Company Sovereigns and the Emergence of State Sovereignty: A Nearer Take a look at the East India Firm

A brand new knowledge assortment has made it attainable to disclose the self-sovereignty of the English East India Buying and selling Firm that produced a company-state and challenged the English state, facilitating a focus of sovereign energy in response.

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By 1800, the English East India Firm (“the Firm” or EIC) dominated one-fifth of the world utilizing a bigger navy pressure than England’s. It established forts and buying and selling posts, organized land and naval forces, minted foreign money, collected taxes, and administered justice, all by means of a commerce in spices, textiles, and opium. After the EIC’s creation in 1600, English market share of Asian commerce ballooned to 1 / 4 in 1650, a 3rd in 1780, and two-thirds in 1820. The Firm pilfered huge wealth from India, reversing capital flows from the West to the East and making attainable the Industrial Revolution. In 1788, thinker and parliamentarian Edmund Burke referred to as the Firm “a state within the disguise of a service provider.” In his e book, The Firm-State: Company Sovereignty and the Early Trendy Foundations of the British Empire in India, historian Philip Stern examines the EIC as “possessed of political establishments and underscored by coherent ideas in regards to the nature of obligations of topics and rulers, good authorities, political economic system, jurisdiction, authority, and sovereignty.”

In a latest article, I take advantage of new archival proof to review the EIC’s function within the improvement of recent state sovereignty, which had been faintly realized because the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. State sovereignty is usually offered as which means “final authority,” situated in an indivisible government (e.g., monarch), physique (e.g., parliament), founding doc (e.g., structure), or the overall folks. However this notion of sovereignty has been a piece in progress throughout centuries. Between 1500 and 1800, the Indian Ocean mirrored a layered idea of sovereignty within the delegation of sovereign capabilities to a wide range of nonstate actors comparable to ship captains and constitution firm directors. As one-way journey between Europe and Asia took about 5 months, abroad European empires had been propelled by such divisible sovereign prerogatives. Delegated authority from state sovereigns to nonstate others was not clearly hierarchical, such that states would retain final authority. However that modified.

In Outsourcing Empire: How Firm-States Made the Trendy World, Andrew Phillips and Jason Sharman be aware that by the mid-1800s, the worldwide system shifted from one permissive of layered sovereignty to “an ever extra restrictive one by which prerogatives of presidency had been presumed to lie completely with sovereign states.” I argue that the EIC had a task to play on this change. Social scientists have examined the connection of company energy and state sovereignty, particularly after the Chilly Battle. Firm-states current a possibility to watch the co-evolution of company and state authority throughout an ancient times of worldwide historical past.

Certainly, at 274 years, the EIC lasted longer than most states. After 1600, the EIC included (1657), merged with a rival (1709), conquered Bengal (1757), started taxing 10 million Bengalis—twice England’s inhabitants—(1765), entered a monetary disaster (1770), was bailed out by Parliament with elevated oversight (1773, 1784), ceased to commerce and have become a territorial administrator (1833), relinquished India’s administration to the British authorities (1858), and was dissolved (1874). The interval between incorporation within the late 1600s and regulatory scrutiny within the late 1700s is pivotal for the EIC’s emergence as a company-state. Firm administrators met thrice every week to run the group, and shareholders held quarterly conferences. My analysis attracts on inner information of all 16,740 EIC managerial and shareholder conferences between 1678 and 1795. This unprecedented knowledge assortment was made attainable by supplies just lately being allowed to be photographed within the British Library.

When analyzing the info, I requested: Did the EIC consider themselves as sovereign in their very own proper? In that case, what implications did this have for states? Worldwide relations students should not unified in how or the place they find sovereignty, variously proposing that one can’t meaningfully converse of sovereignty earlier than the sixteenth or the nineteenth century. But, the info present that by the eighteenth century, the EIC seen themselves as sovereigns following the conquest of Bengal. In 1769, EIC governor Robert Clive declared in Parliament: “The East India Firm are presently sovereigns of a wealthy, populous, fruitful nation in extent past France and Spain united; they’re in possession of the labour, business, and manufactures of twenty million of topics; they’re in precise receipt of between 5 and 6 hundreds of thousands a 12 months. They’ve a military of fifty thousand males.”


Tracing the evolution of Firm sovereignty reveals a key transformation. Whereas at its founding Firm sovereignty was delegated by royal constitution (later renewed by Parliament), after the conquest of Bengal the Firm’s sovereign claims shifted to a self-possessed proper. Following Charles Tilly’s notion that “struggle makes states,” Firm wars expanded territory, whose revenues had been higher extracted by elevated bureaucratic capability. However the knowledge additionally reveal a associated conceptual dynamic of “struggle awakens sovereigns,” the place entities engaged in peace negotiations are stimulated by their protection of sovereign claims to conceive new self-understandings of sovereign authority. Within the EIC’s company-state, wars generated steady articulations of Firm sovereignty vis-à-vis Asian powers and European rivals. As a result of communications lag with London, Firm directors had been empowered with immense discretion to handle such diplomacy. Dividing Bengal’s tax revenues after conquest additional entangled the Firm’s sovereign claims with the English state. Over time, these contests led to a notion of self-possessed Firm sovereignty, complicating some commonplace historic narratives of the EIC as “unintentional and unwilling” sovereigns.

The Firm’s sovereign awakening redefines the EIC’s problem to the English state. We all know that Firm misrule led to extra authorities demarcations of private and non-private. My analysis reveals that it was not simply mismanagement but additionally self-possessed Firm sovereignty that sparked a state reckoning. Importantly, the sovereign awakening was not restricted to Firm officers in India however prolonged to the London administrators. Till the late 1700s, the English state had tolerated ambiguity in Firm sovereignty primarily based on the shared worldwide understanding of divisible, non-hierarchical layered sovereignty. However self-possessed nonstate sovereignty claimed from the core of the state grew to become an excessive amount of.

State actors responded by anchoring sovereignty alongside extra indivisible, hierarchical foundations articulated by theorists comparable to Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes centuries earlier. Parliament directed stronger oversight and rules on the EIC by means of the 1773 and 1784 India Acts. In 1788, on the high-profile impeachment trial of EIC Governor-Common Warren Hastings, Burke argued that no respectable authorities can delegate absolute sovereignty: “Earlier than Mr. Hastings none ever got here earlier than his superiors to say it; as a result of, if any such factor might exist, he claims the very energy of that sovereign who calls him to account. … Such a declare is a monster that by no means existed besides within the wild creativeness of some theorist. … No nation has wholly meant, or ever meant, to provide this energy.” Finally, whereas Hastings was acquitted, Burke’s arguments would resonate with European sovereigns who by the 1800s regularly disavowed delegating sovereign violence to nonstate actors just like the constitution corporations.

Learning the EIC illustrates how the Firm’s self-possessed sovereignty was constructed in moments of contestation with different sovereigns. Alongside these traces, because the Firm’s affairs more and more consisted of navigating complicated political alliances in India and England, diplomatic entanglements woke up the Firm to notions of sovereignty enduring past delegated privilege. Relatedly, the historical past of the EIC additional reveals that states additionally confronted company-states as sovereign rivals and wrestled with nonstate sovereignty, which extends serious about the co-evolution of state and company energy.

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Originally posted 2022-05-02 19:07:00.