Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900

Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900

Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900

Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400-1900

Synopsis

This book advances a new perspective in world history, arguing that institutions and culture--and not just the global economy--serve as important elements of international order. Focusing on colonial legal politics and the interrelation of local cultural contests and institutional change, it uses case studies to trace a shift in plural legal orders--from the multicentric law of early empires to the state-centered law of the colonial and postcolonial world. Benton shows how Indigenous subjects across time were active in making, changing, and interpreting the law--and, by extension, in shaping the international order.

Excerpt

The imposition of a hierarchical system of rule in which foreign-derived law topped a pyramid of “other” legal sources and systems was not the first or only possible strategy of European colonizing powers. It was not, even, an obvious strategy. European polities were themselves only beginning to shape a hierarchy of legal authorities which superimposed state law on alternative legal systems, including customary, canon, and merchant law. the agents of colonial expansion were themselves in many cases given judicial authority that was understood to be independent from the state. the complexity of jurisdictional politics at home was such that multiple jurisdictions in colonial settings seemed unexceptional to administrators. Further, cost considerations played a large role in colonial legal policy. There was little interest on the part of governments, charter companies, or private agents in absorbing the costs of erecting an elaborate judicial administration. Well before “indirect rule” was articulated as a political strategy, colonial administrators understood and expressed the need to sustain indigenous legal forums as a means of promoting order.

Nevertheless, colonial rule still carried with it the imperative of some judicial involvement. Europeans did not want to be judged by or litigate in indigenous courts – nor, in some cases, did indigenous social actors who were tied by interest, culture, or blood to the colonizers. Depending on the nature of the colonial economy, certain types of contracts, transactions, and disputes might come to be regarded as so vital to European interests that they could not be regulated or resolved except in European-dominated forums. Finally, the temptation to regulate and change indigenous practices through legislation was powerful for . . .

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