How may one imagine the global travel of legal concepts, thinking through models of diffusion and translation, as well as through obstruction, negation, and dialectical transfiguration? This article offers some reflections by interrogating discourses (intertextually woven with Sanskritic invocations) produced by three celebrated Bengalis: the nationalist littérateur Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838–94), the Rajavamshi “lower-caste” peasant leader Panchanan Barma (1866–1935), and the international jurist Radhabinod Pal (1886–1967). These actors evidently took part in projects of vernacularizing (and thereby globalizing through linguistic–conceptual translation) legal–political frameworks of state sovereignty. They produced ideas of nexus between sovereignty, law, and “divine” lawgiving activity, which resemble as well as diverge from notions of political theology associated with the German jurist Carl Schmitt. Simultaneously, these actors critiqued coercive impositions of state-backed positive law and sovereign violence, often in the name of globally oriented concepts of “ethical”/natural law, theology, and capacious forms of solidarity, including categories like “all beings,” “self/soul,” “humanity,” and “world.” I argue that “sovereignty,” as a metonym for concrete practices of power as well as a polyvalent conceptual signifier, thus dialectically provoked the globalization of modern legal intellection, including in the extra-European world.
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