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Minarchism or minimal statism is a form of libertarianism that doesn't seek the abolition of the state (like anarcho-capitalists do) but rather a great reduction in the power of the state down to the absolute minimal amount possible, which is often considered to be provision of defence and arbitration services (ie. policing, the court system and military national defence). This limitation often leaves the state with only one role: that role has been described as the night watchman state – the state protects rights, arbitrates in disputes and enforces contractual obligations freely entered into by citizens.

Unlike a welfare state, the minarchist state would not provide welfare services, nor would it enforce morality as many conservatives are keen for the government to do.

From a libertarian perspective, minarchism is justified on both practical and theoretical grounds. The practical argument is simple: it would be much simpler to bring about a minarchist state as opposed to an anarcho-capitalist state. Convincing non-libertarians of the merits of libertarianism is easier if one does not have to convince them that anarcho-capitalism is justified.

But minarchism is also defended on theoretical grounds. Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State and Utopia defends a minarchist state, which he defines 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.[1]

Nozick goes on to argue that this minimal state comes about naturally, as with earlier social contractarian arguments of philosophers like John Locke. In Nozick's theory, the progression goes like this: a free-market anarchist State of Nature exists much like in Locke's Second Treatise. A variety of private protection agencies form to provide arbitration and protection for those who subscribe to those services. By joining the private protection agency, one surrenders some of one's rights in order to get mutual protection. These private protection agencies would then form into a union over time - by merging together and by ensuring that the rules they act by are harmonious. During this process, nobody's rights are infringed. Eventually, one dominant private protection agency comes to dominate through free market processes. At this point, this is functionally equivalent to a minimal state. Nozick's theory has, of course, been criticised by libertarians[2] as well as non-libertarians.


  1. Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia.
  2. Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, ch. 29 Robet Nozick and the Immaculate Conception of the State, on Mises.org