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The VOC, Corporate Sovereignty and the Republican Sub-Text of De iure praedae

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image of Grotiana

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 firmly 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 fluid 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.


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