History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: Origins of Modern Nationalism

Motives for Empire click here for audio

Europe had been influencing global trade, and dominating much of it, since the 17th century. But in the 19th century, some European nations began setting concrete goals for the management of empire. These goals could go beyond the exploitation of natural resources, although they usually emphasized political control for the sake of economic gain.

Rhodes cartoon


Cecil Rhodes' moderate ambitions for Africa: the Cape-to-Cairo Railway

This "new" imperialism was based on several motives.

Social Darwinism was certainly prominent among them. Each nation believed that they represented the finest of European civilization, and imperialists felt that the expansion of European culture would be of benefit to all mankind. Cecil Rhodes, who was English, believed that the Anglo-Saxon people had a particular responsibility to take over nations of "lesser" peoples.

bookWorkbook document: Rhodes: Confession of Faith (1877)

Countering the argument that imperialism brought peace and prosperity, others like Hobson noted the continual war and exploitation inherent in imperialism.
bookWorkbook document: Hobson on Imperialism (1902)

I confess that I'm having some problem writing this section, as I see the United States heading toward the same type of empire achieved by Britain and France by the end of the 19th century. I hear the same arguments Rhodes made over 100 years ago (now in "politically correct" language) being made by those who support a "safer" world through the domination of other nations and the denial of their right to self-determination. I am not the only one noticing the parallel, if current sales of books on British imperialism are any indication.

Please see this map of territories to explore the world of empire as of 1914.

Brighton Pavilion, in Britain,
looks like an Indian palace

Is imperialism simply an extension of nationalism? Can a nation become so proud that it simply expands internationally as its "manifest destiny"? The causes are rather more complex than that. The imperialist adventure began with economics, the desire to obtain certain resources, and then control them. Governments which refused to cooperate, or which created instability in the region, were replaced with local rulers friendly to the imperialist power. In some cases, European governments directly ruled (as the British did in India) after conditions went beyond the ability of companies to control. In many cases, the imperialist power had to put down local insurgencies against its domination, as the U.S. did in the Philippines in 1899 after "liberating" them from the Spanish. In most cases, locals who could benefit took the side of the conquering power. Culturally, what resulted in these places was a fusion of European and local traditions, each having an impact.

Recently, historians have also noted a sexual aspect to imperialism. In this construct, the conquered country represents the Victorian woman. She is weak, exotic, compliant, natural. The imperialistic nation is the man, dominating, strong, confident. This motif was seen often in art and music of the 19th and early 20th centuries, because imperialism brought images of exotic worlds to the attention of Europeans and Americans. It influenced opera, Madama Butterfly being a prime example as the story of a U.S. naval officer who marries a Japanese geisha and then abandons her.

book Workbook document: Puccini, Giacosta, Illica -- Madama Butterfly (1902)

 

4. Tools of Empire -

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