In order to protect the liberty of individuals, the role of the state should be minimal

“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 will maximise their own efforts to achieve the maximum gain. The state as a whole does not have the same self-interested attitude that makes free markets so much more efficient. The role of the state is therefore minimal in order to make the maximum gains and provide the best service and increase the positive liberty or freedom to, maximise their gains.

There are of course arguments that the role of the state should not be minimal. One of the most convincing of these arguments is that too much liberty for an individual is a dangerous thing. It is possible it could lead to license and even idleness. If the state protects an individual’s negative.from poverty for example, one may be inclined to simply not work and rely upon the state to support them. Furthermore, liberty may undermine customary morality e.g prostitution and euthanasia and lead to a collapse of civilised values, since Mill’s harm principle for example would allow for much in the way of “lude” behaviour, as long as it did not directly harm or impede an individual’s liberty. The state should therefore punish these grosser forms of vice and intervene in order to promote virtues among its citizens which might not be promoted if they were given free rein.

Marx also puts forth the argument that liberalism is a defence of bourgeois individualism, where they are given the liberty to continue the exploit of the workers and the free market for their own gains. Marx argues that the liberal state may protect individual liberties in law, but civil society still contains limitations on freedom due to pre existing social inequalities. Human emancipation and true liberty requires a revolutionary change in the ownership of the means of production, which goes beyond the mere defence of property rights put forth by the minimalist state argument.

The state must have further control in order to properly protect the positive liberty of individuals, who are exploited by the bourgeois. Without positive liberty through economic means, the negative liberty provided by the minimal state is effectively useless, since individuals are not allowed to fully flourish.

On the contra of the economic argument for minimal state role and free market, without state interference and control, the distribution of certain resources will quickly be depleted. The free market competition for resources leads to environmental exploitation and degradation, which is to the detriment of all of society. Individuals strive so hard to maximise their own gains that they give no regard for the long term effect on both the environmental factors and the overall happiness of others within society. It is therefore the states role to ensure that from a utilitarian standpoint, the overall happiness of society is put before the liberty of the individual to profit from the free market.

Furthermore, some provisions are simply not best suited to being served by free markets, for example health and education. These public services are “natural monopolies” and are therefore open to exploitation if put in the hands of an individual for profit. The state is best placed to be a neutral owner of the service.

This is certainly evidenced by the differences in the healthcare systems of the UK and the USA. Within the USA, extortionate prices can be charged for basic medical services; where the service is for by private companies for profit. In the UK however, where the NHS is owned and run by the UK government, a profit is not the aim of the service, which therefore increases the positive liberty of individuals, who have the freedom to use affordable if not free healthcare for the benefit of all. This is therefore an example of how a larger role of the state can be extremely beneficial for society and its individuals as a whole.

Drawing from all of the arguments presented, it is easy to see how individuals may be encouraged to accept a minimal state role, in order to protect their negative liberty and in many cases increase their overall happiness and cultural flourishing. However, once a minimal state is analysed, many problems can be seen, such as the vulnerability of society to exploitation by individuals through a free market, especially within health and education sectors, which are seen as basic rights by many individuals and one would not usually see the positive freedom that education and healthcare bring with them as bad things by any stretch of the imagination. Furthermore, with a minimal state of the libertarian approach, it is easy to see how it could very quickly descend into a Hobbesian chaos if the state does not intervene in the values that its citizens hold.

Anarchism could reign if the state did not grow to the extent that it can defend itself against anarchists. Marx’s argument of economic exploitation by the bourgeois of individuals within society is also a compelling argument, since it shows how even though the state itself does not impede the liberty of the individual by being minimal, the effects of having individuals who are free to exploit workers in a manner that is not covered by the law do in fact restrict individual liberty and the revolution within the means of production to combat this cannot be produced through a minimal state. It is therefore my opinion that Marx’s view on the extent of the state should be adopted and that the state should oversee production and the market, in order to protect the positive liberty of its individuals.

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