British East India Company: What would Weber have to say about it ?

Course Connections

I am a Social Studies Comprehensive major and so I am required to take history, political science, geography and economics courses. I used to hate social studies in high school but now I am always fascinated by the connection amongst all of those subjects. Currently I am taking two history courses: History of the World before 1492 and the History of Islam in South Asia. In these courses, especially in the history of the world, state and empire formation is a critical component in understanding the historical, political and economic formation. I often find myself thinking about my other courses while in another class. For example let us talk about Max Weber and his piece called “Politics as a Vocation”.

In this literary work he defines two general forms of states. A state in this context is defined as entity which claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of force. The first general form is when the administration below the ruler have its own mean of administrating and they are mainly of the upper class. The second general form is when the administrative class is completely separate from the resources that allow administration to take place.

An even we have been talking about my history class is of the British East India Company’s expansion into India and their subsequent rule over India. When we spoke about Weber I wondered where the British East India Company fit. When they negotiated with the ruler of India at the time, they were allowed to have their own military in India. However not a British military, but a military unique to the East India Company that were allowed to declare war in territories against non Christian groups. As they crept more and more into the politics of India they gained more power but not under their own name. They started administering Islamic law as a way to legitimize themselves but the Mughals, the rulers at the time, and we’re still sovereign. So the “rulers” were still the image of power and did have their own administration below them that were not the British East India Company. Yet the East India Company did have their own monopoly of force in certain territories and started becoming more powerful and administering law under a “sovereign” ruler. Eventually the British established their full authority.

So I ask myself, where would the British East India company fit under Weber’s definition of states and the two general forms? They were not the rulers, but they were not the ruler’s direct administration. They had a military but it was not a national military but was still given the monopoly of using force over non Christian groups. They also eventually administered law under the name of the Mughal empire. Could it be considered a state even though it was part of an established nation? What about the fact that it was establishing itself into a new nation, would it be a new state at the time before it fully took control?


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