Tag Archives: minarchism

The proper functions of governance


I haven’t been writing much new “serious” stuff lately. This is mainly because I’ve been going over what I’ve written in the last couple of years, trying to fix some inconsistencies and clarify things that didn’t come over quite right. In the process, I’ve written six new, or substantially revised, sections. I’ll try to publish them over the next week or so. Here’s the first.

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The first step towards solving the political problems we face today, I think, must be to understand what the valid functions of government (or, as I prefer to call it, governance) actually are. In my view, proper governance has a total of six functions; three principal and three subsidiary.

The first function of governance is to maintain peace. This includes the defence of the governed against external attack or internal violence.

The second function of governance is to deliver justice. This function includes the just resolution of disputes. Justice, as I put forward earlier, is the condition in which every individual, over the long term, in the round and as far as practicable, is treated as he or she treats others. And governance must be fair, objective and meticulous in all its decisions.

The third function of governance is defence of the rights of those who respect others’ rights. Those rights, as I discussed earlier, include fundamental rights like life, property and privacy; and rights of non-impedance, such as freedom of speech, religion and association.

All these three principal functions of governance can be seen as different aspects of a single whole. Namely, the delivery of peace and justice to all individuals.

There are further functions of governance which, while not as important as the first three, are nevertheless necessities. The fourth is co-ordination of the building of infrastructure. This is needed because, although infrastructure must be created and maintained at the local level, some degree of co-ordination is required to ensure that the infrastructure forms a coherent whole. For example, that a new road doesn’t suddenly dead-end at some arbitrary community border. But these functions must always be delivered and paid for in a way that is just towards every individual.

The fifth function is the maintenance of good relations with other, friendly communities.

The sixth and final function of governance is quality control of itself. It must maintain a constant ethical watch on the actions of governance as a whole, and of the individuals who constitute it. It must assure that the functions of governance are being performed as they should be. That those whose job is to maintain peace are indeed doing so to the best of their abilities. That the justice system is, and remains, just, objective and fair to everyone. That no-one in governance violates the rights of innocent people. That any decisions governance needs to make on behalf of those under it are made objectively, fairly, and taking into account the costs and benefits to every individual or group. And that governance – including the quality assurance function! – keeps meticulous and publicly accessible audit trails of all it does, and of the reasons behind every decision it makes.

In my view, these six are the valid functions, and the only valid functions, of governance. It is not a function of governance to impose any particular political or religious ideology. It is not a function of governance to try to cure perceived social ills. It is not a function of governance to pick winners and losers, or to re-distribute wealth from one group of people to another. And it is not a function of governance to provide education, or insurance, or any other good or service which can be effectively provided by individuals and groups in the free market.

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Good Governance – Part 2: The Area of Good Governance


This is the second part of a two part essay on good governance. You can find the first part at [4].

For brevity, I’m going to invent an acronym: “AGG” for Area of Good Governance. An AGG is a jurisdiction which has acquired, or is in the process of acquiring, good governance. That is to say, a region of the world, in which the political state has been or is being dismantled. And in which that state has been, or is being, replaced by governance which maintains peace, defends the rights of civilized people, justly resolves disputes, and does no more.

Some may dismiss the ideas I put forward here as Utopian. To them, I say: No radical idea can be realized, until it has been communicated to those who stand to benefit from it. And no vision can be passed on to anyone, unless it has first been articulated. That is my purpose today; to offer, as best I can, my vision of how an AGG might be constructed. Read more

Good Governance – Part 1: The functions of good governance


A few months ago, I published an essay titled “Rights and Obligations” [1]. There, I sought to develop a list of obligations of civilized people towards others of their kind, and the rights which flow from them. More recently, in “Conviviality” [2] I tried, building on the ideas of Frank van Dun and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, to sketch how it might be possible for civilized people to live together, and to resolve their disputes, without any need for a state or a “sovereign.”

This is the third essay in the series. It’s in two parts, published separately. Part 1 looks at what such a system of minimal government ought to do, and gives a list of things it must not do. And in part 2, I’ll try to suggest some ingredients, and perhaps even some recipes, for better government. “The Minarchist’s Cookbook,” if you will. Read more

“Bad news coming” thought Winston…


Christopher Houseman

No, not the impending cuts of so many public payroll salaries (some of which have jobs associated with them), but rather a certain commonality in the Coalition about the motives for their present course of action.

Nick Clegg has assured the LibDems that he doesn’t want to cut the state for the sake of cutting it. No, he wants to cut it so he can rebuild the state differently. Likewise, Liam Fox has informed the Tories that he doesn’t want to cut defence and nor does David Cameron (cue Tory applause) – but at the moment, he has no choice.

Thus is the libertarian ideal of a smaller state smeared in the eyes of political activists and the wider public as a necessary evil, a stopping-off point to be endured on the road to the sunny uplands of a reshaped and re-expanded State tomorrow.

Unless libertarians can convincingly and appealingly present to the public the truly joyous reality of being able to work (or not) as we please, with whom we please, to offer goods and services we’re proud of to whomever we please, libertarians will remain marginalised and misunderstood. They’ll be seen as an articulate but callous bunch, perversely rejoicing over the wider dislocation and misery caused by the State’s champions ditching the minions they think they can most easily do without.

When faced with people determined to do exactly the wrong thing, Lenin’s “The worse the better” dictum may be an accurate response to their failures. But it’s no way to market anything to anyone.

PS. I note the Tories’ pledge to let headteachers discipline children for misbehaviour on the way to and from school. I leave the last word on this news to John Taylor Gatto:

As schooling encroaches further and further into family and personal life, monopolizing the development of mind and character, children become human resources at the disposal of whatever form of governance is dominant at the moment.