Between Anarchy and Society: Trusteeship and the Obligations of Power

By William Bain | Go to book overview

2 The Obligations of Power

The idea of trusteeship in international society finds its origin in late eighteenth century British India. Thus the purpose of this chapter is to examine the emergence of trusteeship as a justification of political power in territories administered by the East India Company. This most famous of the great chartered companies is perhaps best remembered for the trial of Governor General Warren Hastings in 1787 and for the Indian Mutiny in 1857, which brought to an ignominious end the political dominion enjoyed by a company of merchants. But in the 60-year interregnum that separated these events, a period during which questions of politics gradually displaced questions of commerce, the Company embarked on a series of experiments that were aimed at securing the happiness of its native subjects. These experiments resulted in the articulation and affirmation of a mode of conduct, or to put it differently, a standard against which to evaluate the justice of alien rule, that is broadly intelligible in the terms of the idea of trusteeship. In short, then, dominion in British India was justified by the belief that the strong should rule on behalf of the weak; that a condition of inequality joined ruler and subject; and that government should secure the happiness of people that cannot secure it for themselves. It is in this respect that the experience of the East India Company prefigures the emergence of trusteeship as a recognized and accepted practice in international society.


From Merchant to Sovereign in British India

At the height of the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, Edmund Burke denounced the East India Company as a 'state in the disguise of a merchant'. 1 But the Company got its start, not as a vast economic and political power, but as a modest merchant charged by Elizabeth I with the task of discovering and establishing a lawful trade for the benefit of the commonwealth. After a succession of isolated and commercially risky voyages, the Company obtained

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Between Anarchy and Society: Trusteeship and the Obligations of Power
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Between Anarchy and Society iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • 2: The Obligations of Power 27
  • 3: The Internationalization of Trusteeship 53
  • 4: Trusteeship as an Institution of International Society 78
  • 5: The Destruction of the Legitimacy of Trusteeship 108
  • 6: The New Paternalism 140
  • 7: Trusteeship, International Society, and the Limit of Obligation 173
  • Bibliography 193
  • Index 207
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