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Libertarians like to use the word minarchy to refer to limited government. Is this a word that Objectivists can use as well?

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asked Jan 30 '11 at 23:19

Fareed's gravatar image


edited Jan 31 '11 at 00:17

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦


According to Wikipedia, minarchism is a term coined in 1971 by Samuel Edward Konkin III, who advocated a flavor of libertarian anarchism, and who wanted to contrast his views against those of others (the minarchists) who supported the defense against force and fraud through a government strictly limited to that role. It is an attempt to describe what Objectivists would call laissez-faire capitalism, but on incorrect premises; namely, that statism and anarchy are two opposite extremes, with a purely rights-protecting government being somewhere in between.

The Objectivist defense of limited government over anarchism does not concede that government is a "necessary evil" nor that any kind of compromise is needed to implement liberty in an imperfect world. Rather, a rational government with objective laws is part and parcel to what a free society means, and anarchism is bad in theory as well as unworkable in practice.

The etymology of the word "minarchy" or "minarchism" also invites a confusion that is already common among conservatives: that the size of government -- its budget, number of employees, number of departments, etc. -- should be a major criterion for judging whether it is moral. It is true that our statist government today is "big" as a consequence of having powers and responsibilities that it should not have, and that a proper government by Objectivist standards would, under most circumstances, be much smaller than what we have today. But the relevant principle in Objectivism is that the state is an agent of its citizens' self-defense; that is, it is limited to specific qualitative powers. It places no quantitative limits on the actions of government (e.g., measures needed in a major war of self-defense against a strong enemy) needed to achieve that end.

To avoid confusion, and to avoid making unnecessary concessions to the anarchists, it is best to describe the Objectivist political ideal as laissez-faire capitalism.

answered Jan 31 '11 at 00:05

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

edited Feb 01 '11 at 21:59

I'm not sure the term carries the exact connotations you give it -- I always took it as meaning the government should be no larger than required to carry out its proper functions -- but your basic point is correct. The fundamental issue is the proper scope and function of government, not its size, and anything that shifts the debate from the former to the latter is at minimum obfuscatory.

(Feb 01 '11 at 17:45) Kyle Haight ♦ Kyle%20Haight's gravatar image

The Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minarchism) defines the idea as referring to limitation on the scope of government, not on its size, and in particular limiting its scope to "the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud."

(Feb 01 '11 at 20:24) Justice Justice's gravatar image

I updated my answer to reflect the common libertarian definition, with my previous answer included as addressing the confusions that the term "minarchism" encourages.

(Feb 01 '11 at 22:02) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image
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Asked: Jan 30 '11 at 23:19

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Last updated: Feb 01 '11 at 22:02