[ExI] Some recent thoughts on minarchism

Rafal Smigrodzki rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com
Sun Jan 23 04:52:23 UTC 2022

By temperament I am quite attracted to anarcho-capitalism as the ideal form
of governance but I recognize that for it to flourish some rather special
conditions are necessary. Failing that, minarchism or the minimal state
seems like a great idea.

What is a "minimal state"? How to determine what should be the purview of
the state and what must be left for other forms of organization to

Let me start out with efficiency. The minimal state is the one that is more
efficient than alternatives that have either a smaller or larger scope of
action. Perhaps I should call it the "optimal state" or "optimarchism",
since I seek to optimize based on empirical and theoretical insights,
rather than minimize as a matter of ideology but for the sake of continuity
I will eschew neologisms. Efficiency here is the degree to which the goals
of the individuals that comprise the society are fulfilled under the given

Generally, the state as a form of organization is inefficient in achieving
goals of individuals, due to its long feedback loops, lack of
experimentation, lack of a meaningful exit option and other issues,
compared to e.g. markets. This creates a strong presumption in favor of
limiting the scope of state action but empirically we also know that some
pressing social problems have not been adequately addressed by markets or
intra-family interactions, so a reasonable person may support the existence
of a state to take care of those non-market-able issues.

Traditionally minarchist theory was based on the non-aggression principle
and led to the endorsement of state action in collective defense, courts
and the police. I think this is a superficial approach, since it fails to
tie in to the determinants of efficiency and also it is subject to
mission-creep. A more appropriate justification for the state would not
only seek to maximize efficiency but would also create a strong Schelling
point around the extent of state action that would minimize political
transaction costs and be stable.

Whatever inefficiencies exist in state action, the state is actually
reasonably good at one thing - keeping other states from arising or
encroaching on the society. A state lives and dies by its ability to fight
off other states, and as a result most modern states are evolved to keep
other states at bay - or else they get gobbled up by their neighbors. It is
useful to recognize this particular capability of the state and to use it
as the basis for further thinking.

Let me thus propose the following principle: *The proper scope of state
action is only to survive*.

Under this principle the state may take any and all actions it needs to
stop other states or non-state actors from taking its territory, usurping
its sovereignty and asserting state or state-like control over the society.
Equally so, the state may not take any other action, regardless of whether
such action might provide benefits to some or even all members of the

This is a very peculiar way of looking at the state - it's
self-referential, it creates a purpose for the state that does not aim to
better the society, it only promises to keep other states off the society's
back. It does not depend on any particular moral vision, does not create
any task-specific duties or limitations (like the enumerated powers, or
provisions for social services enshrined in constitutions around the
world), it only makes one promise - keep other states out, no more, no
less. And yet, despite (or maybe because) of its concise nature, it could
create a strong Schelling point that would remain valid in a wide array of
possible internal and external conditions and that Schelling point could be
understood and acted upon by both the society at large and by the men of
the state.

In times of extreme strife the surviving state would legitimately claim
extreme powers - draft, confiscation, wartime communism, even (in truly
horrendous and unusual situations) censorship. This would be the
totalitarian state, subsuming all of the society to the task of its own
survival. But then, as the enemies slink away from the gates, the same
principle of state survival would mandate a gradual limitation and
dismantling of its control over the society, up to and including leaving
just a skeleton crew manning the nuclear deterrent force, with life and
property firmly in the hands of individuals and their non-state

This principle would be a beacon to provide a direction for all men, the
same in times of war and in times of peace, which is a clear improvement
over many current ideas that introduce a tension between individual freedom
and collective security and fail to give us a common way of framing and
understanding this very complex part of reality.

I am not a scholar and I am not broadly familiar with the literature
relevant to this field of political theory. In retrospect, the principle I
enunciated is quite obvious, so I am sure many others had the same idea
before me. If anyone here reading it knows of any previous proponents, tell
me, so I can acknowledge them.

Comments are welcome.

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.extropy.org/pipermail/extropy-chat/attachments/20220122/636d172d/attachment.htm>

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list