What is imperialism? How is it different from colonialism? The act of a nation forcibly imposing its control or authority over other nations is known as imperialism. It is also sometimes referred to as empire building. Imperialism has long been seen as immoral because it frequently involves the use of unjustified military force. Read here to learn more about imperialism.
For hundreds of years, imperialistic takeovers have taken place all over the planet, with the colonization of America serving as one of the most egregious instances.
While the growth of the United States, Japan, and the European powers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was different from the colonization of the Americas between the 15th and 19th centuries, both are examples of imperialism.
Throughout history, many indigenous societies and cultures have been destroyed by imperialistic expansion.
History of Imperialism
The growth of a nation’s dominance over other countries through territorial conquest and/or the imposition of economic and political dominance is known as imperialism.
Imperialism began in pre-historic times when clans struggled with each other over scarce food and resources.
An endless string of empires shaped the history of ancient China, western Asia, and the Mediterranean.
- The more socially liberal and long-lasting Persian Empire replaced the tyrannically repressive Assyrian Empire in the 6th to 4th centuries BCE.
- The imperialism of ancient Greece eventually replaced the Persian Empire, which peaked under Alexander the Great from 356 to 323 BCE.
- While Alexander succeeded in uniting the eastern Mediterranean with western Asia, his ideal of a “cosmopolis” in which all people lived in peace remained a pipe dream until the Romans expanded their empire from Britain to Egypt.
- After the fall of Rome in 476 BCE, the idea of imperialism as a force for unification faded quickly.
The European and Asian countries that emerged from the ruins of the Roman Empire followed their imperialist strategies.
Three eras of extensive imperialism and aggressive colonization would characterize the modern age-
- England, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain established empires in the Americas, India, and the East Indies between the 15th and the middle of the 18th centuries.
- Empire building saw a nearly century-long period of relative quiet as a result of strong opposition to imperialism.
- Once more, the years between the middle of the 19th century and World War I (1914– 1918) were marked by the fast expansion of the empire.
Following World War I, the League of Nations’ vision of a world at peace caused imperialism to temporarily halt once more.
- When Japan attacked China in 1931, it revived its empire-building efforts.
- The 1930s and 1940s saw the rise of a new era of imperialism, dominated by nations like the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, and Japan and Italy under Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party.
The Ages of Imperialism
The Age of Imperialism spanned the year 1500 to 1914.
15th-17th century: Colonial empires of European powers such as England, Spain, France, Portugal, and Holland.
- The ‘new world’ exploration by European nations seeking trade routes is termed old imperialism.
- They violently established settlements in the Americas and Southeast Asia.
- Worst human atrocities were performed- the Spanish Conquistadors’ conquest of Central and South America in the 16th century, and an estimated eight million indigenous people died in the era of imperialism’s first large-scale act of genocide.
18th century: The old imperialism began to end but the colonial powers had already become dominant by this time.
- British lost the American colonies in 1776 but they gained more territory in India, Australia, and Latin America.
- By the 1840s, Great Britain had become the dominant colonial power with territorial holdings in India, South Africa, and Australia.
- France controlled the Louisiana territory in North America as well as French New Guinea.
- Holland had colonized the East Indies and Spain had colonized Central and South America.
1870s: The age of new imperialism saw the Europeans establishing vast empires in Africa, Asia, and the middle east.
- The industrial revolution in Europe led to overproduction and under-consumption- the colonizers pursued aggressive empire-building plans due to this.
- They started controlling the local governments as well to use the colonies to their benefit.
- The “Second Industrial Revolution” between 1870 and 1914 further boosted the economies of the European powers and thus their need for overseas expansion.
- By 1914, the British controlled the largest number of colonies worldwide, thus the phrase- “The sun never sets on the British Empire” was born.
- American imperialism saw its peak with the 1898 annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii as a territory.
1914-48: The decline of imperialism started during this time with the wave of nationalism spreading through the colonies.
- World War I erupted due to the increasing conflicts between competing nations.
- By the 1940s, former World War I participants Germany and Japan, regaining their imperialistic power, sought to create empires across Europe and Asia, respectively.
- Driven by the desire to expand their nations’ spheres of world influence, Hitler of Germany and Emperor Hirohito of Japan would join forces to launch World War II.
- The second world war weakened the old imperialistic nations economically as well as due to human lives lost- thus ending the classic trade-driven imperialism.
1950-1990s: The late 1900s saw scaled-back versions of imperialism poking their head in the middle east and Western Europe.
- British imperialism continued with its involvement in the Iranian coup d’état of 1953.
- The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as superpowers after World War II- they got involved in Egypt during the 1956 Suez Crisis.
- The cold war (1947-1991) economically weakened the Soviet Union leading to its disintegration in 1991 and the birth of the Russian Federation.
- The United States became the global superpower and source of modern imperialism.
Modern imperialism involves growing corporate presence and promoting the political ideology of the dominating nation.
This process is often derisively referred to as “nation-building” or, especially in the case of the United States, “Americanization.”
- The US started its fight against communism in the wake of the end of the cold war leading to numerous mostly failed attempts by the nation.
- The United States failed in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion attempt to overthrow the communist regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba.
- President Ronald Regan’s Reagan Doctrine intended to stop the spread of communism.
- S. involvement in the Vietnam War is also often cited as an example of modern imperialism.
- The U.S. currently retains five permanently populated traditional territories or commonwealths: Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa.
Other emerging nations also tried to employ modern imperialistic ways to expand their global influence.
- Countries like Saudi Arabia and China have sought to spread their global influence.
- Smaller nations like Iran and North Korea have been aggressively building their military capabilities including nuclear weapons to gain an economic and strategic advantage.
What justified imperialistic expansion?
Without sufficient reason in their leaders’ eyes, empires do not incur the costs and risks of imperialistic growth.
One or more of the following five hypotheses have been used to justify imperialism throughout recorded history.
- Conservative Economic Theory: The more developed country views imperialism as a way to preserve its social order and already prosperous economy. This argument includes a historical presumption of racial and ideological supremacy inside the ruling nation.
- Liberal Economic Theory: The dominating nation produces more things than its populace can consume as a result of growing prosperity and capitalism. By balancing production and consumption, its leaders believe that imperialist growth will lower their costs and boost their profits.
- Marxist-Leninist Economic Theory: Liberal legislative solutions to under-consumption were rejected by socialist leaders like Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin because they would ultimately rob the middle class of the dominant state of its resources and create a world of rich and poor nations. Lenin advocated for the establishment of a Marxist type of imperialism in place of the capitalist-imperialist aims that he claimed were the root of World War I.
- Political Theory: Imperialism is nothing more than the natural outcome of powerful countries’ attempts to hold onto their positions in the global power structure. According to this idea, imperialism’s true goal is to lessen a country’s political and military vulnerabilities.
- Warrior Class Theory: The warrior class was first developed to meet a legitimate need for national defence, but to maintain its existence, it eventually creates problems that can only be resolved by imperialism.
Imperialism vs Colonialism
The political and economic dominance of one nation over another is a common outcome of both colonialism and imperialism, although there are some small but significant variations between the two systems.
In a nutshell, colonialism and imperialism are two different aspects of the same process of global expansion. Imperialism may be viewed as the cause and colonialism as the outcome in a simple cause-and-effect connection.
The practice of a nation conquering and governing over other areas is known as colonialism.
It refers to using the captured nation’s resources for the conqueror’s gain.
Imperialism refers to the establishment of an empire and its subsequent expansion into surrounding nations and spheres of influence.
People are moved to a new area as permanent settlers as part of colonialism.
By contrast, imperialism is simply the use of armed force and brutality to impose political and economic authority over a conquered nation or nation.
Colonialism characterizes the settlement of regions under European authority, such as India, Australia, North America, Algeria, New Zealand, and Brazil.
Examples of imperialism include the late 19th-century race for Africa and American rule over Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
The effects of Western imperialist expansion are extremely complicated and challenging to categorize. Native Americans witnessed a foreign culture being imposed on their own, and the economic and human loss repercussions were detrimental.
However, the advancement of Western science and technology helped colonized peoples either directly or indirectly.
- This led to improvements in health, access to education for the local elite, and the building of ports, railroads, and other infrastructure in a few places.
- But it came by destroying traditional practices that were apt for the nation, thus destroying the balance and culture.
Throughout history, many cultures suffered under the domination of their imperialist conquerors, with many indigenous societies being unintentionally or deliberately destroyed.
-Article written by Swathi Satish
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