It may be rather inconvenient for me to display such opinions, given that most people who are libertarians are also minarchists, but I truly believe that minarchism is the most addle-headed political delusion that exists. Minarchism is not only statism, it represents its most Utopian form.
Minarchists, very simply, are people who believe in government but also believe that government should be limited. I will now present a list of four principles I would consider fundamental to the minarchist mindset, with principle number 1 also providing a more expanded definition of minarchism.
Note that for the purposes of this entry, I use “government” in the sense of “concrete expression of the State,” as minarchists do, not as “agency of governance”: the agents of the State can only be said to provide governance in the loosest, most amoral sense possible.
1. Basic definition. Government must always be kept “limited,” said limit being far lower the scope of governments of today. This limitation is achieved by binding the government to “checks and balances” (internal competition) and/or to follow some set of doctrines such as the US Constitution, as well as enforce it.
2. Utilitarian justification: the sovereignty argument. There must be a final authority present for society to operate, otherwise we would have chaos.
3. Government is a “necessary evil”: despite its inherent corruption and immorality, we need it to enforce point 2.
4. Moral justification. Government is based on consent, or should be based on consent. Anarchy cannot work because people would naturally establish governments.
In this list, I would consider 1 the most fundamental principle for minarchists, as it basically defines their political framework. The other principles are either arguments they use against Anarchy, or moral positions they take about the State. I would also say that the vast majority of minarchists, from my experience, believe in these four basic principles. I certainly did when I was a libertarian minarchist, and so do most minarchists who have argued with me on the topic.
Given this, it should be instructive to examine how these principles harmonize with, or contradict, each other, taking care to examine possible reformulations so as to not be merely knocking straw men. Note that, for the purposes of examining the interactions between these premises, I will not question the content of those premises, reserving this for later. For now, let us take them completely at face value.
Let’s start with what is indeed harmonious: points 1 and 3. If government must be limited and is not in and of itself desirable, then we can indeed say that it is a “necessary evil,” which we must always guard against.
Are 1 and 2, and 1 and 4, harmonious points? Point 1 says that government must be limited in accordance with either a principle of checks and balances or a doctrine. And yet points 2 and 4 present entirely different rationales for government: one, that government exists in order to be the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, and the other, that government must exist in forms that people consent to.
But this is contradictory. Either government is limited by some standard, or it is moved by sovereign rulings or consent, both of which have no inherent limitations. A government based on such principles may become smaller, or bigger, than the minarchist may establish from principle 1.
How can we reconcile this? We can argue that, principle 1 being most important, these standards represent the absolute limits within which people may consent or not, or within which the government may play arbiter or not. But this presents only more problems. Suppose people refuse to consent to a rule inscribed in one’s chosen minarchist doctrine, or against which checks and balances alone do not protect. Or suppose that the ruling class (for who else could decide this?) decides that its sovereignty demands new rules which do not fit those limits.
Then what? A premise must necessarily be abandoned. If we abandon premise 1, then we abandon minarchism. If we abandon premise 2, then the utilitarian justification for government is defeated. If we abandon premise 4, then the moral justification for government is defeated. Our only possible conclusion, from this paradox alone, is that the minarchist system is inherently unstable, even if we do not involve class theory in the picture and merely look at its basic premises. Either a minarchist government is limited, it is consensual, or it is a sovereign entity that imposes right and wrong in order to prevent chaos. This is a no-win situation.