My recent book Jurisdictional Accumulation develops a new account of extraterritoriality, which is the exercise of jurisdiction beyond its limits. This device is poorly studied in the early modern period, too quickly and narrowly associated with either the Ottoman capitulations, or with the chapels and confessional struggles of a few embassies in Northern Europe, which classic diplomatic historians associate with the dawn of territorial sovereignty.
Instead, my argument is that extraterritoriality needs to be resituated as a key mechanism of imperial expansion, practiced differently by each empire according to their social property relations and jurisdictional struggles, and renamed as jurisdictional accumulation to emphasise its importance and more complex political and economic reach.
There has been a recent upsurge of sophisticated materialist histories of international law and capitalism. If my book explores the early modern part of this history to better contextualise the specificity of capitalism, it does so not by directly tackling the question of the development of capitalism. Instead of an immanent history of capitalism and international law, Jurisdictional Accumulation digs around the agrarian revolution of the seventeenth-century English case to reveal the role of legal actors and practices in European expansion. What emerges is the insight that large-scale histories of capitalism and of the international legal order cannot ignore the intermediary or sub-sovereign—and often politically ambiguous—role of actors usually considered inconsequential or narrowly ascribed to either juridical or commercial roles.
For example, in the 1660s, Jean-Baptise Colbert (Louis XIV’s first minister) was, among many other roles, dedicated to the administrative centralisation of the French kingdom, in charge of leading a revolutionary reform of the rising trading empire’s consular services. Consuls were very different men to those we associate with the traditional aristocratic image of the eighteenth-century European ambassador. They were complex actors who aimed to move up the social ladder—mostly merchants, some members of the low nobility, sailors and military men—and they negotiated their work for their sovereign to ensure for themselves the spoils of expanding trade markets and colonisation. In the Mediterranean, where they were most systematically deployed, they personally profited from the privileges accorded by the Ottoman empire and used their jurisdictional prerogatives to assert the imperial reach of their sovereign. Looking further ahead, my book suggests that such consuls may also be responsible for the structural inequalities of European imperial expansion that became entrenched for centuries to come.
Through this and other examples, Jurisdictional Accumulation is not a story of resistance, or a history ‘from below’, but it is a history of the shadows of empire, of the people who contributed to European imperialisms. The new concept of jurisdictional accumulation brings early modern ambassadors, consuls, merchants, and lawyers out of the shadows of empire and onto the main stage of the construction of modern international relations and international law.
This matters because to imagine the future without capitalism, we need to integrate to its history those who created different opportunities, whether for resistance and rebellion or for means of expansion and exploitation. Since the history of international relations and international law appears as an endless series of farces and tragedies, we always need to be imagining the communist horizon and its agents of resistance and hope. But we also need to be ready for the intermediaries today and in the future that may impose new means of expansion and exploitation essential to the inevitable processes of social change. Jurisdictional Accumulation is one account that thus usefully reminds us of these multiple, interstitial, and layered scenes of inter- and trans-societal struggle.
By showing different imperial facets to the actors of jurisdictional accumulation, my book contests how they are severed from their economic and class conditions and from each other when, in actuality, they together formed an integral part of the strategies of early modern sovereigns.
For example, to return to our infamous consuls, the primary research conducted in the book reveals an illuminating contrast between the role played by trade agents such as consuls in the expansion of French mercantilism in the Mediterranean, and the role played by French aristocratic ambassadors in the expansion of French diplomatic influence and the maintenance of European nobilities in continental Europe. This contrast was played out at the embassy in Istanbul in the 1660s-1680s, where local French merchants and their representatives in Marseille pleaded to the King to replace the aristocratic (i.e. lazy, broke, and useless) French ambassador and have a consul-merchant instead. This fascinating debate between Louis XIV’s main ministers and the Chambre de Commerce de Marseille reflects France’s dual strategy of consular mercantilism in the Mediterranean and ambassadorial diplomacy in mainland Europe.
Thus, consular history and other aspects of diplomatic and colonial expansion show how jurisdictional accumulation is a key process that defines early modern imperialism and complicates the existing picture of early modern modes of production.
Jurisdictional accumulation can be traced economically, as creating wealth through the accumulation of rights, titles, and statuses, acquired through office, as well as more autonomously, generating revenue and access to taxes on wealth and trade. Thus, even though these practices generated a significant amount of commercial trade and exchange value (or commercial capital), jurisdictional accumulation is not considered as a capitalist process because it did not originate from a direct aim to transform social property relations through economic means. In other words, jurisdictional accumulation did not aim for the transformation of labour or relations of production through market imperatives, so as to produce surplus value from those relations. Jurisdictional accumulation established jurisdictional rights and privileges, which could tangentially and only potentially also lead to significant commercial capital. Only in some instances was it linked to the development and expansion of agrarian capitalism in England and its colonies.
Building on Political Marxism, I put forward four main historical contributions, and some concluding suggestions for a historical sociology of international law and international relations, focusing on:
- Castilian practices of jurisdictional accumulation that are characterised as transplants of authority because they were imposed on Indigenous societies as hybrid, organic, and socially wide experiments. Castilian colonisers were concerned with people as juridical subjects and as labour i.e. as means of exploitation and surplus extraction through political and juridical means;
- French, English and Dutch transports of authority that consisted in outsourcing sovereign authority to conquer, own, and trade over land and resources driven by commercial interests, chartered companies and settlers. Transports of authority exported and imposed different institutional forms than transplants, which often led to the physical and juridical extermination of peoples;
- Following from the above, jurisdictional accumulation emphasises the continuation of feudal and absolutist processes distinct from (geo)political accumulation up until the 19th century in the colonial contexts under consideration but also in continental Europe through the aristocratisation of ambassadors as a strategy of class reproduction; and
- Jurisdictional accumulation emphasises a contest between mercantilisms in the Mediterranean through early modern consuls. Reasserting the role of consuls enables a focus on ‘private’ mechanisms as well as on jurisdiction as practice and struggle between actors looking for opportunities for power assertion and status.
Overall, Jurisdictional Accumulation presents new actors and legal practices across mostly maritime spaces that were key to shaping political/economic and Christian/non-Christian categories of the early modern world. It provides a new typology of extensions, transports, and transplants of authority to avoid the false historiographical binaries of, firstly, the political diplomat vs the commercial consul and, secondly, personal vs territorial concepts of sovereignty as characteristics of the early modern period.
Set Image: Henri Testelin “Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV in 1667”