Current scholarship by legal commentators and political scientists recognizes that the weapons of American empire have involved non-militaristic activities as much as militaristic ones. Such non-militaristic activities include the hegemonic influence of trade agreements, the imposition of legal and procedural norms, and the dissemination of ideological and cultural predispositions through corporations and diverse medias. In this paper, we examine an under-explored area on the “soft” belly of the American leviathan, focusing specifically on how property and intellectual property law have operated on physical and ideological frontiers to comprehend, participate in, and legitimate the expansion of American empire. We offer new accounts of two historical instances of empire-building: the acquisition and seizure of property from Native Americans in the early- and mid-19th century, and the expropriation of intellectual property rights to plant genetic resources from indigenous communities in the global South in the late 20th century. These two stories, taken together, offer unique insights into both the process and the substance of law’s operation on the frontier of empire. They illuminate how the authority of law has fused with private power and legal legitimacy to enable the nation to expand swiftly, energetically, and powerfully. These insights, in turn, lead toward the more general conclusion that the rhetoric of property has functioned to subjugate peoples and places, cultures and natures, to an imperial regime.
This is an exciting and obviously wide-ranging article, which a lot of property professors will enjoy reading -- it fits well with Jed Purdy's article from a while back that focused on Johnson v. M'Intosh and the law of imperialism.
And because it's going to be in the Hawaii Law Review, this reminds me that when missionaries went to Hawaii in the 1820s they brought with them the market and property rights. The missionaries were bringing western property law to Hawaii in the era when the Supreme Court was issuing Johnson v. M'Intosh (and the parallel opinion in The Antelope). Property law served as a tool of empire in Hawaii, just as did law generally. Law, like the transatlantic ship, the printing press, and the gun, worked as a technology to expand the power and reach of the empire.
The image is of a sugar factory in Hawaii in the pre-Civil War period, which I think relates well how western technology appeared on the land in Hawaii. And of course I always love talk of the use of landscape art to understand property law.