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Imperialism Definition

Practice of expanding the authority and power of a country by acquiring territory or dominating the economic and political systems of other countries; empire's system of government:From the early 20th century the U.S. was accused of imperialism for intervening in the affairs of developing countries in order to protect the interests of U.S.-owned international corporations. (Wikipedia) - Imperialism For other uses, see Imperialism (disambiguation).Cecil Rhodes and the Cape-Cairo railway project. Rhodes founded the De Beers Mining Company, owned the British South Africa Company and had his name given to what became the state of Rhodesia. He liked to "paint the map British red" and declared: "all of these stars ... these vast worlds that remain out of reach. If I could, I would annex other planets."

Imperialism, as it is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries, is a policy of extending a country''s power and influence through colonization, use of military force, or other means." Lewis Samuel Feuer identifies two major subtypes of imperialism; the first is the "regressive imperialism" identified with pure conquest, unequivocal exploitation, extermination or reductions of undesired peoples, and settlement of desired peoples into those territories. The second type identified by Feuer is "progressive imperialism" that is founded upon a cosmopolitan view of humanity, that promotes the spread of civilization to allegedly backward societies to elevate living standards and culture in conquered territories, and allowance of a conquered people to assimilate into the imperial society, an example being the British Empire which claimed to give their "citizens" a number of advantages.

The term as such primarily has been applied to Western political and economic dominance in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some writers, such as Edward Said, use the term more broadly to describe any system of domination and subordination organized with an imperial center and a periphery. According to Marxist theorist Vladimir Lenin, imperialism is a natural feature of a developed capitalist nation state as it matures into monopoly capitalism. In his work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin observed that as capitalism matured in the Western world, the economy shifted away from real commodity production towards banking and finance, as commodity production was outsourced to the empires'' colonies. Lenin concluded that the competition between empires and the unfettered drive to maximise profit would lead to wars between the empires themselves, such as World War I in his contemporary time, as well as continued future military invasions and occupations in the undeveloped world to establish and expand markets and exploit cheap labour for the monopolist corporations of the empires.

It is mostly accepted that modern-day colonialism is an expression of imperialism and cannot exist without the latter. The extent to which "informal" imperialism with no formal colonies is properly described as such remains a controversial topic among historians. Both colonization and imperialism have been described by Tom Nairn and Paul James as early forms of globalization:

Even if a particular empire does not have a "global reach" as we would define it today, empires by their nature still tend to contribute to processes of globalization because of the way that imperial power tends to generate counter-power at its edge-lands and send out reverberations far beyond the territories of their immediate control.

The word imperialism became common in the United Kingdom in the 1870s and was used with a negative connotation. In Great Britain, the word had until then mostly been used to refer to the politics of Napoléon III of obtaining favorable public opinion in France through military interventions outside France.

  • 1 Colonialism vs. imperialism
  • 2 Justification
  • 3 History
    • 3.1 Age of Imperialism
  • 4 Theories of imperialism
  • 5 Imperialism by country
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 Further reading
    • 8.1 Primary sources
  • 9 External links

Colonialism vs. imperialismTerritories that were once part of the British Empire.

The term "imperialism" should not be confused with "colonialism". Robert Young writes that imperialism operates from the center, it is a state policy, and is developed for ideological as well as financial reasons, whereas colonialism is nothing more than development for settlement or commercial intentions.:116 Thus it can be said that imperialism includes some form of colonialism, but colonialism itself does not automatically imply imperialism.


A controversial aspect of imperialism is the imperial power''s defense and justification of such actions. Most controversial of all is the justification of imperialism done on rational grounds. J. A. Hobson identifies this justification: "It is desirable that the earth should be peopled, governed, and developed, as far as possible, by the races which can do this work best, i.e. by the races of highest ''social efficiency''."

Technological and economic efficiency were often improved in territories subjected to imperialism through the building of roads, other infrastructure and introduction of innovations.

The principles of imperialism are often deeply connected to the policies and practices of British Imperialism "during the last generation, and proceeds rather by diagnosis than by historical description." British Imperialist strategy often but not always used the concept of terra nullius (Latin expression which stems from Roman law meaning ''empty land''). The country of Australia serves as a case study in relation to British imperialism. British settlement and colonial rule of the island continent of Australia in the eighteenth century was premised on terra nullius, for its settlers considered it unused by its sparse inhabitants.


Imperialism has been found in the histories of Japan, the Assyrian Empire, the Chinese Empire, the Roman Empire, Greece, the Byzantine Empire, the Persian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, ancient Egypt, the British Empire and India. Imperialism was a basic component to the conquests of Genghis Khan during the Mongol Empire, and other war-lords. Historically recognized Muslim empires number in the dozens. Sub-Saharan Africa has also had dozens of empires that pre-date the European colonial era, for example the Ethiopian Empire, Oyo Empire, Asante Union, Luba Empire, Lunda Empire and Mutapa Empire. The Americas during the pre-Columbian era also had large empires such as the Aztec and the Inca.

Although normally used to imply forcible imposition of a more powerful foreign government''s control on a weaker country, or over conquered territory that was previously without a unified government, "imperialism" is sometimes also used to describe loose or indirect political or economic influence or control of weak states by more powerful ones. If the dominant country''s influence is felt in social and cultural circles, such as "foreign" music being popular with young people, it may be described as cultural imperialism.

"Imperialism has been subject to moral or immoral censure by its critics, and thus the term is frequently used in international propaganda as a pejorative for expansionist and aggressive foreign policy."

Age of Imperialism

The Age of Imperialism was a time period beginning around 1700 when modern, relatively developed nations were taking over less developed areas, colonizing them, or influencing them in order to expand their own power. Although imperialist practices have existed for thousands of years, the term "Age of Imperialism" generally refers to the activities of nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States in the early 18th through the middle 20th centuries, e.g., the "The Great Game" in Persian lands, the "Scramble for Africa" and the "Open Door Policy" in China.

The scramble for Africa.

The ideas of imperialism were put forward by historians John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson during the 20th century. European imperialism was influential, and Europeans rejected the notion that "imperialism" required formal, legal control by one government over another country. "In their view, historians have been mesmerized by formal empire and maps of the world with regions colored red. The bulk of British emigration, trade, and capital went to areas outside the formal British Empire. A key to the thought of Robinson and Gallagher is the idea of empire ''informally if possible and formally if necessary.''" Because of British Imperialism, the world''s economy grew before World War I, making Britain a dominant financial force.

Europe''s expansion into territorial imperialism had much to do with the great economic benefit from collecting resources from colonies, in combination with assuming political control often by military means. Most notably, the "British exploited the political weakness of the Mughal state, and, while military activity was important at various times, the economic and administrative incorporation of local elites was also of crucial significance". Although a substantial number of colonies had been designed or subject to provide economic profit (mostly through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), Fieldhouse suggests that in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in places such as Africa and Asia, this idea is not necessarily valid:

Modern empires were not artificially constructed economic machines. The second expansion of Europe was a complex historical process in which political, social and emotional forces in Europe and on the periphery were more influential than calculated imperialism. Individual colonies might serve an economic purpose; collectively no empire had any definable function, economic or otherwise. Empires represented only a particular phase in the ever-changing relationship of Europe with the rest of the world: analogies with industrial systems or investment in real estate were simply misleading.

During this time, European merchants had the ability to "roam the high seas and appropriate surpluses from around the world (sometimes peaceably, sometimes violently) and to concentrate them in Europe."

European expansion accelerated greatly in the 19th century. To obtain raw materials, Europe began importing them from other countries. Europeans sought raw materials such as dyes, cotton, vegetable oils, and metal ores from overseas. Europe was being transformed into the manufacturing center of the world.

Communication became much more advanced during the European expansion. The invention of railroads and telegraphs made it easier to communicate with other countries. Railroads assisted in transporting goods and in supplying large armies.

Along with advancements in communication, Europe also continued to develop its military technology. European chemists made deadly explosives that could be used in combat, and with the advancement of machinery they were able to create lighter, cheaper guns. The guns were also much faster and more accurate. By the late 19th century (1880s) the machine gun had become an effective battlefield weapon. This technology gave European armies an advantage over their opponents, as armies in less developed countries were still fighting with arrows, swords, and leather shields.

Theories of imperialism

Theories about imperialism are often based largely on the British experience with side glances elsewhere. The term "Imperialism" was originally introduced into English in its present sense in the late 1870s by opponents of the allegedly aggressive and ostentatious imperial policies of British prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. It was shortly appropriated by supporters of "imperialism" such as Joseph Chamberlain. For some, imperialism designated a policy of idealism and philanthropy; others alleged that it was characterized by political self-interest, and a growing number associated it with capitalist greed. Liberal John A. Hobson and Marxist Lenin added a more theoretical macroeconomic connotation to the term. Many theoreticians on the left have followed either or both in emphasizing the structural or systemic character of "imperialism." Such writers have expanded the time period associated with the term so that it now designates neither a policy, nor a short space of decades in the late 19th century, but a world system extending over a period of centuries, often going back to Christopher Columbus and, in some accounts, to the Crusades. As the application of the term has expanded, its meaning has shifted along five distinct but often parallel axes: the moral, the economic, the systemic, the cultural, and the temporal. Those changes reflect - among other shifts in sensibility - a growing unease, even squeamishness, with the fact of power, specifically, Western power.

The relationship among capitalism, aristocracy, and imperialism has long been debated among historians and political theorists. Much of the debate was pioneered by such theorists as J. A. Hobson (1858–1940), Joseph Schumpeter (1883–1950), Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), and Norman Angell (1872–1967). While these non-Marxist writers were at their most prolific before World War I, they remained active in the interwar years. Their combined work informed the study of imperialism''s impact on Europe, as well as contributed to reflections on the rise of the military-political complex in the United States from the 1950s. Hobson argued that domestic social reforms could cure the international disease of imperialism by removing its economic foundation. Hobson theorized that state intervention through taxation could boost broader consumption, create wealth, and encourage a peaceful multilateral world order. Conversely, should the state not intervene, rentiers (people who earn income from property or securities) would generate socially negative wealth that fostered imperialism and protectionism.

Imperialism by country France Main article: French colonial empireFrench poster about the "Madagascar War"

The "First colonial empire", that existed until 1814, by which time most of it had been lost, and the "Second colonial empire", which began with the conquest of Algiers in 1830 and came for the most part to an end with the granting of independence to Algeria in 1962. The experience was marked by numerous wars, large and small, and also by significant help to France itself from the colonials in the world wars.

During the 16th century, the French colonization of the Americas began with the creation of New France. It was followed by the establishment of trading posts in Asia and Africa in the 17th century.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was the second-largest colonial empire in the world behind the British Empire, extending over 12,347,000 km² (4,767,000 sq. miles) of land at its height in the 1920s and 1930s. France controlled nearly 1/10th of the Earth''s land area, with a population of 110 million people on the eve of World War II (5% of the world''s population at the time).

France took control of Algeria in 1830 but began in earnest to rebuild its worldwide empire after 1850, concentrating chiefly in North and West Africa, as well as South-East Asia, with other conquests in Central and East Africa, as well as the South Pacific. Republicans, at first hostile to empire, only became supportive when Germany started to build her own colonial empire. As it developed the new empire took on roles of trade with France, especially supplying raw materials and purchasing manufactured items, as well as lending prestige to the motherland and spreading French civilization and language, and the Catholic religion. It also provided manpower in the World Wars.

It became a moral mission to lift the world up to French standards by bringing Christianity and French culture. In 1884 the leading exponent of colonialism, Jules Ferry declared France had a Civilizing mission: "The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior races." Full citizenship rights – assimilation – were offered, although in reality assimilation was always on the distant horizon. France sent small numbers of settlers to its empire, contrary to Great Britain, and previously Spain and Portugal, with the only notable exception of Algeria, where the French settlers nonetheless always remained a small minority.

In World War II, Charles de Gaulle and the Free French used the overseas colonies as bases from which they fought to liberate France. However after 1945 anti-colonial movements began to challenge European authority. France fought and lost bitter wars in Vietnam and Algeria in the 1950s. Its settlers and many local supporters relocated to France. Nearly all of France''s colonies gained independence by 1960, but France retained great financial and diplomatic influence. It send troops to assist its ex-colonies in Africa defeat insurrections.


From their original homelands in Scandinavia and the far north of Europe, Germanic tribes expanded throughout northern and western Europe in the middle period of classical antiquity, and southern Europe in late antiquity, conquering Celtic and other peoples and forming in 800 the Holy Roman Empire, the first German Empire. However, there was no real systemic continuity from the western Roman Empire to its German successor which famously was "not holy, not Roman, and not an empire", and numerous small states existed in variously autonomous confederation. Although by 1000 Germanic conquest of central, western, and southern Europe west of and including Italy was complete, excluding only Muslim Iberia, but there was little cultural integration and national identity, and "Germany" remained largely a conceptual term referring to an amorphous area of central Europe.

Not a maritime power, and not a nation-state, as it would eventually become, Germany''s participation in Western imperialism was negligible until the late 19th century. Participation of Austria was primarily as a result of Habsburg control of the First Empire, the Spanish throne, and other royal houses. After the defeat of Napoleon, who caused the dissolution of that first German Empire, Prussia and the German states continued to stand aloof from imperialism, preferring to manipulate the European system through polices such as those of Metternich. After Prussia unified the other states into the second German Empire, its long-time leader Otto von Bismarck (1862–90) had long opposed colonial acquisitions, arguing that the burden of obtaining, maintaining and defending such possessions would outweigh any potential benefit. He felt that colonies did not pay for themselves, that the German bureaucratic system would not work well in the easy-going tropics, and the diplomatic disputes over colonies would distract Germany from its central interest, Europe itself.

However, in 1883–84 he suddenly reversed himself and overnight built a colonial empire in Africa and the South Pacific, and then lost interest in imperialism. Historians have debated exactly why he made this sudden and short-lived move. He was aware that public opinion had started to demand colonies for reasons of German prestige. Bismarck was influenced by Hamburg merchants and traders, his neighbors at Friedrichsruh. The establishment of the German colonial empire proceeded smoothly, starting with German New Guinea in 1884.

After the collapse of the short-lived Third Reich, and the failure of its attempt to create a great land empire in Eurasia, Germany was split between Western and Soviet spheres of influence until Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This section requires expansion. (April 2013)
Japan Main articles: Empire of Japan and List of territories occupied by Imperial Japan

During the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, Japan absorbed Taiwan. As a result of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan took part of Sakhalin Island from Russia. Korea was annexed in 1910. During World War I Japan took German-leased territories in China''s Shandong Province, as well as the Marianas, Caroline, and Marshall Islands. In 1918, Japan occupied parts of Far Eastern Russia and parts of eastern Siberia as a participant in the Siberian Intervention. In 1931 Japan conquered Manchuria. During the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, it invaded China. By the end of the Pacific War, Japan had conquered most of the Far East, including what is now Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippine Islands, Indonesia, New Guinea and many islands of the Pacific Ocean.

Soviet Union See also: Criticism of communist party rule and Soviet EmpireThe maximum territorial extent of countries in the world under Soviet influence, after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and before the official Sino-Soviet split of 1961.

By the 18th century, the Russian Empire extended its control to the Pacific, forming a common border with the Qing Empire.

Bolshevik leaders had effectively reestablished a polity with roughly the same jurisdiction as that empire by 1921, but with an internationalist ideology: Lenin in particular asserted the right to self-determination for national minorities within the new territory. Beginning in 1923, the policy of "Indigenization" was intended to support non-Russians develop their national cultures within a socialist framework. Never formally revoked, it stopped being implemented after 1932. After World War II, the Soviet Union installed socialist regimes modelled on those it had installed in 1919–20 in the old Tsarist Empire in areas its forces occupied in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union and the People''s Republic of China supported post–World War II anti-colonial national-liberation movements to advance their own interests but were not always successful.

Trotsky, and others, believed that the revolution could only succeed in Russia as part of a world revolution, which was in fact, shortly after the Russian Revolution, spreading in the defeated Central Powers of Europe. Lenin wrote extensively on the matter and famously declared that Imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism. However, after Lenin''s death, Joseph Stalin established ''socialism in one country'' for the Soviet Union, creating the model for subsequent inward looking Stalinist states and purging the early Internationalist elements. The internationalist tendencies of the early revolution would be abandoned until they returned in a client state form in the competition with the United States in the Cold War.

Though the Soviet Union declared itself anti-imperialist, critics argue that it exhibited tendencies common to historic empires. Some scholars hold that the Soviet Union was a hybrid entity containing elements common to both multinational empires and nation states. It has also been argued that the USSR practiced colonialism as did other imperial powers and was carrying on the old Russian tradition of expansion and control,. Mao Zedong once argued that the Soviet Union had itself become an imperialist power while maintaining a socialist façade. Non Russian marxists within the RSFSR and later the USSR, like Sultan Galiev and Vasyl Shakhrai, meanwhile, between 1918 and 1923 and then after 1929, considered the Soviet Regime a renewed version of the Russian imperialism and colonialism.

United Kingdom Main article: Historiography of the British Empire

The First British Empire was based on mercantilism, and involved colonies and holdings especially in North America, the Caribbean, and India. Its growth was reversed by the loss of the American colonies in the American Revolution (1775-1783). Britain made compensating gains in India, Australia, and in constructing an informal economic empire through control of trade and finance in Latin America after the independence of Spanish and Portuguese colonies about 1820. By the 1840s, Britain had adopted free trade.

A resurgence came in the late 19th century, with the Scramble for Africa and major additions in Asia and the Middle East. The British spirit of imperialism was expressed by Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Rosebury, and implemented in Africa by Cecil Rhodes. Other influential spokesmen included Lord Cromer, Lord Curzon, General Kitchner, Lord Milner, and the writer Rudyard Kipling.

United States"President McKinley fires a cannon into the Imperialist Strawman". Cartoon by W. A. Rogers in Harper''s Weekly, September 22, 1900.Main article: American imperialism

The early United States expressed its opposition to Imperialism, at least that distinct from its own Manifest Destiny, in policies such as the Monroe Doctrine. Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th century, however, policies such as Woodrow Wilson''s mission to "make the world safe for democracy" were often backed by military force, but more often effected from behind the scenes, consistent with the general notion of hegemony and imperium of historical empires. In 1898, Americans who opposed imperialism created the Anti-Imperialist League to oppose the US annexation of the Philippines and Cuba. A year later a war erupted in the Philippines causing business, labor and government leaders in the US to condemn America''s occupation in the Philippines. They also denounced them for causing the deaths of many Filipinos. American foreign policy was denounced as a "racket" by Smedley Butler, an American general. He said, "Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."

After the Second World War, the United States became joined with Western interests in a global conflict over spheres of influence with the Soviet Union, known as the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States did not diminish its global ability to project force and became "the sole superpower". A system of "Unipolarity" came to define international politics, with the United States at the center.

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