Straddling The Line Between Minarchism and Anarcho-Capitalism


Last summer, while working at Koch Summer Fellowship Program, I went out to lunch with a colleague. We had decided to go out to discuss career opportunities and where we were going next after the summer, but our talk quickly devolved into the (excellent) experience that KSFP had afforded us, particularly the exposure to different ideas. I started griping about another friend, “…and he’s an anarcho-capitalist, which I just don’t understand. I mean, he even wants to privatize nukes!” My colleague quietly smiled then stated, “I’m an anarcho-capitalist. I think you have to be if you want to be philosophically consistent.”

I was surprised. I respected this person immensely. Serious people didn’t subscribe to anarcho-capitalism. As a Democrat-turned-libertarian, I thought that minarchy would be the end-all-be-all. I was wrong.

Minarchy is alternatively known as a “night watchman state.” In this libertarian paradigm, the state’s only function is to provide courts for infractions of the non-aggression principle (like breaching contracts or theft). In conjunction with this, the state is allowed a police force, legislators, prisons, and taxes to pay for this system. Minarchy, in other words, allows for the minimal involvement of the state in everyday life.

Anarcho-capitalism advocates that no state should exist. The free market, private property rights, and individual choices and actions should rule beyond any government; some equate it with voluntaryism. There are a variety of theories that accompany anarcho-capitalism that describe what an ideal stateless society could or will look like, but most of them stem off ideas of non-coercive action and privatizing everything.

For me, I struggle between labeling myself as a minarchist and anarcho-capitalist. A minarchist state is much easier to imagine. Police will provide for some protection from a Mad Max world, and society will function similarly to what we have now, just at a higher level. It is easy to imagine this world, and thus minarchy was easy for me to subscribe to. However, a minarchic world has the same corruptibility as the world we live in now. Who works these courts? Who can buy off those who run the courts? Who will prevent the government from growing into beyond a minarchic state?

Anarchy wholly solves the problem of government. It does away with corruption and coercion from an entity that monopolizes force—and it is philosophically consistent. However, what the world will look like in such a society is so unclear that I can’t even begin to fathom what a true anarcho-capitalist society would look like. How will people address the non-aggression principle? What about difficult property rights problems, like pollution? What about collective action problems?

Ultimately, I am toeing the line between minarchism and anarcho-capitalism, and I think many libertarians are just as confused as I am. Political philosophy drives many of us, so being caught between two of them can be difficult. Here’s my take on where to go if you can’t decide between either: think about steps forward.

The frank reality is that, for me, if anarcho-capitalism works, that would be the preferred choice. A society without governmental coercion is ideal; what libertarian wouldn’t want that? But because I can’t even conceive of the paradigm that would allow for anarcho-capitalism, I hesitate from labeling myself as such. For now, minarchy works, but only because I can conceptualize it.

That all said, I think that minarchists and anarchists can agree that stepping forward means looking at the now, not at the future. We can start with legalizing drugs, gay marriage, and reducing taxes. While both camps might disagree on the end product—minarchy or anarchy—we have a lot of work to do before we get there. Let’s focus on moving forward first as a unified force before considering the alternative end goals.

  • BrooklynBrett

    I think your concerns are very justified. We all encounter the same dilemma on the road to liberty and philosophy, and depending on which route you are taking you’ll be confronted with anarchism sooner or later. I was well into my stride as a beltarian minarchist having read Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, Thomas Sowell and others before I encountered Rothbard, Nozick, and David Friedman.

    They very patiently and methodically explain answers to questions like: who would build the roads, operate courts, keep us safe etc.. Check out The Ethics of Liberty if you want some clear answers to those questions in an accesible and entertaining manner.

  • I agree that to be “philosophically consistent” one needs to be an anarchist. I like to say I’m a philosophical anarchist – among other things. In my ideal world there would be no borders, no governments, no countries, no religions.

    Unfortunately, the problem is that the real world doesn’t fit into the grand narratives of political philosophy. I don’t believe anarchism is feasible. History states it is not. Any anarchist experience on the books (Barcelona, Ukraine, Christiantown) was not the paradise anarchists claim it would be.

    In real life, I’m a consequentialist. Following Hayek, my problem with government is not that it is “evil” (as Rothbardians usually say). It’s not a morality tail. Government is made out of people just like you and me. My problem with government is that it doesn’t work!

    So the question you want to make is: will the application of principles in the real world lead to superior consequences? Or, alternatively: if God existed and if he were the central planner and His plans guaranteed that everybody would be more prosperous and happier, would you be against it?

    I’m a libertarian because I see evidence that the application of libertarian principles lead to better results, not because I take libertarianism as a cult-like way of life.

  • A very nice essay, and good points. I tend to think that focusing on the underlying goal is better than the societal structure that might serve it. If we want to maximize the application of the NAP, I think we may be best suited to stick to the label of ‘voluntarist/voluntaryist’ rather than ‘minarchist’ or perhaps even ‘anarcho-capitalist.’ I’d prescribe to let society structure itself however it pleases, and be fine with it if it is voluntary. I can understand the critique that the only voluntary structure is anarchy, but I will allow for heterogeneity of terms and people in the movement. If a self-described minarchist supports individual succession, for instance, I’d be fine with it (though maybe I’d prefer a different name for the org when push came to shove). As I see it, the voluntarist label can get people by their hang-ups with Anarchy and the connotations that come with it. If it works to that end, I’m for it.

  • Erin

    I really like the notion that moving forward should be our focal points. I’ve seen so much animosity between anarcho-socialists, ancaps, and libertarians, and frankly, it’s pointless. It’s like trying to figure out who the best future president of the NAACP should be in 1850. We have a lot of steps to take before figuring out what will and wont work best in the future, and right now, we don’t know what the societal landscape will look like when those steps have been taken. I don’t think anarchy would work today, but I think as we move forward as a psycho class, we will depend less on violence and coercion and more on logic to resolve social and economic problems. Infighting about the future doesn’t make any sense when we still have a drug war, a police state, and a cultural addiction to government solutions for all our problems.

  • Dave Corby

    You said exactly what I was thinking – in a clear and concise way. Thank you.

  • RandomJerk

    You say that “Anarchy wholly solves the problem of government.”

    However, anarchy does not wholly solve the problem of an absence of government (of which, there are valuable arguments to be made – the American Founding Fathers made many of them: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”)

    Hence, I consider myself a minarchist.

  • Júlio Da Silva

    Faced many times what you face, and continue to be minarchist, I dont think its true minarchists are phylosophically inconsisten, they just make choices, like anyone will do if they are dying of having no water and the person who has water completely refuses to givem them any whater, in this scenario any libertarian will face a phylosophycal problem, violate the principcles and initiate force to obtain the water or accept to die. You see, a minarchist is someone which deliberately believes that the non agreesion is the best principle to rule a society to have the conditions to pursue a long and happy life, but the principles will not let me die, I will take the water by force, so I accept to sacrifece my self and sacrifice others taking taxes by forceto guarantee a minimal state, or voluntarly ( we can agree on that), because I dont want to test Anarco Capitalism, I dont want to experiment a system where I have ultimately to convince others to attack a group that hijacked water, I want to have in place a State that have the power to do so, the same “principle inconsistency” of me accepting to sacrifice on minimal tax or force you to sacrifice ( although I think its possible for you as anarchist to live in a minimal state without paying any tax and getting the minimal State services if you need), is the same principle inconsistency of taking the water by force. Another issue is punishment. Violation of the principles results in punishment. I’m not so scared of anarco capitalists society of gang warefare, I mean I am and don even want to test it, but I’m most worry with the concept of punishment in a anarchy society. some countries or some states in the USA have death penalty, others dont. I have a moral right to want 1 year punishment for rape, and I can convince in a 100% free anarchist market other people that 1 year is the right punishment. But now my daugther is raped, I know who was the guy doing it, but this guy should have rights to defend himself, and now lets talk about the punishment, suppose he his proved guilty, if legitemately the guy subscribed to a punishment service that defines 5 days in jail is the punishment for rape and I subscribe to a punishment service that defines 1 year in Jail we will have a discussion, suppose this guy has not subscribe to any security and punishment service, do you think its right to apply on him the punishment of my security firm just because my punishment is payed uptodate and the guy has not payed for any security and punishment contract? Lady, I dont want to experiment free market justice. I prefer to have it on a monopoly. I dont want to experiment it And not wanting to try it, doesnt make me phylosophycally inconsistent, because I guarantee you a Anarco-Capitalist faced the water dilemma will become inconsistent, although to be accurate I know anarchists which told me would prefer to die, I respect that. But its strange.