Western Imperialism Essays Example
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In 1859, Charles Darwin published his seminal work On the Origin of Species in which he expounded on the theory of natural selection, which catalyzed a paradigm shift in how human beings perceived world history vis-à-vis the concept of evolution. Darwin introduced into the intellectual and scientific milieu of the nineteenth century an important component that played a direct role in western imperialism (Bentley and Ziegler 550). At the crux of Darwin’s argument was that through empirical observations in diverse locales throughout the world studies of flora and fauna, those that are best adapted to changing circumstances and contingencies in their respective environment are the ones who have the best chance of survival. The fossil fuel record provides evidences that changes indeed are taking place, so adaptation is commensurate with the trait of natural selection, or how one adapts and changes (Darwin 1). The flora and fauna that cannot adapt will perish due to mutations that will render them extinct in the near future (Darwin). As such, this theory of evolution eschews the biblical account of the Earth’s creation that points to a cataclysmic flood for the germination of human life. Problems that arise theologically with these ideas are diffuse (Spielvogel 668-670). The heated conflict between science and religion is reflected to have been taking place amidst imperialism.
Social Darwinism refers to a social science that took biological principles, laws of physics, and laws of gravity, or natural laws, and used them to interpret how societies work and functioned. Thus, it took a teleological functioning of history working towards something better and applying it to the economic realm. In 1864, Herbert Spencer, not Charles Darwin, coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” as he was the first person to take the biological theory and bring it over to socio-economic issues and examine how it could explain how the world and societies work within themselves and in relation to the others (Spielvogel 714). Social interactions became heated competitions even at the basic plant and animal level and almost always involved pain and suffering, which directly relates to the emergence of Raceology, or a social scientific view of history that stirred up the environment towards a desire for empire. Karl Pearson was a follower of Sir Francis Galton, who is touted as one of the founders of racial science, or the eugenics movement. In his National Life From the Standpoint of Science, he argues that history is a struggle of races, thereby appropriating Marx’s concept and lexicon of class struggle and replaces it with a biological concept of race. Eradicating the inferior races that merely pollute the world, the superior races become uplifted and would remain strong and survive. If weakened by pollution of inferior peoples, the strong races become vulnerable to other developing strong races. Pearson deploys “scientific” principles through the deployment of language associated with animals, as he describes races of people as “stocks” (Pearson, “National Life”). Such technocratic and business-like language of efficiency by referring people to livestock underscores how selective breeding was quite similar to practices of husbandry. Survival of fittest discourses and theories provided the foundation for imperialism and for an accelerated competition and race for global power amongst European nations.
The term “New Imperialism” referred to expansionistic countries during the nineteenth century that were searching for new land. Imperialism itself was not new, but it evolved according to epochal contingencies and need for conquest within the context of a dismantled geopolitical map from prior eras. During the nineteenth century, a litany of ideologies came into play that had not existed during the nascent years of western imperialism. As such, conditions were ripe for the west to engage in imperialism due to the geopolitical shake up that had taken place during the 1870s, which threatened world peace because it nullified the balance of European powers that had hitherto been in place for over half a century.
Imperialism evolved in light of the ideological foundations that justified it, so an examination of the justifications for empire and the desire to conquer land will better portray international affairs and globalization prior to the present day. Nationalism, combined with social Darwinism, worked together to justify and even mandate the conquest of new colonies and new lands for political, economic, and cultural purposes. During the Spanish-American War during the 1890s, Senator Albert J. Beverage declared: “We are a conquering Race, we must obey our blood and occupy new markets and if necessary new lands” (Beverage, as cited in Parry and Chase, 566). The term “bloods” denotes the concept of race while “new markets” refer to capitalism. Beverage goes on to say that “without war, an unhappy development will follow, which excludes the advancements of all real civilizations” (567). Racialized nationalism injects ideals of racial superiority into justifying why a European superpower such as Germany is better or more powerful than France and/or Great Britain
The motives and justification of New Imperialism during the latter half of the nineteenth century pertains to changing circumstances and exigencies that had been absent during the first imperialism craze. Three motives intersect, overlap, and integrated one another during this phase. The economic motive served as the primary motive to find markets to buy European goods and extract natural resources from nutrient-rich areas (Spielvogel 732). Indeed, these economic motives are vastly different from early colonization efforts. The Industrial Revolution had occurred during the middle of the nineteenth century, so European countries need raw materials and new markets to sell their goods to. The English textile industry, for example, as the most developed of all of the industries had limited space to grow cotton, which was vital for the success of the textile industry. Thus, the British had to search elsewhere for agricultural areas where they could grow their cotton as well as procure essential raw materials such as coal, oil, and rubber, which was necessary in the progression towards mechanized transportation. One of the major sources of cotton was in the southern part of the United States, where cotton was produced quickly because of a steady labor force comprised of slaves. States would sell a lot of their raw materials to Great Britain to feed the textile industry. After the abolition of slavery, however, cotton was no longer cheap to purchase within the world market, thereby forcing Britain to find new sources of cotton in order to feed the industrial machine spawned during the Industrial Revolution. Britain, however, would have to compete with other European countries to find new resources to feed the growing hunger of these capital-driven industrial economies. European imperialists thus also needed vast lands that were undeveloped and ripe with resources such as oil, plants, and petroleum. A metaphorical hunt for natural resources thus ensued.
Scholars and politicians alike articulated conflicting opinions regarding imperialism within the context of the nineteenth century. An English social scientist and economist, John Hobson vehemently critiqued imperialism, as he staunchly opposed it. While money was being funneled abroad and invested elsewhere, those at home did not benefit. Hobson rather argued that imperialism functioned as a political convenience. Americans had to send people over to their vast array of colonies in order to protect their foreign presence there. Moreover, resources are not infinite, and since the resources were not invested at home, the infrastructure at home began to deteriorate and crumble (Hobson). Thus, it is unequivocal that there was a dire need to keep reinvesting in colonies that Hobson viewed more harm than good. Many scholars point to the New Imperialism that burgeoned at the end of the nineteenth century as the etiology of the concept of globalization.
Political motives were also evident because of the shift in the balance of power once Germany achieved statehood in 1871 during the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. Nations were built on industrial capitalism. Germany provides a poignant case study, as it became its own country under Bismarck in alliance with Prussian industrial machine. Germany’s arrival on political scene shakes up the entire geopolitical organization of Europe, which put the British on alert as a result because they were carte blanche and could do whatever they wanted to on the imperial front due to the strength of the British navy. International tensions increased in 1871, which nullified the concert of Europe that had been established in 1815 at the conclusion of Napoleon’s Wars. Germany unequivocally wanted to establish itself as a global presence, and not just as a local European presence. Imperialism thus emerged as a site of political and geopolitical conflict and rivalry. The desire to carve up the countries in the African continent emerged as a possibly explosive scene, so the European leaders sought to avoid that conflict when they convened the Berlin Congress 1885 headed by King Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold devised strategy with representative and want to be representatives of imperial powers how to carve out Africa (Spielvogel 732-734). This congress marks a seminal event that shaped the map of Africa which lasted until the end of World War I. It was indeed a flashpoint of political conflict and how to avoid any unnecessary political conflict. Various flashpoints between the British and the Germans and the French and the Germans up however proliferated until the commencement of World War I.
Finally, European countries deployed cultural discourses as a major justification of colonizing others for personal gain. The concept of the “White Man’s Burden”—undergirded strong cultural arguments made by imperialists who deployed Social Darwinism concepts. Rudyard Kipling also published works that underscore the cultural arguments used and circulate in public discourses primarily in England . Kipling looks at how the “superior” European civilization changed the purportedly inferior ones, so imperialism was not just about subjugation. Rather, western countries had the duty to improve and lift up inferior and uncouth peoples. Such infantilizing discourses indicate that Europeans viewed all subaltern and/or non-whites as lesser and commensurate with a white child. European colonists indeed were sacrificing their time for the betterment of other peoples who needed their guidance because without them inferior peoples would be left half-devil and half- child (Kipling, “White Man’s Burden”). Europeans claimed that there was scientific proof that European civilization is superior and so they have an imperative to spread Victorian culture. The notion of a culture war thus took root with the spread of European empire. Christianity indeed was a big part of this new imperialism, and it was utilized as a key point of communication between indigenous peoples—especially in America—and imperial administrators. Missionaries go into villages and communicate directly with the imperial administrators so they become locus of communication between the indigenous peoples and the imperial workers both knowingly and unknowingly. Frederick Lugard, a British colonial administrator, suggested that the British imperial project was not so much about military conquest. The introduction of European natural superiority through medicine and educational systems reified how culture wars emerged as a defining feature of imperialism during the nineteenth century. British medicine was far more advanced and effective in treating illnesses because they were able to set up hospitals and treat malaria. Thus, the British officials made a conscious effort to put their superiority on display in the hopes that the indigenous would emulate western wars. Moreover, the educational systems in Europe were tailored to the reactionary and stubborn nature of European parents, so the European colonizers sought to educate subaltern children in the western manner and style. The education of colonized children was one of the primary features of how European imperialism in Africa way.
Bentley, Jerry H., and Herbert F. Ziegler. Traditions & Encounters: A Brief Global History. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. Print.
Darwin, Charles. “Modern History Sourcebook: On Darwin’s Origin of Species, 1860). Fordham University. Web. 23 Mar. 2015. http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1860wilberforce-darwin.asp
Ferry, Jules. “Modern History Sourcebook: Jules Ferry (1832-1893): On French Colonial Expansion.” Fordham University. 1892-1893. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1884ferry.asp
Kipling, Rudyard. “The White Man’s Burden”: Kipling’s Hymn to U.S. Imperialism.” History Matters. Web. 23 Mar. 2015 http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5478/
Lugard, Frederick. “Political Utterances and Programmatic Texts.” Colonial Concepts of Development in Africa. Web. 23 Mar 2015. http://www.univie.ac.at/colonial-development/seiten/sources.html
Pearson, Karl. National Life From the Standpoint of Science. United States: A & C Black, 1905. Print.
Perry, Marvin, and Myrna Chase. Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics and Society. 8.th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. Print.
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