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Reframing the Monopoly Question

John, Richard R.

This essay surveys the main currents of anti-monopoly thought in the period between the American Revolution and World War I, a timespan that has come to be known as the long nineteenth century. It makes three arguments. First, anti-monopoly is best understood as a mode of inquiry, rather than a reflexive grievance. Like republicanism, liberalism, or socialism, it denotes a political idiom that could be deployed to shape the course of events. Second, anti-monopoly did not pertain solely, or even primarily, to the enactment of a legislative ban on exclusive charters of the kind that Jefferson sought. Rather, it denoted.a much more capacious reform agenda to channel for the common good, using tools that ranged from diplomacy and legislation to moral suasion and social pressure, every pursuit that could be classified under the rubric of commerce, land, or industry. Third, because anti-monopoly typically looked forward rather than backward, it is best understood not as a tradition originating in a remembered past, but as a vision of an imagined future.

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Antimonopoly and American Democracy
Oxford University Press

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October 30, 2023