Anarchism, Minarchism, and Legitimacy in Civil Governance

Originally Published on The Libertarian Christian Institute, philosophy

Among Christian libertarians, as with other libertarians, there are differing views concerning the legitimacy, necessity, and inevitability of the state. For some, this is the worn-out debate between a view supporting statelessness (or ‘anarchism’) for a free society, and a view supporting a limited state (or ‘minarchism’) for a free society. Can libertarians, both anarchists and minarchists, cooperate in pursuit of a free society? I think they can. Nevertheless, there is genuine disagreement between these two views, and each view is worth considering.

In a series of articles, I’ll address several common objections I’ve found to be made from a minarchist view against anarchism. The first concerns law and order and the question of the state’s legitimacy. The second concerns human sinfulness and the question of the state’s necessity. The third concerns dominance hierarchy and the question of the state’s inevitability. The fourth concerns our (in)ability to imagine a free and stateless society, and also the question of the plausibility of statelessness.

Christian libertarians, both anarchist and minarchist, hold to the necessity of civil law and order in a free society. Those who would violate the rights of others will always exist. These injustices require recompense through the administration of civil justice. This is the task of civil governance. A state is an organization that coercively maintains a monopoly of civil governance in a territory. The key question, and the principal disagreement between minarchism and anarchism, is whether the state is a legitimate means to accomplish civil governance?

John Locke, known primarily as the father of classical liberalism, was a Christian libertarian philosopher. His treatises of government have been used in support of the (limited) state as the only legitimate means of fulfilling the three requirements he lays out for civil governance in a free society.

Civil governance requires:

  1. Impartial judges
  2. A generally known and agreed-upon body of law
  3. Effective law enforcement

These correspond to the three functions of government: the judicial, for adjudication of disputes; the legislative, for the rules according to which adjudication is determined; and the executive, for enforcement of adjudicated rulings.

John Locke’s minarchism


Locke says that we need to have a state because, “men being partial to themselves, passion and revenge is very apt to carry them too far, and with too much heat in their own cases, as well as negligence and unconcernedness, make them too remiss in other men’s.” (Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ii.ix.125).

It is a fundamental principle of justice that one should not be a judge in one’s own case (that is, in one’s own dispute with another).

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Kerry Baldwin

independent researcher, author

B.A. Philosophy, Arizona State University. My writing focuses on libertarian philosophy and reformed theology and aimed at the educated layperson. I am a confessionally Reformed Christian orthodox Presbyterian in the tradition of J. Gresham Machen (1881 – 1937)