The Incredible Vanishing Minarchist
By Bryan Caplan
In the 70s and 80s, a great intellectual battle waged between two libertarian factions: minarchists and anarcho-capitalists. In 1974, the Libertarian Party papered-over the dispute with one of the oddest compromises in political history: the Dallas Accord. Under its terms, the LP platform remained silent on the very question of whether government should exist!
Since then, libertarians have definitely moderated. But as far as I can tell, the moderation led to the near-demise not of anarcho-capitalism, but of minarchism! I have no data, but I do have decades of daily libertarian interaction under my belt. It has literally been years since I’ve heard a libertarian self-identify as a “minarchist.” It’s not just semantic. It has also been years since I’ve heard a libertarian say, “Government should provide police, courts, national defense, and nothing else.”
Instead, most libertarians now have a long and broad list of exceptions to libertarian principles – everything from banning discrimination to fighting contagious disease to building roads to providing a social safety net. The libertarians who oppose all these deviations are now typically anarcho-capitalists, not minarchists.
The result, as far as I can tell, is that anarcho-capitalism has become the modal libertarian position. It has a smaller market share than in the 70s, but zero is focal in a way that “minimal” isn’t. More moderate libertarians have fanned out to embrace a vast range of ideas, but no specific moderate position now predominates.
Party-line Objectivists are the only plausible chunk of remaining minarchists. Ayn Rand, after all, explicitly embraced the position. Atlas Shrugged:
The only proper
functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the
army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your
property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by
rational rules, according to objective law.
Even Objectivists, though, have fanned out since the 80s. See for example the Leonard Peikoff-Yaron Brooks debate on immigration.
If anyone knows of good data on the prevalence of minarchism, please share. Barring that, I welcome your impressions – especially the impressions of libertarians over 40.