Between company and state: The dutch east and west india companies as brokers between war and profit

Research output: Chapter in book/volumeChapterScientificpeer-review


Early modern chartered companies like the Dutch East India Company (VOC) are widely seen as the precursors of the modern corporation. However, the relation between the two remains mired in confusion. While writers working in a Neo-Classical or New Institutional Economics framework highlight the seemingly modern features of their company constitutions, they see their violent monopoly strategies and state-like warring functions as typically pre-capitalist rent-seeking behavior. Critical scholars on the other hand, pointing to the violent operation of modern multinational corporations, tend to treat the chartered companies simply as a form of proto-imperialism. Both approaches deny the historical specificity of early-modern capitalism, in which the hybrid or brokerage form between company and state taken by the VOC and its counterparts was the rule rather than the exception. This article examines how corporate sovereignty was constitutional to the Dutch East and West India Companies. Comparing these two warring companies, it shows how similar corporate constitutions could lay the basis for very different historical trajectories of development. Finally, the article traces the debates leading to the dissolution of these companies, in order to better understand the changes in the company-form that accompanied the emergence of fully developed capitalism and imperialism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe corporation
Subtitle of host publicationA critical, multi-disciplinary handbook
EditorsGrietje Baars, Andre Spicer
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)1107073111 9781107073111
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • capitalism
  • Chartered companies
  • Dutch East India Company (VOC)
  • Dutch West India Company (WIC)
  • corporate sovereignty
  • Dutch Republic

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