Go Darke

Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it

Economics, Libertarianism, Terry Pratchett


In the arena where Libertarian philosophy is debated in bloody bouts to the death, a night-watchman state (some people prefer the term Minachist state) is a theoretical model for a state whose ONLY function is to provide its citizenry with police, courts and prisons. And maybe a defense force (to protect it from other states that have a less ‘live and let live’ approach). The state would therefore be responsible for protecting citizens from assault, breach of contract and enforcing property rights.


The term 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. 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”. Proponents of the Night-watchman state are minarchists, a contraction of “minimum” and -archy. Arche ) is a Greek word which came to mean “first place, power”, “method of government”, “empire, realm”, “authorities” (in plural: ἀρχαί), “command” The word “minarchist” was coined by Samuel Edward Konkin III in 1980. – Wikipedia

I REALLY like this concept of government. Everything else from health care to infrastructure would be left to local communities to decide for themselves. This is likely as far as I can bend my mind towards Anarcho-capitalism. (even if I am sympathetic to their ideals) Of course communities should be able to ‘opt-out’ of the Nightwatchmen state if they so desire (and they feel they can make something else work with the resources they have available) and either go more anarcho-capitalist or more controlled/socialist, as long as freedom of movement is a thing and they still adhere to and respect property rights and contracts, and obviously don’t try to inflict their ideology on their neighbors.

I also use the term ‘police’ in the opening paragraph quite loosely since I feel the concept of a community ‘sheriff’ type system to be superior form of law enforcement than a state run organization. Courts and Prisons are the only two that I think need to work a little differently. I don’t really like the idea of privately owned prisons (I don’t think anyone thinks this is a good idea, unless there is a massive public oversight component, and lets be honest, for the most part our interest in people we deem antithetical to the norms of our society starts to wane fairly rapidly). That and I think courts and our ability to resolve disputes between parties should always work independently from the ‘state’ or leadership and be sufficiently transparent and easy understand.

Massive countries and states are hard to manage and hugely inefficient. I’m inclined to believe a smaller community based societies would work much better because it harnesses our natural human instincts, ie our competitiveness (to improve and be better than our peers over yonder) and selfishness (we are more inclined to spend money if we see the benefits in our own community).

People are inclined to think this level community involvement and how we manage ourselves is unrealistic, because, well, people are lazy and so we farm out our responsibility to a bureaucratic class. This… may actually be a fair criticism and is also the reason that fans of libertarianism are largely dominated by entrepreneurs, freelancers and self starters who are inclined to believe everyone thinks the way they do. They struggle to understand people who wouldn’t want some level of self determination and responsibility for their fate.

There is also the criticism that successful communities would be over burdened by migration while poorer communities with less resources would just continue to decline. I’m inclined to see how things work out and that the ebb and flow of supply and demand would likely balance things out in the long term. But… people are loathed to trust in the economics and contentiously try and tweak and game the system, when they should just trust in the awesomeness.

  1. Anarchism one-oh-one. – Go Darke


    […] obviously given this a lot of thought and I can just about wrap my brain around a Nightwatchmen system of ‘governance’. But that’s usually where things end for me. I don’t think […]

Comments are closed.