The Antitrust Religion

The Antitrust Religion

The Antitrust Religion

The Antitrust Religion


Edwin S. Rockefeller, drawing on 50 years experience with the antitrust laws, offers an explanation for their enduring irrationality. He questions whether any sense can be made of our antitrust statutes and their enforcement.


We aspire to a government of laws, not of men. The rule of law implies ascertainable, coherent rules for guiding and judging behavior. It is the thesis of this book that antitrust law is not consistent with our aspiration for a rule of law. There is no such thing as antitrust law. Antitrust is a religion. Antitrust enforcement is arbitrary, political regulation of commercial activity, not enforcement of a coherent set of rules adopted by Congress.

Thurman Arnold, assistant attorney general for antitrust in the New Deal, described the origin of and need for the religion of antitrust in the following manner:

Historians now point out that Theodore Roosevelt never
accomplished anything with his trust busting. Of course he
didn't. The crusade was not a practical one. It was part of a
moral conflict and no preacher ever succeeded in abolishing
any form of sin. Had there been no conflict—had society
been able to operate in an era of growing specialization with
out these organizations—it would have been easy enough to
kill them by practical means. A few well-directed provisions
putting a discriminatory tax on large organizations would
have done the trick, provided some other form of organiza
tion were growing at the same time to fill the practical need.
Since the organizations were demanded, attempts to stop
their growth necessarily became purely ceremonial.... The
actual result of the antitrust laws was to promote the growth
of great industrial organizations by deflecting the attack on
them into purely moral and ceremonial channels.

This book's thesis will be developed first by defining antitrust as a religious faith with an existence independent of the antitrust statutes. Chapter 2 describes the development of a cult of professional followers who serve as a priesthood to carry out the ceremonial function of antitrust. Chapter 3 contains a brief history of attempts at reform. Chapter 4 discusses the central element of antitrust faith—“market . . .

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