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Opinion: Night-watchman state - A State Without the Monopoly of Violence

Watchmen of medieval periodWikimedia

There is this idea that for a state to exist, it must have a monopoly on violence: a country where the state alone has the right to authorize the use of physical force and that a strong hierarchy would be necessary to maintain this kind of power through physical force. However, there is a version of the state that can exist without needing such tight hierarchy or control over the lives of the people the state is supposedly there to protect. This particular type of government is known as a night watchman state: a state with the least possible number of powers that still exists to uphold the law.

This form of government has been endorsed by multiple left-wing libertarians and anarchists such as Noam Chomsky: an American historical essayist and anarcho-syndicalist who believes in having welfare measures to help members of the community without having extreme state power & authority. On the right-wing side of the political spectrum, libertarians like Anthony Gregory also supported the idea of a night-watchman state that would allow for order without sacrificing liberty.

Unlike many ideas of minimal governance, the night-watchman state has existed throughout various times in human history and his been practically tried. Historian Charles Townshend described the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century as having night-watchman states as the standard form of government in his book The Oxford History of Modern War: "Britain, however, with its strong tradition of minimal government – the 'night-watchman state' – vividly illustrated the speed of the shift [during World War I] from normalcy to drastic and all-embracing wartime powers like those contained in the Defence of the Realm Act." Practically every hippie movement-style commune, such as The Farm commune in Tennesse that I wrote an article about earlier, is a night-watchman state. The real-life Wild West - the pretty good version that existed in real-life where people actually lived decent lives somewhat better than their east coast brethren and not the over-the-top social Darwinist version that has been presented in fictionalized stories and myths - was as series of towns that were night-watchman states. With governance on this level, people can have communities where people have their freedoms without everything falling into chaos.

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