When Is a Monopoly Not a Monopoly? A Reply to Tibor Machan

By Dykes, Nicholas | Libertarian Papers, January 2010 | Go to article overview

When Is a Monopoly Not a Monopoly? A Reply to Tibor Machan


Dykes, Nicholas, Libertarian Papers


In a lengthy footnote to his essay "Reconciling Anarchism and Minarchism" (1) (henceforth RAM) Tibor Machan accuses me of engaging in equivocation, and also of psychologising, in my essay "The Facts of Reality: Logic and History in Objectivist Debates about Government" (2) (henceforth TFOR). Machan writes:

... Dykes doesn't seem to realise that monopoly in the use of retaliatory force is not the same as a legal or coercive monopoly in that use. He persists in this equivocation. Yet, one can have a monopoly that comes about naturally, because it is freely granted to one by people--as, say, they effectively granted the Beatles monopoly status in rock music or Fred Astaire in dancing or IBM in computers and Microsoft in software ... without keeping anyone out by force. Furthermore, if people freely select a group of specialists to protect them by way of a long-term binding contract [or compact] that's not to establish an objectionable, coercive monopoly, merely an exclusive but binding relationship ... It is along such lines that Rand's notion of the "monopoly" of retaliatory force needs to be understood (RAM 61).

Machan adds further on that equivocation is a "serious flaw" in my essay.

To begin with, let's be clear about what the term 'equivocation' means. I hardly need to point out that it is a fallacy in logic, one which involves confusing issues by switching from one sense of a word to another yet treating both senses as if they meant the same, what the late Ron Merrill called "the classic meaning switch cheapo." (3) Ben Franklin's "your argument is sound, all sound" is a famous, if light-hearted example. According to my dictionary (Chambers' 1988 edition) the verb 'equivocate' means "to use equivocal or doubtful words in order to mislead" and it is as an intention to mislead that I have always understood the act of equivocation.

So the first point to make in reply to Machan is that if I 'don't seem to realise' what I'm doing, as he asserts, then I can hardly be accused of equivocation, since the word implies conscious intent. Ambiguity perhaps, but a charge of equivocation won't stand.

The second point to make is that there is in fact no equivocation or ambiguity in my essay. I use the term 'monopoly' in one sense only and my usage is clear and consistent in every instance. The word first appears in my second paragraph:

A note about terminology: in this essay, rightly or wrongly, the words 'state' and 'government' are used interchangeably to refer to any geographically-defined monopoly on the use of force--including limited government' or 'minarchy.' 'Anarchism' refers to libertarian anarchism, the philosophical advocacy of a future society "without such a monopoly. (TFOR 79)

Thereafter, the only discussions in my essay employing the word monopoly occur in Part One, "David Kelley and the Necessity of Government," where I criticise Kelley's argument for a state monopoly on the use of force; and in Part Three, "Justifying Government," where I spell out Ayn Rand's failure to establish the same position. Thus, the only sense in which I use 'monopoly' in TFOR is the one in which it has been used throughout the anarchy/minarchy debate; that is, to refer to a coercively-created institution which reserves to itself the exclusive right to use force. In other words, the 'monopoly on the use of force' advocated by Ayn Rand, her orthodox followers, and by many other Libertarians. (4)

It is worth pointing out too, that possible variations in the meaning of the word monopoly are not mentioned in my essay. Moreover, the two discussions just referred to, which concern the merit of Rand's and Kelley's arguments, barely comprise 5% of the subject matter. In latter parts of TFOR, from pages 109 to 134, the word monopoly doesn't occur at all--except once in a quote from Rose Wilder Lane. So to suggest that I "persist" in equivocation, as Machan does, is both inaccurate and misleading. …

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When Is a Monopoly Not a Monopoly? A Reply to Tibor Machan
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