Chapter Summary

Imperialism is the process whereby one state extends political, economic, and social control over another. It was not a new phenomenon in late-nineteenth-century Europe. The antecedents of imperialism are perhaps as old as human society itself. However, by the last half of the nineteenth century, European imperialism had grown more complex and varied. Economic changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution created an environment in which European capitalists and financiers came to realize the huge profits that could be made by overseas trade. The Industrial Revolution forever changed the pace at which raw materials were consumed and goods were produced. The Europeans needed to seek new sources of raw materials and expand the global markets for their goods.

Historians have called the late-nineteenth-century quest for empire "new imperialism." This new imperialism was multifaceted. Some nations sought a direct form of imperialism called colonialism. Other nations opted for a more indirect form of rule whereby agreements were reached between Europeans and indigenous leaders. Regardless of what form the new imperialism took, it is certain that economic interests played a major role. However, focusing solely on economic causes would necessarily overlook other significant factors that caused late-nineteenth-century imperialism. For instance, some historians have stressed strategic or nationalist motives over economic interests. Meanwhile, the great powers of Europe—Britain, France, Germany, Russia—and the United States, supported imperialism as a means of restoring national prestige and honor. There were cultural forces at work as well. The "civilizing mission" of France highlights the notion that there were regions outside Europe that needed to be civilized. In England, Rudyard Kipling wrote about the "white man's burden" to civilize what he and others considered the "barbaric" territories outside Europe. This cultural dimension was indeed important since nations could never have embarked on the perilous path of imperialism without the support of their own people. Newspapers, magazines, and popular literature made significant contributions to the popular support for imperialism by making it appear to be both natural and necessary. In addition, the Social Darwinists and proponents of eugenics all made clear that the survival of the fittest, by which they meant the fittest race, depended on subduing the "uncivilized" peoples of the world.

Today's world is based on the principles of globalization, a sort of "new" new imperialism. In the twentieth century, the new imperialism would haunt the great powers that took such pains to build their empires in the late nineteenth century. All the great empires of the nineteenth century have been dismantled to some degree. But something remains in a much more subtle form of imperialism—neocolonial relationships—with profound ramifications throughout the twentieth century and beyond.