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In libertarian political philosophy, a night-watchman state is a model of a state whose only functions are to provide its citizens with the military, the police and courts, thus protecting them from aggression, theft, breach of contract and fraud and enforcing property laws.[1][2][3] 19th-century Britain has been described[by whom?] as standard-bearer of this form of government among European countries.[4] Proponents of the model or varieties are called minarchists.



The phrase "Nachtwächterstaat" was coined by German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle in an 1862 speech in Berlin. He criticized the bourgeois liberal limited government state, comparing it to a night-watchman whose sole duty was preventing theft. The phrase quickly caught on as a description of capitalist government, even as liberalism began to mean a more progressive state.[5] Ludwig von Mises later opined that Lassalle tried to make limited government look ridiculous, but that it was no more ridiculous than governments that concerned themselves with "the preparation of sauerkraut, with the manufacture of trouser buttons, or with the publication of newspapers".[6] Proponents of the night-watchman state are minarchists, a contraction of "minimum" and -archy, similarly to anarchy. Arche (/ˈɑːrki/; Ancient Greek: ἀρχή) is a Greek word which came to mean "first place, power", "method of government", "empire, realm", "authorities" (in plural: ἀρχαί), "command".[7] The word "minarchist" was coined by Samuel Edward Konkin III in 1980.[8]


Minarchists generally justify the state on the grounds that it is the logical consequence of adhering to the non-aggression principle.[citation needed] They argue that anarchism is impractical because it is not sufficient to enforce the non-aggression principle.[citation needed] They argue that this is because the enforcement of laws under anarchism is open to competition.[9] Another common justification is that private defense and court firms would tend to represent the interests of those who pay them enough.[10]

Some minarchists argue that a state is inevitable,[11] thus believing anarchy to be futile. Minarchists justify the necessity of the state on the grounds that private defence agencies and courts could be biased by unevenly representing the interests of higher paying clients.[12] Robert Nozick, who publicized the idea of a minimal state in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, argued that a night-watchman state provides a framework that allows for any political system that respects fundamental individual rights, and therefore morally justifies the existence of a state.[13][14]


Proponents of an economically interventionist state argue it is best to evaluate the merits of government intervention on a case-by-case basis in order to address recessions (see Keynesian economics) or existential threats.[15]

Social liberals and social democrats argue that a government should be able to appropriate private wealth in order to better reach a society-wide optimum (as opposed to each actor sub-optimizing for themselves). This may include ensuring care for disadvantaged or dependent people such as the elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, immigrants, the homeless and the poor.[citation needed]

Social conservatives argue that the state should maintain a moral outlook and legislate against behavior commonly regarded as culturally destructive or immoral, proposing that the state cannot survive if its citizens do not have civic virtue.[citation needed]

Left-libertarians, such as libertarian socialists and anarchists, argue that the inherent inequalities within a society under a minarchist system would further be exacerbated by the accumulation of private wealth by the already wealthy and private landowners and thus argue that a properly functioning libertarian system needs common ownership and worker collectives.[citation needed]

Deontological anarcho-capitalists argue that states or governments are malum in se and violate the non-aggression principle by their very existence, contending that private markets should supply all goods and services, including all legal and protective services as well as the means of exchange. Consequentialist anarcho-capitalists criticize all state or state-sanctioned monopolies, citing them as corrupt and inefficient for eliminating or artificially restricting competition through laws and regulations.[citation needed]


There have been initiatives to establish night-watchman states.

  • In 2001, Jason Sorens, an American Ph.D in political science and economics, founded the Free State Project, a plan of mass migration to the state of New Hampshire in order to establish there an independent government founded on libertarian principles.[16] One of the project's initial goals was to collect a petition with 20,000 signers declaring their intent to move to the state; this was achieved in February 2016.[17]
  • In 2015, Czech politician and libertarian activist Vít Jedlička proclaimed the Free Republic of Liberland on a disputed area between Serbia and Croatia on the margin of the Danube river.[18] The project aims to establish Liberland as a libertarian micronation with voluntary taxation in the region.[19] In the first week following the creation of Liberland's official website, over 200,000 people applied for citizenship.[20]



  1. ^ Gregory, Anthony.The Minarchist's Dilemma. Strike The Root. 10 May 2004.
  2. ^ What role should certain specific governments play in Objectivist government? - Leonard Peikoff/
  3. ^ "Interview with Yaron Brook on economic issues in today's world (Part 1). « Featured Podcast « Peikoff". 
  4. ^ Townshend, Charles (2000). The Oxford History of Modern War. Oxford University Press. p. 15. ISBN 0-19-285373-2. 
  5. ^ Marian Sawer, The ethical state?: social liberalism in Australia, Melbourne University Publishing, 2003, p. 87, ISBN 0-522-85082-0, ISBN 978-0-522-85082-6
  6. ^ Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism, 1927, p. 37
  7. ^ ἀρχή, A Greek-English Lexicon
  8. ^ Samuel Edward Konkin III, New Libertarian Manifesto, 1980, p. 9.
  9. ^ Roderick T. Long & Tibor R. Machan, eds. (2008). Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country?. Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7546-6066-8. 
  10. ^ Holcombe, Randall G. "Government: Unnecessary but Inevitable". 
  11. ^ Emmett, Ross B. (2011-08-12). Frank H. Knight in Iowa City, 1919–1928. Emerald Group Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78052-008-7. 
  12. ^ Holcombe, Randall G. "Government: Unnecessary but Inevitable". 
  13. ^ Nozick, Robert (1974). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-09720-3. 
  14. ^ Gordon, David (2008). "Minimal State". In Hamowy, Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. pp. 332–34. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n204. ISBN 978-1412965804. LCCN 2008009151. OCLC 750831024. 
  15. ^ "The Means to Prosperity, by John Maynard Keynes". Retrieved 2018-01-23. 
  16. ^ Belluck, Pam (October 27, 2003). "Libertarians Pursue New Political Goal: State of Their Own". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Membership Statistics". Free State Project. Retrieved 26 January 2016. 
  18. ^ Nolan, Daniel (25 April 2015). "Welcome to Liberland: Europe's Newest State". Vice News. Retrieved 25 April 2015. 
  19. ^ Stroukal, Dominik (18 April 2015). "Několik nestrukturovaných poznámek k Liberlandu" (in Czech). Ludwig von Mises Institut – Česko & Slovensko. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  20. ^ Nolan, Daniel (24 April 2015). "Liberland: hundreds of thousands apply to live in world's newest 'country'". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2015. In the week since Liberland announced its creation and invited prospective residents to join the project, they have received about 200,000 citizenship applications – one every three seconds – from almost every country in the world. 


  • Robert Nozick. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974.
  • Wolff, Jonathan. Robert Nozick: Property, Justice, and the Minimal State. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 1991.
  • "Anarchism and Minarchism. A Rapprochement", Journal des Economists et des Estudes Humaines, Vol. 14, No.4 (December 2002), pages 569–88 Tibor R. Machan.

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