The VOC, corporate sovereignty and the Republican sub-text of de iure praedae

Eric Wilson

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This essay discusses some of the ways in which De iure praedae may be understood to constitute a republican text. It is my argument that the 'Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty' should be fi rmly located within the over-arching republican discourse of the juvenilia, although the text's republican content is not immediately apparent. On close examination, a republican sub-text is detectible through the author's treatment of the discursive object of the text, the Dutch East India Company (the VOC), a corporate body. By attempting to legitimate the VOC's natural right to wage just war, Grotius invests a private entity with a public mark of sovereignty. This investiture of a non-state actor with public international legal personality forces a careful reappraisal of two central characteristics of seventeenth-century republican thought: (i) the divisibility of sovereignty, and (ii) the fl uid demarcation between the 'public' and the 'private' spheres. I conclude that the VOC may be accurately denoted a 'corporate sovereign', an entity whose legal personality is derived from the corporatist principles that underlined early republican and federalist theory.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProperty, Piracy and Punishment: Hugo Grotius on War and Booty in De iure praedae - Concepts and Contexts
Number of pages31
ISBN (Print)9789004175136
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


  • Capitalist world-economy
  • corporate sovereignty
  • Corporatism
  • Divisible sovereignty
  • Dominium
  • Giovanni aArrighi
  • Imperium
  • Jean bodin
  • Johannes althusius
  • Modern world-system
  • Occupatio duplex
  • Republicanism

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