“In order to protect the liberty of individuals, the role of the state should be minimal” Discuss this view.

Topics: Liberalism, Classical liberalism, Conservatism Pages: 5 (1562 words) Published: November 21, 2013
“In order to protect the liberty of individuals, the role of the state should be minimal” Discuss this view.

The view that the state should be minimal is primarily that of a libertarian and minarchist point of view, where the individual should be, to the largest extent possible, be free from state interference and that state power should extend only to the point of preserving its citizens negative liberty or freedom from interference. The minarchist view takes this even further and says that the state should confine its operations to being a “neutral umpire” that helps resolve disputes between citizens and protect them from aggression, theft, breach of contract and fraud. The view effectively reduces to the states power to solely preventing the encroachment of others upon others individual liberty.

One view that could be adopted is that of Hobbes, that is to say, that in a state of nature negative liberties would be minimal because of the “war of all against all”. It is therefore a necessary evil to implement laws which protect the liberty of individual citizens. Without such a law, anarchy would give free rein to individuals in order to exploit each other, which directly contradicts Mill's harm principle. The state is therefore necessary for the realisation of individual liberty, especially negative liberty. A “leviathan” neutral umpire would therefore be required to ensure that citizens are protected from others encroaching upon their individual liberty, in cases such as fraud, theft and aggression. However, it is argued by MIll that the state must remain minimal, since further laws such as curfews etc which are intended to protect the liberty of individuals, would hamper negative liberty, which is not in the best interests of a state's citizens.

In further development of the argument that the role of the state should be minimal, if one takes the stance of Kant in saying that “Human beings are ends in themselves”; it would therefore be logical to conclude that they own themselves and are the products of their labour and so if the state goes further than simply maintaining their minimal responsibilities of protecting the individual against force and fraud and enforcing contracts, then their basic rights are violated. Nozick therefore argues that taxation is forced labour, since it takes away from the fruits of one's own labour and means that an individual is effectively an unpaid slave for a certain percentage of the time they work. This therefore means that the modern liberal welfare state, which is by no means minimal is immoral and impedes upon an individual's negative liberty by not allowing them to reap the full benefits of their own labour.

It could also be argued that the state should be minimal from a cultural and moral viewpoint. It is the utilitarian argument that legislating to defend liberty within the private sphere of the individual will promote the free and unhindered development of the individual and so increase general happiness. Restrictions of an individual's negative liberty do not serve the greater good because they restrict human well being through experiments in living (individuals having the ability to make their own mistakes and learn from them to find the best way of living) which stunts the advancement of knowledge and social progress. Minimising the role of the state leads to, in Mill’s opinion, a more vibrant culture in which human creativity is allowed to flourish through individuals experiments in living.

Finally, from an economic standpoint, markets that are unfettered by state interference are far more efficient than those regulated by the state. Smith uses the invisible hand argument and suggests that individuals maximise their efforts in order to make the largest gains possible within a free market. State run bureaucracies however are inherently inefficient and slow paced. This therefore means that welfare and education etc are best left to a free market, where individuals...
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