Government, he argued, should never initiate force but be "strictly limited to its legitimate duties in defense of self-ownership and individual rights", and to be consistent in not initiating force they should maintain themselves only through "voluntary taxation." He stressed that "we are governmentalists... formally constituted by the nation, employing in this matter of force the majority method" --however, using this force only in a defensive mode. He strongly opposed the idea that initiation of force may somehow become legitimate merely by constituting a majority, reasoning that "If we are self-owners (and it is absurd, it is doing violence to reason, to suppose that we are not), neither an individual, nor a majority, nor a government can have rights of ownership in other men.
Herbert recommends a "central agency" to defend liberty and property that is funded by a "voluntary tax," calling it "government." In his essay "A Politician in Sight of Haven," Herbert does discuss the franchise, stating it would be limited to those who paid a voluntary "income tax," anyone "paying it would have the right to vote; those who did not pay it would be as is just without the franchise. There would be no other tax." The law would be strictly limited, of course, and the "government... must confine itself simply to the defence of life and property, whether as regards internal or external defence."
Herbert says that in "voluntaryism the state employs force only to repel force—to protect the person and the property of the individual against force and fraud; under voluntaryism the state would defend the rights of liberty, never aggress upon them."
A collection of Herbert's work, The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State and Other Essays, was published by Liberty Classics in 1978.
Herbert explicitly rejected the label "anarchist" for his ideas. He argued that anarchy was a "contradiction," and that the Voluntaryists "reject the anarchist creed." They "believe in a national government, voluntary supported... and only entrusted with force for protection of person and property." He called his system of a national government funded by non-coerced contributions "the Voluntary State." ("A Voluntaryist Appeal", Herbert Spencer and the Limits of the State, p. 239 and p. 228)
According to Chris Tame, "He refused to accept the label of 'anarchist', largely because of a semantic decision whereby he labelled the defensive use of force (which, naturally, he accepted) as "government. Richard Sylvan, points out that "a variety of political arrangements and organization, including governments of certain sorts, are entirely compatible with anarchy." Rather, anarchists oppose the state or "coercive government. Sean Sheehan points out, "A distinction that is relevant to the anarchist ideal is the difference between the government, referring to the state, and government, referring to the administration of a political system. Anarchists, like everyone, tend to use the word government as a synonym for state, but what is rejected by anarchism's a priori opposition to the state is not the concept of government as such but the idea of a sovereign order that claims and demand obedience, and if necessary the lives, of its subjects. Anarchist William R. McKercher notes that Herbert "was often mistakenly taken as an anarchist" but "a reading of Herbert's work will show that he was not an anarchist." (Freedom and Authority, p. 199 and p. 73) The leading British anarchist journal of the time noted that the "Auberon Herbertites in England are sometimes called Anarchists by outsiders, but they are willing to compromise with the inequity of government to maintain private property." (Freedom, Vol. II, No. 17, 1888)
Since the development of anarcho-capitalism in the 1950s, at least one anarcho-capitalist, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, believes that Herbert "develops the Spencerian idea of equal freedom to its logically consistent anarcho-capitalist end" as noted in a bibliography.However, anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard disagreed and called Herbert a "near-anarchist.
According to Carl Watner "Herbert never defended his position in Liberty."
Anarchist-communist Peter Kropotkin echoed Yarros and argued that the "modern Individualism initiated by Herbert Spencer is... a powerful indictment against the dangers and wrongs of government, but its practical solution of the social problem is miserable so miserable as to lead us to inquire if the talk of 'No force' be merely an excuse for supporting landlord and capitalist domination." (Act For Yourselves, Freedom Press, London, 1987, p. 98)
G. K. Chesterton wrote that "Herbert Spencer really went as far as he could in the direction of Individualism, just as Karl Marx went as far as he could in the direction of Socialism. He left only the gallant and eccentric Auberon Herbert to go one step further; and practically propose that we should abolish the police; and merely insure ourselves against thieves and assassins, as against fire and accident." (Illustrated London News February 15, 1936, p. 266.)
J. A. Hobson, a left-wing liberal, echoed the anarchist critique in his essay on Herbert, "A Rich Man’s Anarchism" (Humanitarian, no 12, 1898, pp. 390-7). He argued that Herbert’s support for exclusive private property would result in the poor being enslaved to the rich. Herbert, "by allowing first comers to monopolise without restriction the best natural supplies" would allow them "to thwart and restrict the similar freedom of those who come after." Hobson gave the "extreme instance" of an island "the whole of which is annexed by a few individuals, who use the rights of exclusive property and transmission... to establish primogeniture." In such a situation, the bulk of the population would be denied the right to exercise their faculties or to enjoy the fruits of their labour, which Herbert claimed to be the inalienable rights of all. Hobson concluded: "It is thus that the ‘freedom’ of a few (in Herbert’s sense) involves the ‘slavery’ of the many." (p. 394). Hobson’s argument reflected Proudhon’s critique of private property in “What is Property?”
Scholar M. W. Taylor notes that "of all the points Hobson raised... this argument was his most effective, and Herbert was unable to provide a satisfactory response." (Men Versus the State, Clarendon Press, 1992, p. 249)