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Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come. -Vow of the Night’s Watch

Today’s episode of the Freedom Report podcast delves into the philosophical underpinnings of the philosophy of minarchy. Most people would probably have a basic idea of what it might mean to be an anarchist, but how do you think people would react if you told them you were a minarchist? They’d probably scratch their heads and ask, “what’s that?”

Minarchism, or the belief in a “night watchman” state, is a term to describe a sect of libertarianism which advocates for a minimal government, dedicated solely to the protection of individual rights. In this libertarian republic, there would be constrained government power, minimal spending, and minimal levels of intervention.

The name “minarchist” originated out of the anarchist movement, and was coined by anarchist philosopher Samuel Edward Konkin III. The ideas were popularized in the 60’s and 70’s by Robert Nozick, whose seminal work “Anarchy, State, & Utopia” attempted to explain what a minarchist form of government would look like.

Nozick believed that full anarchy, such as that defended by Konkin or Murray Rothbard, was a utopian ideal that could not, and should not exist. Why? Because to be a full anarchist is to believe that the non-aggression principle is optional, and that an anarchocapitalist system will eventually develop institutions having the same effect as a state.

Nozick’s nightwatchman state would have just enough power to prevent the violation of individual rights.

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. — Robert Nozick

Today’s Freedom Report goes into detail about the type of philosophy that we at The Libertarian Republic believe should be the ideal. If you’ve ever felt alienated by anarchist’s dreams of utopia, or that the big government philosophy of conservatism and liberalism are defunct, then this podcast is for you.

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About The Author

Austin Petersen

Austin Petersen is the founder of The Libertarian Republic, as well as the CEO of Stonegait LLC. Formerly an Associate Producer for Judge Andrew Napolitano's show "Freedom Watch", on the Fox Business Network. Austin was referred to by the Judge as "The right side of my brain". He built Judge Napolitano's social networks with over 700,000 fans and millions of clicks a month. Austin graduated from Missouri State University. He has written and produced award winning plays and videos, and previously worked for the Libertarian National Committee and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

  • PureCognition

    This is the first episode of your podcast I’ve listened to even though I read the articles hear regularly. I didn’t know you had one until you posted a picture of Jon Snow. I’m hardwired to notice anything Game of Thrones related. So, +1 for marketing.

    This was an excellent podcast I’ve always been interested in learning more about Minarchism. I’ve always claimed to have a Libertarian with Anarcho-Capitalist sympathies. It turns out that I’m basically a Minarchist.

    Concerning your analogy of The Night’s Watch, I think you might be on to something. Instead of having politicians living high on the hog and acting like criminals running the government, perhaps we should just have criminals take the same basic vows as The Night’s Watch and run the government from prison. Instead of making government a high power, high paying career opportunity….let’s make it a punishment. 😉

    • That’s a brilliant idea! Glad you enjoyed the podcast. Hope you will give us a subscribe and if you enjoy, please leave us a five star review on iTunes to help us get the word out. Have a great week!

  • PaulAnthony

    Thanks, I didn’t know I was a Minarchist!
    I wrote a novel a few years ago (After the Blackout) in which the protagonist (Mike) calls himself an anarcho-capitalist. In a conversation with the antagonist (Joshua), a socialist, Mike says “Government is only necessary to accomplish the things individuals or groups of individuals working together can’t do for themselves”. Well, that sounds like a Minarchist. And yet…each time a situation arouse where Joshua thought a government was needed, Mike found a way to convince diverse groups to work together to solve the problem. Some might call that collectivism, but I prefer to think of it as “Community”. A volunteer fire department, for example, or a militia for defense. The militia is also voluntary, but all who volunteer agree to defend the entire town, not just the interests of the members.
    Mike, being a capitalist, sets up a new form of currency and establishes a virtual bank. Joining this economy is also voluntary. Anyone who doesn’t join is still free to barter, but the benefits of membership convince most to join. The proceeds from this virtual bank fund the fire department, public school, library and militia.
    It ends up working pretty well, but it is hard to get most people to understand how it can without a government. The townspeople want to make Mike the Mayor! (He declines).
    So, did he create a government or a community?

  • tz

    I haven’t listened to your intro nor you v.s. Tom Woods podcast yet, so this is before that.

    I’m a Minarchist from way back, probably from when many years ago I was trying to find out the minimal government. David Freedman’s Machinery of Freedom tried doing the AnarchoCapitalist case, but the same problems of uniform law were there.

    I often note the 1936 book, “The Professional Thief” described an anarcho anti-security system. Quite organized. If there is anarchy, there can be a thieves and assassins guild.

    It costs money to find a guilty party and to recover stolen merchandise or to impose some kind of restitution. If the “insurance” company only finds only a fraction of the actual wrongdoers, it isn’t going to pay $5000 to investigate a $500 crime, or put another way, the full cycle cost of investigation, prosecution, and recovery must be sufficient to deter or pay for the particular crime. And thieves will spend 8 hours being better entrepreneurs and experts at their thefts, while the agents have other things to do most of the day. The thief has to find only one unlocked opening, the security agency must insure all openings are locked. This is asymmetrical.

    Minarchy solves this by giving the thieves their just desert (see CS Lewis on Humanitarian theory of punishment). But part of that desert is not merely the actual costs of the theft, but also the disruption to the peace and order of society. And the latter can be much greater than the former. We used to say prisoners were “paying their debt to society”.

    Your points on AnarchoCapitalism / Anarchy in the 5 reasons are the same ones I have. You need to have agreement on “private property”, or “aggression” and enforce a common law. I would call it “The Natural Law” – that which can be determined by reason and includes the NAP, property, fraud, perjury, etc. and it is not that there is a monopoly, but only that this fixed body of law discerned through reason (unless amended when an error is found) is what is recognized when I exercise my rights myself or by government or private proxy. Anarchy enforces no law. But if the Natural Law is to be enforced, anyone and everyone can do so, personally and on behalf of third parties. Many places would need little government (if there are lots of volunteers). Others would prefer to busy themselves with what they do best and appoint official constables.

    Things like due process, warrants, getting a judgment before going after someone etc. are important. Anarchism has no such constructs. They may invent insurance and security and arbitration, but they are just thugs – they are free to make up their own laws, rules, regulations, judgments, processes. There might be a nice agency, or all agencies that are nice, but then you have a de-facto minarchy (if I don’t agree to arbitration, it won’t be any different than disobeying a minarchist court order – will they use force? On what basis? It doesn’t cease to violate “non-aggression” when some anarchic arbitrator says it can be violated, though they will make up something about it being justified counter-aggression).

    Also take care of some other commons problems (e.g. if someone objects to 10 feet of a levee, the entire community will be flooded even if the owners of the other 9990 feet agree). Or roads “There are alternate routes”, but they don’t go from point A to point B, or do so using a winding enough path that negates the reason for building a road.

  • tz

    The free market is about efficiency and is totally amoral. Justice is related to truth and a virtue. Although a free market could provide “justice” if someone really wanted to know the truth in a dispute, most people would rather pay for a favorable ruling. The gavel becomes that of an auctioneer, not a referee.

    One thing Minarchists (and most other Libertarians!) fail is to note there is a third dimension. The market is about amoral efficiency. Government is about keeping peace and order. But the Voluntary organizations (DeToqueville) – the fraternal organizations, Churches, committees, or just your neighbor helping you out is far larger than both others combined, or should be. It is far more tyrannical for the government to have displaced this third dimension than interfere with the market. The latter is obvious and the errors can be found. Usually the churches and organizations are happy to have government take over their job – and it takes a long time to realize the corrosive way it is executed – Church welfare helps people out of poverty and discourages bad behavior, Government keeps poor as poor and encourages bad behavior.

    The US Army during the war between the states was made of of individual state militias that came together. Things like a federalized standing army is the problem. A professional army v.s. a group of volunteers cooperating. Neither are the market.

    (Listening to the podcasts)

    I use the Somalia (or Detroit!) example for Anarchists, not Minarchists. There can also be minimal but wrong government.

    When the churches or other organizations aren’t handling some class of people who cannot participate in the society and are breaching the peace and order (e.g. mentally ill), the state can act as a final backstop for the purpose of keeping the peace. A safety net to prevent a crash, not a hammock to rest upon. Jails have to provide food and medical care for those in custody – some awaiting trial so are considered innocent. Extend that for a “right to food” (as an extension of the right to life). Give them the leftovers and the least palatable food. Or let them catch, kill, and eat stray animals or edible parts of plants in commons areas.

    As to who defines “aggression”, “property”, it has to be the people, possibly through representative democracy. Woods asked “why wouldn’t the government define it to their advantage” – they might, but if you have something like juries (jury duty, slavery!), you have to get over a nullification (Who wrote a book on that) threshold like the Fugitive Slave Act. That is also why we need checks and balances, the more the better – three branches, but federal v.s. state, and judges v.s. juries.

    Another problem with anarchism is what do you do when one insurance/security/arbitration organization arises, propagandizes their own that they are fair, and demands everyone pay premiums (or their arbiters will find you in default and security will come and steal and imprison you? That is the exact case we have now where the single, monopolistic security arbitration is so big it can’t be opposed – it is called the Federal Government.

    Anarchism cannot work if it requires a perpetual majority of anarchists. I’m not sure the threshold for minarchy but it is probably 10-20%, especially if they show themselves to be wise and noble – think Ron Paul. Of course even that would require an educated, moral people.

    And I think it is there that Anarchism is attractive but clearly fails. People attracted to anarchy don’t want to control themselves. The NAP is narrow, so people can behave promiscuously (and spread disease – Public Health is another place where you require minimal government because bacteria, viruses, and parasites don’t respect philosophical arguments), they can fail to provide for themselves, remain generally ignorant. They have a form of freedom but are enslaved to their passions.

    It is possible to have a moral majority that is also pro-liberty. We’ve lost shame, but that was what controlled the passions. People could and would not act violently against someone boorish, but they would refuse to associate with them. When you can’t trade because they don’t like your behavior, it makes things difficult. This is the foundation. If everyone is acting to try to be and do good in the Natural Law, common understanding, instead of just doing what they want (I’d even add Ayn Rand’s ideas – enlightened self interest is still an exchange, not an isolation), then for the exceptional cases – which are recognized as exceptions – you need the Minarchy. With a proper moral compass, it wouldn’t be seen as any kind of force for good, but a lesser but necessary evil to counter the greater evils which you’ve enumerated.