Imperialism is the forceful extension of the nation’s authority through the establishment of political, social and economic supremacy over other nations. It intrinsically implies the advancement of a state at the expense of the nations under authority. For this reason, imperialism has benefited just a few expansionist states by exerting widespread damages on the subordinated territories. During the 19th and a part of the 20th century, imperialism occurred as a necessity for industrializing states to protect their economic affluence. The protectionists’ policies in most states controlled the markets and determined the demand by increasing the supply of the manufactured goods for the developing industrial output.  The industrial power of that time looked towards imperialism as a mean to secure the foreign markets that guaranteed consumption for their products through a forceful monopolized trade with their subordinated territories. In addition, waves of rapid industrialization led imperial nations to look for cheaper sources of raw materials to supply their businesses at home countries. Imperialism provided a better mean to ensure the supply of these raw materials. These economic interests together with ultra-nationalistic sentiment initiated the building of immense international empires. It is through these empires, where colonial powers (Mostly European nations such as the Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal) established their influence over vast territories, controlling most of the world.

Imperialists’ ambitions caused the economic exploitation of colonized territories to benefit their home economies. As imperial states began to control the economy of their subordinate territories, the interests and wellbeing of the subjects had no influence in defining their economic and social policies. Instead, imperial states sought to capitalize the profits regardless of the results. Most notably, the long-term welfare of the colonized nation was of little interest for the colonial nation, and so sustainable development seemed unnecessary for the imperial economies.

While some development did take place, imperial interest in colonized economies was to establish an economy for further exploitation of finite natural resources. Thus, the development that occurred in colonized countries was relevant to the desire of colonial powers to turn their subjects into sources of cheap raw materials for their industries at home. The economy of the colonized countries was not diversified; instead a selected number of products were targeted, and their production was hugely increased.

Colonial investments focused on the development of communications, plantations, railways and mines. These developments never helped the economic transformation of the territories and indigenous people from agricultural to industrialization. To the contrary, these investments were meant to accelerate the exploitation and oppression of the colonial subjects. Once the nations attained political independence from their colonial masters (through nationalism), the inheritance left behind from imperialism established nations, which depended largely on the export of few natural resources (minerals) and agricultural products, making the economies extremely vulnerable to the market price instabilities.

Many inspirations emerged in the 19th century that supported imperialism and nationalism, which were the driving force behind these ideologies. The pseudoscientific and scientific knowledge offered a tremendous effect on imperialism and nationalism. One of the most tremendous ideologies of nationalism came in response to the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin that was adapted by Herbert Spencer, known as social Darwinism. Spencer used pseudoscientific ideas of cultural inferiority on the basis of physical characteristics to justify imperialism. People were grouped as separate races along the evolutionary scale, and the suppression of peoples of color was the inevitable consequence of the White people superiority. While all Europeans adopted the posture of racial dominance that was dictated by the social Darwinists, the scientific origins of imperialism were to have a virulent and worldwide impact.

Economic and Social Imperialism

The term imperialism is used to mean foreign influence on decision and assets, including situations where such influence exists without law. The empire may be formal or informal, colonial or neocolonial. Imperialism has assumed diverse forms, historically interrelated. It is always reasonable to have a basic division between the wholesale appropriation of territory, involving the political and demographic displacement of the previous occupants, and influence over societies that reshaped in terms of occupations and lands. The territorial appropriation and demographic displacement occurred widely, but on a global scale, the prime example was the invasion and settlement by the West European. This process, started with Columbus’s arrival in the new world in 1492, though it was not completed in North America until the late 19th century. In South America, it was not quite completed by 2000. In the majority of these territories the new societies, dominated by Creole elites, won the independence. The British colonies of settlement started late enough for the colonial influence to avoid the America outcome, which gained independence but retained constitutional links with the colonial masters. The imperialism without demographic takeover has an ancient and geographical prevalent history, as to when the states were forced to give tributes to the foreign rulers.

Theories of Economic Imperialism

The most influential economic imperialism theories are related to the development of the capitalist world economy. Despite notable moderate contributions, the major tradition of the theoretical records on economic and social imperialism was the Marxist-dependency theory. According to Marx, imperialism was the use of a mixture of market methods to acquire resources that are reinvested in the process of creating a capitalist economy. It thus added to the economic development in the imperial economies. Writing about Britain, Marx took an ironically optimistic perspective of the impact of the industrial capitalist imperialism on underdeveloped economies. The colonialism was unequal and brutal, but the logic of capitalism ultimately did not accommodate frontiers.

Motivated by the search for profit and competition among themselves, the capitalist governments destroyed pre-capitalists indigenous institutions and replaced them with capitalist ideologies. Again, in the pursuit of the profit, the capitalist achived advanced technologies: in 19th century the steam railways were introduced.  As destructive and greedy as the colonial ruler could be, the ultimate outcome would be to advance Asia and Africa, what Marx considered to be a sluggish form of pre-capitalist economy path to a capitalistic development.

An important characteristic of dependency theory was a suggestion that the end of colonialism was noticeable rather than real; decolonization became a transition to neocolonialism, through which foreign capitals carried on with their exploitation.

It is the partitioning of the colonies into territories of influence that created colonies encompassing numerous linguistic, ethic, and religious groups into a political entity. This regular feature of imperialism was most prominent in Africa where its partitioning never corresponded to their historical, social, or cultural territories of pre-colonial societies. Through this process, states were created, which shared diverging cultural populations with no identify or link to the political entity which had been imposed on them by the colonial masters. In Africa, imperialism left a trail of artificially established states that had no cultural or historical comparison on which they would legitimatize their existence. Nations deeply divided along ethnic lines, not only caused the political insecurity of their former colonies, but also violence. Regardless of the economic development of imperialism and nationalism, it is difficult to justify them by the great loss of life, identity, and culture that occurred in the process of attaining independence. Imperialism was thus a negative feature of 19th and 20th centuries, since the colonizing nations achieved their ends at the expense of the colonized territories.


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