The mystery as to why the Western world seemed to suddenly be concerned with mass Imperialism can be explained as a domino effect. Once one country fell for the political, economic, and ethnocentric gains from Imperialism other countries followed so as to not fall behind in the race for global power.
Economic: Economic expansion for these countries meant that a source of cheap labor, access and control over trading markets, and valuable natural resources such as precious metals and land were necessary. The Industrial Revolution had caused a dependency on colonies for their raw materials to be sent home to be manufactured in factories for a higher profit. Competition to own strategic trade transportation canals and choke points such as the Suez and Panama Canals (which cut thousands of travel time down) was strong. Countries also sought to expand their selling markets globally to achieve a higher profit . Imperial powers competed heavily with each other for the best resources, market, and trade so as to not be lost in the game for global power.
Exploratory: Imperial nations or their citizens sometimes explored unknown (to them) territory either in an attempt to gain possible resource centers, expand the empire, or for Scientific knowledge. It was among this time that Charles Darwin travelled and developed his theory of evolution that gave rise to Social Darwinism and the survival of the fittest. His theory of the importance of being the fittest in order to survive spurred nations to be at the top of the global ladder of power so that they would not become extinct. His theory also led to a more sinister effect, ethnocentrism and the belief that the white European man was superior to other races.
Ethnocentric: Imperial nations sometimes believed that their cultural values or beliefs were superior to other nations or groups, most likely from the idea of Social Darwinism and the belief that there is a superior in a species that will dominate and survive over the others of it’s kind. In the late 19th century, for example, European powers clung to the racist belief that inferior races should be conquered in order to “civilize” them.
Political: Patriotism and growing imperial power spurred countries to compete with others for supremacy in matters of national pride, prestige and security. Empires sought strategic territory to ensure access for their navies and armies around the world so that they could protect their newly expanded empires. Political motives were often triggered as responses to perceived threats to the security or prestige of the imperial power or its citizens abroad.
Religious: The Protestant missionary movement took the biblical command “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” quite literally when they began to move from their homes and to go to Imperial colonies to make their own contributions in evangelicalism by converting peoples (typically indigenous.) Christian missionaries from Europe, for example, established churches in conquered territories during the nineteenth century. In doing so, they also spread Western cultural values. Some sought to bring their missionary territories the language of their native land while others sought to preserve the native language there.
Culture through Literature: Another expansion on the ideals of Imperialism was spread through Literature of the time. Scientific literature such as Charles Darwin’s The Origins Of Species offered ideas of Social Darwinism while Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park illustrated dependency on the distant Carribbean plantations. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre depicts the dangers of foreign countries with the haunting and tormenting Jamaican wife of Mr. Rochester. Rudyard Kipling’s Kim showed the people of England the outside world being explored through Imperialism with the adventures of a young white orphaned boy’s experiences in India, that he finds precious but inferior to British society.
Works Cited/ Referenced
Written By: Eilish O’Neill. Hist 122.