The nineteenth century was a time of unmatched imperialism, heightened nationalism, and the emergence of scientific racism. In this essay I want you to think about the connections between these phenomena. How did imperialism and nationalism influence and mutually reinforce each other? What about imperialism and racism? How about nationalism and racism?

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Competition for empire had been going on long before the huge wave of nationalistic feeling that swept Europe after the Enlightenment, and with even greater strength as a result of the Napoleonic Wars. The ideal of the nation state that emerged was especially strong in those countries that had not yet unified: Germany and Italy—and perhaps even more so among the Greeks and the Slavic nationalities that had lived under foreign domination for a long period. After unification the Germans and Italians soon engaged in this “great game” of competition for overseas possessions. At the end of the eighteenth century Britain, having lost its American colonies, at first thought the loss was disastrous but was then stimulated to even greater aggression in other parts of the world, eventually establishing direct rule in India, turning the Ottoman Empire into more or less a client state, and increasing its interests elsewhere in Asia and in Africa.

All of this imperialism was probably less the direct result of nationalism (though it still played a part) than of the need for raw materials prompted by industrialization. Yet the competition over colonies was a kind of sublimated form of the usual antagonism played out perpetually through wars on the European continent itself. For nearly a hundred years (1815 to 1914) the wars fought within Europe itself were on a relatively small scale. But the emergence of newly unified Germany (Italy less so) and its competition for empire was clearly a factor in the new and unprecedented outbreak of violence in 1914.

”Scientific racism” was a response to the need to rationalize the taking over of foreign lands. In the earlier, pre-Enlightenment period, thinking was primitive enough to allow people to believe it was simply their right to conquer, and it was seen as a given that non-white peoples were inferior, or that their subjugation could be rationalized through the need to convert them to the white man’s values, especially Christianity. But in the more advanced nineteenth century this rationale was inadequate. It was a scientific age, so a scientific facade was needed to justify conquest. Theories of racial hierarchy were no less primitive, and were rooted in the same tribal mentality, but there was a veneer of modernity and sophistication to them, just as there was in the theorizing about the relative superiority of one European nation with respect to others. So ultimately we do see a convergence of nationalism, imperialist intentions within Europe (the Ottoman and Austrian Empires in Europe were held together as long as possible and then, the latter was partly recreated by the Nazis) as well as outside of it, and a pseudo-scientific rationale for all of this re-emergence of primitivism.

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Imperialism was in many ways inextricably linked with the ideologies of nationalism and racism. Nationalists saw the acquisition of overseas territories as a means of asserting national power, not to mention fostering pride in the nation. In a very famous speech in 1898, US senator Albert Beveridge claimed the United States, as a democratic nation, had a "nobler destiny" than European nations, because it would take over territories around the world to spread democratic principles. This brand of nationalism was common among Western powers. Imperialism promoted nationalistic beliefs, and nationalists urged imperialistic policies. In the late nineteenth century, as Social Darwinistic theories gained popularity, the idea that Anglo-Saxon nations were inherently more advanced than others was used to justify imperialism in two ways. One was to characterize relations between nations as a brutal struggle for existence, one which justified aggressive foreign policy as a means of survival. Many Americans, for example, justified the annexation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War on the grounds that Germany would take the islands if the United States did not. Others saw in scientific racism a "white man's burden," one which mandated that whites "civilize" supposedly less advanced peoples by taking them over. As should be evident by now, nationalism was steeped in racism. German, American, and British nationalists in particular argued for a national destiny that was connected to their supposed superiority to other peoples. This superiority, they claimed, was supported by scientific thinking on race.

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Your answer to this question must be guided by the course materials you have been provided. There is a very close connection between nationalism, imperialism, and scientific racism starting in the nineteenth century.

In the 1870s, Europe's second wave of the Industrial Revolution spurred European nations' desire for access to raw materials. As a result, many European nations wanted overseas empires. For example, King Leopold II of Belgium began to enslave the people of the Congo in his pursuit of ivory and, later, rubber. When other nations saw his actions, they were motivated by a sense of nationalism (or the idea that their nation was destined for greatness) to pursue overseas colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. (The United States was also motivated to be imperialist, mainly in the New World but also in the Pacific.) Many nations such as Germany had just united (in 1871), driving these recent countries to use imperialism to promote their new nations and unite their people.

The philosophy of scientific racism developed in part from Darwin's monumental work, On the Origin of Species (1859), which uncovered the mechanisms of heredity. Other thinkers, such as Francis Galton, who was Darwin's cousin, applied Darwin's ideas to the study of human heredity and determined (falsely) that human ability is entirely heritable. Galton began the study of eugenics, the creation of a "master race" through genetic engineering. The idea of a superior race fueled nationalism and imperialism, as Europeans and Americans believed that they were superior to other people and had a right to conquer others and "civilize them." Therefore, these three ideas were closely interconnected. 

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