Burde on Benton “Legal Logic of Conquest”

Lauren Benton’s article, “The Legal Logic of Conquest: Political Pluralism, Truces, and Early Modern Colonial Violence[1],” the concept of imperial powers – both governments and corporations – developing international law, examines the evolution of political and legal pluralism through colonial conquests. The application of pluralism and its impacts shapes how a sovereign power approaches a conquest and colonization of a new land. Great Britain in India, Cortez in Mexico, and France in Canada each represent examples of a dominating power subjugated foreign peoples and enforced in governmental laws while allowing the colonized people to retain cultural norms. Pluralism, however, is more intricate than combining laws of the colonizing and the colonized, as it were. The seminar with Lauren Benton and her responses to and discussion of her article revealed the complexity of pluralism.

Pluralism is the organizing element of inter polity law where both the dominating power and colonized peoples receive jurisdiction. Within this new jurisdiction, however, there is an ambiguity about the strength of each of the claims. An uncertainty about the power of dominating governmental laws, corporate laws, and cultural laws, respectively, exposes tensions between legal and governing cultures. Throughout the discussion with Lauren Benton, many of the questions circled back to political pluralism – a subset category of the over-arching pluralism. Benton highlighted that the formation of truces and alliances represent true practices of political pluralism. This is particularly interesting especially after her discussion of conquests both military and peaceful in nature in her article, “The Legal Logic of Conquest: Political Pluralism, Truces, and Early Modern Colonial Violence.” It is important to add that conquests, according to Benton, inform pluralism and develop international law.[2] As conquests change the influencing factors of pluralism, two questions emerge. Does political pluralism develop directly from the formation of truces and alliances? Would political pluralism exist without conquests that involved peace treaties?

Pluralism, however, develops in response to particular circumstances of the colonization. In the early modern period, imperial powers colonized foreign lands to grow their sovereign power. Colonizing the territories was a form of conquest. And, as Benton attributes, conquests help develop pluralism.[3] Each example of a dominating power conquering a new land yields a new form of pluralism distinct not just from the laws of the empire and the subject people, but from other pluralism found in other colonies. As discussed during the seminar, the insertion of empire into international law is bound by the difference of law. This means pluralism creates a construct for an empire to develop. For example, as Great Britain colonized new territories across the globe from America to Australia, unique forms of pluralism developed. Each of these forms of pluralism contributed to the development of the British Empire. For example, Great Britain learned from its experience with the American colonies with respect to its treatment of Canada.  So, pluralism plays a crucial role in the development of an empire.

Combining government laws and cultural laws into unique formations of pluralism also contributes to the development of empires through conquests. Reflecting on Laura Benton’s lecture and the parameters for conquests implicating the development of pluralism, it appears that corporations also played a vital role in the development of pluralism especially when the colonial process is led by a corporate entity. For example, at first many of the British colonies were founded by corporations like the British East India Company and the Virginia Company. Here, corporations add another layer to the complexity of pluralism because they impose corporate missions and objectives to be accomplished under private corporate rules and laws on a colonized territory. Eventually, these colonies transitioned from the rule of corporate powers to governance under the British Crown.


[1] Lauren Benton, The Legal Logic of Conquest: Political Pluralism, Truces, and Early Modern Colonial Violence, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *