In the late 19th century, Europe made huge advances in Industry, transportation, public health, and education. Because of these advances, Europeans believed that they were superior to non-Europeans. They justified their sense of superiority with Charles Darwin’s Theory of Biological Evolution. Darwin’s Theory of natural selection states that “some [organisms] are more successful than others at adapting to changes in the environment.” (The West pg.632) In other words, the strongest and fastest members of a species survive to pass on their genes to the next generation. Europeans understood this theory in a social, moral, cultural, intellectual, and political context. They decided that, because they had better technology and and a more ‘civilized’ social structure, they were biologically better then the people of places like Africa, who still lacked machines and lived in tribes. The idea that the white man should bring his ‘superior culture’ to the tribal people of other lands became known as the White Man’s Burden. The title of the idea came from Rudyard Kipling’s poem of the same name. The poem said that is was the somber duty of the white man to enlighten the unfortunate non-whites of less advanced lands. Imperialists actually believed that they were helping the people of less advances lands realize a better way to live. Imperialism was practiced by the colonial empires of Britain, France, Belgium, and Portugal.
What made the late nineteenth century New Imperialism different from the previous Imperialism was the role of economics. Europe believed that to secure international markets and make profits they needed to control the raw material markets in foreign countries. The colonies were exploited for their inexpensive raw materials. However, few colonies proved profitable. European countries’ quest for overseas empires was also based on their desire to establish trading ports and raise armies. Newly acquired land would provide the European countries with the resources to reach both goals. So, in that regard, Europeans did profit from their presence in these lands.
As European countries raced to take over foreign lands, fear of the rising nationalism in other European countries grew. People were scared that that one nation would become more powerful than their own. For example, Italy’s military activities in Libya and Somalia provided evidence of that nation’s power, causing other nations to take measures to become even more powerful so that they could dominate politically and economically.
Image: A cartoon depicting Cecil Rhodes standing over Africa. He stated “I contend that we are the finest race in the world…the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.”
Written by: Malin Serfis, Edited by Rachel Manning
Frankforter, A. Daniel, and William M. Spellman. The West: A Narrative History. Third edition. Pearson Education, Inc., 620-622. Print.
White Man’s Burden- http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/Kipling.asp