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The term imperialism simply means the coming up or the building of empires, where some powerful countries acquire many other less powerful ones by adding them to their empire gaining access to their finances, exports, armies and to their strategic location, in the process. It is the dominion of the economic, political, and socio-cultural life of one region or country by another country. Therefore European imperialism therefore refers to all those European nations that tried to their rule and power to other nations, something that was in most cases very successful. It was one way through which countries sort to find a self-sufficient way of living. They did these with the sole aim of gaining more riches and therefore power. Although imperialism was once a way of life to many countries and therefore was prevalent, it is generally frowned upon by the society today as countries have been left to govern their own citizens and also to make money from their own resources. Although imperialism may have brought with it some positive aspects to the natives of the conquered nations, its overall impact had more negative effects than the positive ones to the whole world (European, n.d).
Many people argue that the expansion of Europe was bound to happen, it was almost a certainty. The European continent was agriculturally poor and therefore this forced the Europeans to move outside of Europe to search for new fertile soil. Many of the European countries started sending out explorers, the likes of Magellan and Columbus to try and find trade routes to Asia and India. But in their search, these explorers stumbled upon new sources for goods and raw materials. The European nations therefore started benefiting substantially. Explorations of South America, Africa and Asia provided Europe with new wealth thereby increasing the living standards of its people with things like spices, silver, gold and other luxurious goods. The reformers and the many revolutions that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries brought drastic changes to the European society by continually providing it with new ideas, interests, and experiences. This enabled the Europeans to develop new technologies that were a great help in their continued exploration of unknown territories and expansion of their overseas influence (Potter, n.d).
It is recorded that European imperialism started in the 14th and 15th century. Many factors that necessitated this have been cited. First it was due to the fact that Europe's low population would one day experience rapid growth in population. Secondly the small size of Europe made it vulnerable to invasions; this provoked the need for strong and powerful armies. The division of Europe into small States made them desire to have stronger governments and because no state was powerful enough to prevent this, they went a head to sent voyages overseas to explore and bring wealth back home. Others were just inspired to spread God's word through Christianity. All these played a determining role in the European expansion all the main reason still remains, the quest richness and material goods (Bentley & Ziegler, 2006).
The late expansionism had many varying changes from the earlier imperialism, for instance, earlier imperialism was only concerned with establishing trading posts in other countries but not completely taking over those countries and adding empires as was seen in late imperialism. This was mainly because; earlier own Europe lacked the resources and strength to take over other countries, therefore trading posts was the best they could do. They could only put up trading post on the African coast because they could not put up with the African diseases in the interior. They also put up trading companies in India. They also managed to seize the Americas who were lowly populated at the time (Science.Jrank Changing attitudes).
After the earlier imperialism, Europe experienced a period of imperial calmness that went through the 1700s up to the 1870s, many countries losing empires and therefore stopping their quest for new territories. It was after this period that new imperialism surfaced, where Europe reached the highest peak of their power over the world. They had a huge advantage over other nations because of the industrial revolution. The new found scientific knowledge like the railroads and the steam engine enabled them to move faster and efficiently across the continent. Solutions for diseases were discovered enabling them to move into Africa and take control over a major part of the continent. Inventions of the rifle and machine gun helped the Europeans in making imperialism possible, they made expansion easy and cheap. Political leaders now saw this as a chance to distract society from their domestic problems and turn them to issues of national unity. The developments in technology together with the many other influences acted as an impetus to other nations to rush in and seize territories leading to European colonization. They now attacked Africa with force and took direct control rather than through negotiations. The old trading colonies became extremely important for diplomatic and political reasons and therefore every powerful nation used its colonies for its national security, international prestige, and for military purposes. New imperialism also came with new theories and attitudes about the new European expansion. Many believed that it was the responsibility of Europe to Europeanize the whole world because, industrially, they were more powerful or superior to any other continent. Ideas such as that of Social Darwinism, which says that, only the strongest nation will survive and dominate the rest, were provoked. The three G's theory was also up, Gold, God, and Glory whereby Gold signified economic profit, God stood for Christianizing new lands, and Glory meant unity and national power. Along with these theories come critics who argued that the hunt for more empires by the European Nations diverted the people's popular attention away from crucial domestic reform and also their need to reduce big gap between those who are rich and the poor. Even books talking about the negative aspects of imperialism were published criticizing the quest by Europe to civilize other countries (Sylvest, 2008).
European countries were served by their colonies all through up to the First World War. The impact of the war forced many European countries to withdraw the influence they had on their colonies. Efforts placed into the war drained most of the European economies devastating most of the land forcing them to change the course of their attention away from the colonies so that they could focus fully on emerging domestic problems. Their high priority became rebuilding their countries' info structure and improving the citizen's living standards but not building their overseas empires. This made their colonies realize that Europe was not that powerful after all. The propaganda and insane views of Hitler contributed to the discrediting of European's superiority. On top of these, native nationalists back in the colonies gained power to start independence movements contributing enormously to European decolonization. This saw many of the European countries pull out of their colonies albeit in different ways. A country like Britain withdrew their influence from India peacefully granting it independency in 1947. Other countries, the likes of France, did not peacefully withdraw from their colonies, they there engaged in wars with the nationalist movements. It fought with its oldest colony, Algeria that saw the collapsing of France's government. It then realized that colonies like Algeria were just but a burden to France's economy and therefore granted them independence (Willem, 2006).
Many have argued that the fall of imperialism or colonization began by Europe itself but still others believe that it all began in the colonies. That many of the colonies grew to become stronger to a point that Europe could not manage to keep them completely under its control. The participation in the First World War of the natives alongside their European superior saw an increase in the number of native elites and their importance in the colonies also increased. After the war, there was better medication in the colonies and there this led to a rise in the native populations. These people managed to get access to weapons and started waging guerrilla wars to fend off the occupation of Europeans. The European armies had also dwindled in numbers after the war. All these are believed by many to have been the factors that contributed to decolonization. The other group however argues that Europe just withdrew from their colonies out of their own will and interest. That European leaders realized the most profitable trade was happening in countries in their own continent and therefore decided to go back home to maximize on it. The economic interest of Europe and those of their colonies therefore diverged forcing European nations to pull out and pursue their own interests at home. They realized that direct control of their colonies was no longer necessary but they maintained their strong trading ties (Jim, 2005).
There are some noticeable benefits that can be said to have come with imperialism. That it brought a set of laws to protect the poor, the weak and women from abuse. Many new things were introduced in the colonies especially Africa, for instance medicine that helped Africans live longer lives, roads and railways were constructed to aid in faster and easy movement of goods and people. Schools, hospitals and churches were also built, and as such many people in the colonies became literate. But it remains all this was done to benefit the Europeans first and then other benefits came in by chance (Bentley & Ziegler, 2006).
As it has been outlined in the essay, European imperialism started with one aim, to gain more riches for the European nations. They dominated over many areas in the whole world, Africa, Latin America and Asia. Their dominion was supposed to bring good tidings to the natives. But contrary to this, they were not there to help the natives at all. They were only there to spread their own influence, gain riches both for themselves and their nations. And form their own, the successes and failures that came with it, has stayed own to determine the way Europeans and non Europeans relate and co-exist. All said the overall impact that imperialism and European civilization caused had more negative effects on the whole world than the positive effects. It made many countries of the world especially those from Europe, greedier for richness and power and made the non-western people to appear racially inferior. It brought about rivalries among many of the European nations that culminated in many uncalled for conflicts. Countries fought each to gain more territories, hurting themselves and the natives in the process. Resources were taken away from the less powerful countries, the colonies, peopled were forced to work with no pay or if it was there, then it was little. Imperialism by the European nations influenced immensely the whole world for close to five centuries and it was one of the greatest events in the history of western societies (Empire, 2010a).