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date: 07 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter outlines the relationship between international law and colonial practice across the 16th–19th centuries in a way which avoids the indulgence of believing that the law of nations was somehow abstracted from the material processes of colonial rule. It draws attention to two aspects of this history: one being the slow accretive process by which ideas of sovereignty were to form and mutate during the period between 1500 and 1900—from a notion of sovereign authority centred upon the coercive authority of the monarch, to the modern imagination of the ‘nation-state’. The other is the parallel transition from a post-feudal mercantile economy to one centered upon industrial production and finance capital. The chapter argues that this history may be understood in terms of a shift in the conceptualization of the juridical politics of space from one marked by the notion of dominium to that of imperium.

Keywords: international law, colonial practice, law of nations, sovereignty, mercantile economy, dominium, imperium

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