a good idea, on the specific things we agree on. I know that’s not the point of this post, but I see some people arguing tactics/stategy, not philosophy, so there’s my take on that.

  13. paul says:

    I do think we should recognize that the voluntaryist/minarchist debate, and the inside the system/outside the system debate are completely distinct. I support inside the system activism, to reduce the damage government does, but I will never consider any degree of agressive violence tolerable.

    I think those who claim to support “minarchism” because they support efforts to reduce the power of government, or because they believe the best way to eliminate coersion is gradually, are confusing the issue. They support inside the system activism, and perhaps gradualism. Minarchy implies the support of a small, coersive government as an ultimate end.

  14. Dale says:

    @ J’Raxis & Paul, I’ve said that a million times but it apparently needs to be repeated frequently because it doesn’t seem to sink in, so thank you for reminding everyone. :)

  15. Vix says:

    Interesting article overall, what I don’t understand is why some people care about where others are on the path/road to liberty. Not everyone will move down this path as fast as others have or how fast some want/like. Those whom are father down the path should IMHO be torchbearers to light the path for the others so that the potholes can be avoided.

  16. Less Antman says:

    As an anarchist, I’m obviously not going to take up the challenge in this post. When I first embraced libertarianism 30 years ago, I immediately went to anarchy, but know that minarchy has been a way station for most anarchists. Fortunately, the intelligence that caused them to fully embrace the idea of non-aggression usually does eat at them when it comes to the idea of a monopoly provider of law and security being authorized to suppress competitors who don’t aggress, and it generally boils down to an unexamined but completely sincere fear that anarchy would be chaos followed by a worse government.

    So while I love respectful philosophical discussion on the topic, I think it is also important to point to empirical literature that has shown how people organized for law and security in situations where a conqueror didn’t impose a central controlling authority, and to point out how virtually all of the law and security we have today has been produced by the market, not government. Tort, property, and business law were developed almost entirely without the input of government officials and enforced without government police until relatively recently, there being absolutely ZERO police departments in America until 1838, prior to which there was, as we know a functioning society for more than two centuries. The anthology ANARCHY AND THE LAW is a great start for someone wanting to find the literature on historical anarchy, and John Hasnas’ TOWARD A THEORY OF EMPIRICAL NATURAL RIGHTS a superb online essay about how order emerged from societies without central controlling authorities.

    And, of course, if we’re going to fear killing and looting, let’s take a close look. In the 20th century, there were nearly 9 million homicides committed by non-government officials, but 262 million killings on behalf of government, not even including the 44 million soldiers dying in government battles over turf. All financial losses from all private crime come to around 50 cents per household per day, while taxes are, um, a bit higher than that.

    Like Dale, I’m an optimist: slavery was on every continent until around 200 years ago, and today is considered an abomination in every corner of the earth. And it was private individuals speaking out with conviction and consistency who were the driving force for changing that consensus. Yeah, one person at a time.

  17. Less Antman says:

    It might also be worth noting that there are more than five times as many private security personnel as government police, because people feel more secure when they employ protectors who can be fired for incompetence and who don’t spend most of their time either raising revenue with traffic citations or enforcing laws against peaceful behavior.

  18. Amanda says:

    I dont believe the government should have a role in “laying down the law” so to speak. But, it does have its place in a well structured society, if that’s what you’re going for. Anarchism vs Minarchism: Either has its merit if everyone concedes to one simple rule: All citizens armed.

    Violence doesnt need to be met or avoided by way of violence. The mere knowledge that each person is equally prepared to face an attacking force with equal opposing force is enough to stop a violent attack. Violence is thwarted by the threat of return fire. A person (as well as a group) is far more likely to take a second thought when he knows his actions must be backed up with his life in any situation. Such a social climate naturally fosters a sense of personal responsibility, the cornerstone of a true libertarian society. We are all armed - against each other, tyranical government, outside forces, and bears. It is only the bears who dont understand what they are facing if they attempt to overrun us, individually or collectively. So only the bears will charge without thinking twice.

    Consider the words of commander in chief of the combined fleet in WWII, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: “You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.” Advising Japan’s military leaders of the futility of an invasion of the mainland U.S. because of the widespread availability of guns. It has been theorized that this was a major contributing factor in Japan’s decision not to land on North America early in the war when they had vastly superior military strength. This delay gave our industrial infrastructure time to gear up for the conflict and was decisive in our later victory. Just to know that we were prepared to effectively fight our attacker was enough to stop his attack.

    @ FREE JAKE:

    (”@Paul Ott
    “Which position will convince the most people around me to not commit a crime against me? That’s the one I will pick.”
    That’s your solution? Principle aside, just whatever the majority of the people decide? That’s not living like a free person.”)

    I dont believe “convincing the most people around you” to do what you are hoping for is quite the same as following “whatever the majority of the people decide” by any stretch. In fact, quite the opposite. It is convincing the majority of the people to follow your own chosen course of action.

  19. Matthew says:

    I was a constitutionalist of a somewhat intolerant variety until I read Marc Stevens’ articles and instantly became an anarchist. There was little chance someone could have persuaded me to advocate some sort of “decent” minarchism at the time, but the logic of the anarchist position clicked with me immediately. If you want to sell logical thinkers on freedom, don’t screw around with minarchism. That said, it’s still useful to examine issues on an individual basis so people can see that freedom doesn’t mean the end of the world.

    I’m afraid I can’t help you with the illogical thinkers.

  20. Paul Ott says:

    @Dale, “what do you tell a socialist who believes aggression is justified for feeding people or providing healthcare?”

    I point out the other services that the private market has provided more efficiently and more completely than the government has provided. It would be easy (for me) to extend that to all services including police, courts, etc, but like I said, I believe that to be a harder pill for people to swallow. Maybe because I consider myself an in-the-system activist and don’t really bother to address the police & courts types of issues (and instead prefer to shift the focus to issues I think have a better chance of gaining enough support to pass), that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a minarchist? Who knows. I’ve never been that good at labeling myself anyway.

  21. Mike says:

    >>I’m sure that’s true, but it seeks to work through governments which is quite possibly the best way to circumvent market forces.>>

    I totally agree. Philosophically I am on board with anarchy. If I try to debate minarchy vs anarchy on that level, I concede the debate before it starts.

    But even in anarchy there are still times that using force is legitimate and that is where I hold on to mincarchy. I still see a need for “rules” protecting people and property concerning the times legitimate force is used.

    I haven’t yet been convinced of a market based solution for these “rules”. I think those rules (like a Bill of Rights) are universal and exist in natural law, but to be effective in practice need to be written as law. That is where a need for my minarchist government lies. There and only there.

  22. Mike says:

    I’d like to hear Dale debate Mark Edge re: Minarchism vs Anarchism. :)

  23. Charles says:

    Where is this guy wrong?

  24. Dale says:

    I’ve watched that a while back. I don’t want to spend 10 mins on it again, but I don’t recall him saying anything new other than the fallacious arguments I already hear from minarchists. He has an irrational faith in things like magic scrolls (constitutionalism) and he falls back a lot on arguments of need when the argument of possible hasn’t been satisfied, making arguments of need irrelevant.

  25. SnowDog says:

    First of all, a moral justification for minarchy: while we all have rights, meaning that we each have a need for liberty, much like a need for food, water, clothing, and shelter, the only moral code which forbids minarchy is the non-aggression principle, and the non-aggression principle is not an axiom. You can’t prove it. It is just a principle. It’s a principle that one SHOULD violate when one’s life or property is in danger. Pick your favorite lifeboat scenario.

    However, having said this, I believe that the non-aggression principle is a powerful tool. If we can build a society from it, without significant exception, then the structure of that society may survive indefinitely. Once you break the oath of the non-aggression principle, the path is open to abuse, and we’ve all seen how such abuse destroys the foundation of such society. Notice the destruction of the principles upon which the American government have been built — all because of the small contradictions inherent in the original American government.

    But we can’t escape history, and the fact that all societies close to anarco-capitalist systems have been short, de-volving into gang warfare. We can also see the effects that gangs have on societies approaching anarchy today, like Somalia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Lebanon, and any place where government is weak. And we also know that many of the people around us will never give up fighting for their government, even if we succeed in getting hold of the hearts of the American people, and convince them that society needs to change. The government will retreat, but will never go away. And we should not LET the government go away, IF it means that our society will break down into gang warfare. It is a mistake to respect the rights of others, IF we lose all rights we currently value.

    So, we need a principled minarchy as a goal: one which does not violate the non-aggression principle. We need to build a vision of what this government would look like, and encourage others to move toward it. It would have a monopoly on the use of force, but ONLY because it would be very large. Moreover, it need not violate anyone’s rights, in principle, but would be used to encourage structure in society, ensure justice when it is not forthcoming in the private markets, set-up standards by which private courts and police should cooperate, and raise an army for the defense of the country, if we are invaded.

    I’ve outlined it here:


  26. Kenny says:


    I don’t see anarchy as a ‘no government’ kind of system. I would see it as a voluntary government system - think federalism with no imposed central power.

    The thing that makes anarchy so appealing is because it addresses a MAJOR flaw with monopolistic government systems - market forces.

    If I can withdraw my funding for my government, should I no longer agree with it, then it would be a completely different ballgame than having to protest and petition for a semblance of restraint with my money.

    Konkin’s Agorism Manifesto makes a decent case for market anarchy of this sort here:

  27. Dale says:

    From Anarchy: But Seriously, Folks

    What I’m getting at here is this: Anarchy works. If you look around you, the best parts of your life are probably the parts where it has the most room to work, and the worst parts of your life are the places where it’s been partially or completely displaced by the incompetence of the state.

    The burden of proof as to what “works” isn’t on the anarchists. It’s on those who claim that the state is necessary — because every last crumb of available evidence says that it’s not only unnecessary, but an abject failure by any pragmatic standard.

    Click here to read the rest of this short article.

  28. Matt says:

    Charles i’ll answer it. Simple he states government is to protect rights by inherently restricting it. Then he says, without law, there can be no freedom. This is true, so why would you trust government’s to have a monopoly of freedom…..
    Then he says gov’t is necessary. I would like to know what necessary means, when is something necessary, and when is it simply utilitarianism.
    Then he says you have to protect your property at all times, and thus can’t move. Well there is a solution, you hire someone to protect you. Saying you need a body gaurd 24/7, would mean every family today should have a cop with them 24/7, for what does it mean to have a gov’t protecting you if the cops aren’t there?
    In essence he falls into the same trap of not realizing the law doesn’t need to be the monopoly of the gov’t.
    Then he talks about many anarchist being vandarchist. Well I don’t think anyone is vandarchist here.
    Then he talks about how anarchy is temporary and thus ignores it. First of all all governments are temporary, as well as saying that Hitler and Lenin rose to power because of anarchist. Obviously false.

  29. keith says:

    We are certainly far closer to minarchism than anarchy. I don’t know how you get from big government to anarchy without millions of people dying. I’m pretty sure everyone could imagine going from big government to small government.

  30. FSK says:

    You have one big error:

    “I am not proposing an alternative to your minarchist system.”

    There is an alternative to a minarchist system. This is agorism. All services currently provided monopolistically by government would be more efficiently provided by multiple competing vendors in a true free market.

  31. H. Rearden says:

    Is anaychy possible?

  32. Mat says:

    Dale stated on June 29, ‘09

    “‘I don’t think evil responds to market forces. It seeks to circumvent it.’

    I’m sure that’s true, but it seeks to work through governments which is quite possibly the best way to circumvent market forces.”

    All I have to say Dale is that the free market of an Minarchist government, can never be circumvented by the government as long as it is governed by an established Constitution, which would prevent it from circumventing the market. A Minarchist government need a Constitution where its core parts can never be amended for it to be effective.