Imperialism

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What were the benefits of imperialism in terms of social-cultural factors, economic factors, and political factors?

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Imperialism , rather than colonization, became the preferred method for Europeans to control other countries in the nineteenth century. Imperialism and colonialism are related concepts, but colonialism is characterized by large waves of settlement by people of European descent, such as happened in the American colonies and Australia. In colonialism,...

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Imperialism, rather than colonization, became the preferred method for Europeans to control other countries in the nineteenth century. Imperialism and colonialism are related concepts, but colonialism is characterized by large waves of settlement by people of European descent, such as happened in the American colonies and Australia. In colonialism, the emphasis is on displacing native peoples to make room for an influx of Europeans who plan to settle there forever.

Imperialism focuses on controlling the government and the economy of the weaker nation without a huge influx of permanent settlement. Native peoples are left in place, and those lesser numbers who come often arrive as administrators, many planning only to stay a certain number of years.

The economic benefits of imperialism, factors that drove the race for Africa in the late nineteenth century, could be significant. First, places such as Africa had raw materials like rubber that were increasingly attractive to European manufacture and could be had for next to nothing once a European nation seized control of a territory. Crucially, European nations were running out of domestic markets for their products. They could, however, force native peoples to buy what they produced by cutting off any other source of the product. This helped keep European economies strong.

This benefited the wealthy but also led to social and political stability in the home countries. Imperialism, for example, provided an important employment outlet for the middle classes. Looking at Britain, there weren't enough jobs in nineteenth-century England to absorb all the men seeking to make a living, so imperial holding like India became an important source of respectable and relatively lucrative careers for the middle classes. A dizzying number of prominent British from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries either did a work stint in India themselves or were born of parents living and working for the imperial government there. This was an important factor in ensuring political stability, as middle-class joblessness can cause significant political unrest.

Socially and culturally, Europeans were taught that they were superior to native peoples around the globe and doing good work through Empire building in exporting superior values and a superior way of life to inferior groups. This helped cement national unity and self respect, if at the expense of other cultures.

It should be emphasized that these were benefits for the controlling nation, not the native peoples.

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Imperialism as conducted by the Great Powers of Europe was multidimensional. The economic dimension was the most obvious and easiest to quantify. It was also connected to mankind's historical drive to explore the unknown. Monarchies across Europe competed with each other by financing expeditions that "discovered" vast regions for colonization and exploitation. From the Roman Empire forward, European regimes sought to explore that which lay far beyond their frontiers and to claim as their own that which they were able to conquer. The benefits were both tangible and intangible. Through colonization, these regimes were able to exploit natural resources from gold to cinnamon as well as man-made goods like silk. At the same time, they were able to expand their power through their hold on territory and the exploitation of resources and slave labor while simultaneously building for themselves vast buffer zones that enhanced their sense of physical security from invading outsiders (such as they had been themselves).

With respect to mankind's drive to explore the unknown, many of history's greatest expeditions were launched at least in part out of an almost messianic fervor to explore. Ferdinand Magellan, among the most successful (until his untimely demise) explorers in European history, noted the following about this innate need to look beyond the known world:

“The sea is dangerous and its storms terrible, but these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore... Unlike the mediocre, intrepid spirits seek victory over those things that seem impossible... It is with an iron will that they embark on the most daring of all endeavors... to meet the shadowy future without fear and conquer the unknown.”

So, right off the bat, we have both curiosity and economics as major drivers of imperialism. As competition among European monarchies for the spoils and prestige of overseas colonies heated up, an additional factor emerged. Imperialism, especially that emanating from Western Europe, had a geopolitical dimension that allowed for Marxist-Leninist interpretations of European actions with respect to the latter's colonies. Indeed, at the heart of Lenin's theories of imperialism was the notion that competition among capitalist societies for overseas markets and resources was the main cause of the war then ravaging Europe--in effect, World War I.

The sociocultural factors involved in imperialist policies were also of major relevance. In the development of European culture, Christianity assumed a messianic role that viewed colonization as a form of divine intervention. In other words, "enlightened" Europeans and Christian missionaries would civilize "primitive," "barbaric" peoples. This factor in the practice of imperialism should not be underestimated. As German scholar Benedikt Stuchtey wrote in Colonialism and Imperialism, 1450-1950:

"Even the harshest critics of expansion policies – starting with Bartolomé de las Casas (1474–1566) to the Marxist-Leninist criticism of the 20th century – did not doubt the civilizing mission that justified colonial hegemony."

The notion of forcibly civilizing the uncivilized extended to the US policy of Manifest Destiny. Western expansion across North America certainly had geopolitical and economic dimensions, but there was also a religious or cultural dimension as well. It was considered America's god-given right to expand westward and to settle land as far and wide as possible.

The benefits of imperialism, in closing, were economic, political, and cultural/religious. The sense of destiny, the drive to explore, the desire for commodities, and the denial of the spoils of imperialism to other great powers were all a part of the equation.

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There were many benefits to imperialism. These included economic, political, social, and cultural benefits.

Many countries wanted colonies for economic reasons. The colonies often had resources that imperialistic countries needed to make products. It was much cheaper to get these resources from their colonies than to buy then from other countries. Also, colonies gave the imperialistic country a guaranteed market where it could sell it products.

Political factors also played a part in imperialism. If a country had colonies, it would be easier for that country to protect its world trade. By having colonies, imperialistic countries could have bases around the world where their ships could dock and resupply. The colonies could also serve as a military base in case of war. Colonies helped a country become and stay a world power.

Social and cultural factors were also reasons for imperialism. Imperialistic countries believed their way of life and cultures were superior to other countries. By establishing colonies, the imperialistic countries could spread their culture to what they perceived as less developed places. The imperialistic countries believed they were helping these colonies learn to how to run a government, develop a civilized society, and develop an economic system. They also might be able to spread their religious beliefs to these colonies.

There were many benefits that led to colonization. These included social, political, economic, and cultural benefits.

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