This week, Professors Steven Press and Andrew Fitzmaurice presented their research to the seminar. Professors Press and Fitzmaurice utilized diverse approaches to explore the field of international law and corporate governance in the age of European imperialism. In doing so, both professors focused on very specific facets within this broad field of legal history.
Professor Press provided insight into the struggles between empires and the corporations they empowered. Throughout the course, we have discussed the use of for-profit corporations by imperial powers as a means of furthering public policy. Press used the example of the German diamond industry to explain the problems that can emerge from doing so. He described the volatile public perception of these corporations and two criticisms that modern audiences will likely find familiar. The first issue that Press touched upon was the enormous size and power of the German diamond cartels. The scope and resources of these businesses rendered them difficult opponents for European governments to rein in. Second, many members of the German public and parliament felt that these large corporations produced private gains that were predicated on substantial social costs. Press’s explanation of these problems and the accompanying backlash provided parallels with existing corporate structures and public responses. As a result, this subject an interesting lens through which to view modern corporate policy.
Professor Fitzmaurice’s presentation largely focused on surprising forces that have shaped international law. In particular, Fitzmaurice discussed Sir Travers Twiss-an influential 19th century jurist who advocated for allowing private associations to become states. This viewpoint conflicted with both the consensus of his contemporaries and Twiss’s prior works. What could have motivated this drastic and influential change? Fitzmaurice postulates that, among other thing’s, Twiss’s marriage to a Belgian prostitute created the impetus for this viewpoint. In the Victorian era, prostitutes who wedded men of a certain class were obligated to change their identity to prevent legal and societal woes from befalling the household. Fitzmaurice’s suggestion is that this changing of personal identity inspired Twist to advocate for the possibility of a different type of transformation-the metamorphosis of private associations into states.
For those unconvinced, Fitzmaurice discussed an additional source of influence that may have caused Twiss to assert that private associations could become states. During the 19th century, practitioners of international law often also practiced ecclesiastic law. As a result, Fitzmaurice explained that concepts from Ecclesiastical law sometimes found themselves incorporated into international law. A common theme in Ecclesiastical law is metamorphosis. Examples of this include the transformation of the Host into the body of Christ and the creation of new persons when Bishops were appointed. This theme of metamorphosis in Ecclesiastical law may very well have influenced Twiss to take a more transformative view of state status.
In conclusion, both professors utilized very different approaches to exploring international corporate law and theory. Professor Press examined the economic and geopolitical factors that shaped corporate law and policy during German imperial administration. Professor Fitzmaurice, conversely, discussed the sources of ideological shifts in international legal theory. As a result, these professors complemented each other by exploring the roles of both geopolitics and theory in shaping international imperial law and administration.