Cohen argued that imperialism could not be explained by the maturity, or otherwise, of capitalism at all. This dominance was never absolute because of the costs and risks involved. Cohen wrote: It follows that if a state is to enhance its national security, it must, to the extent possible, try to use its foreign policy to reduce its dependence on others.
This means that imperialistic behaviour is a perfectly rational strategy of foreign policy. It is a wholly legitimate and logical response to the uncertainty surrounding the survival of the nation. It might also include aggrandisement of a policy through the colonisation of a territory by settlers or invaders. In the s, imperialism entered the English political language to describe, with loathing, a potentially aggressive foreign policy in France by Prince Louis Napoleon.
This was not propaganda or windowdressing; the benevolent mission was a genuine belief for the overwhelming majority of imperial administrators and for many of the settlers too. The Empire also developed in an uneven way, with some colonies achieving a measure of self-government as a means to retain their co-operation with Britain, whilst others did not. In the sixteenth century, following the centralisation and consolidation of political power in the metropole, England followed in the footsteps of the Spaniards and Portuguese in a search for new wealth.
The whole Empire was internally dynamic and it continued to evolve throughout its history. Centrifugal forces within Britain meant that migrant communities were established and reinforced in settler states, mission stations, plantations, mines and trading posts.
It was also subject to external pressures, such as foreign rivals, wars, revolts or economic change. It sometimes appeared to be consolidating and on the defensive, yet in the last 30 years of the nineteenth century, it acquired 5 million square miles and 88 million new subjects.
Strategically valued regions became the focus of intense diplomatic interest or of military operations. The British were eager to leave behind them democratic institutions in the hands of approved political elites, and to encourage continued voluntary association in the Commonwealth.
The best that can be said is that the British were determined to hand over control to representative bodies modelled in their own image, although this view is sometimes disputed. Supplementing these relatively small agencies were colonial administrations, and the quite considerable colonial armed forces. In India, for example, the government was a cabinet of British personnel with their headquarters in Calcutta and later Delhi and Simla during the hot season which sought the approval of London in its decision-making.
In , its Indian Civil Service was small, with little more than staff about half of whom were Indian serving a population of million. British rule in India was backed by the Indian Army which, in peacetime, numbered , men. Revenue to pay for this administration was raised through taxation of the indigenous people whenever possible, but sometimes Britain was forced to contribute too. Local labour extracted and farmed the mineral and agrarian wealth of the colonies, and goods were transported to Britain and other destinations through a network of shipping, railways and land carriage.
The whole system was supervised by British banks, insurance and joint stock companies, and promoted by entrepreneurs whose activities generated a dynamic of development. The English language was the mode of communication, information being transmitted through a global telegraph, postal, and eventually radio and telephone service. Astride this vast network was the British government, and in support were the legions of other professionals: academics, journalists, publishers, religious leaders, engineers, architects, educators and much of the British public too.
Military force played a part in the acquisition and maintenance of the British Empire. The British armed forces were deployed to protect the colonies from outsiders, but also to maintain internal security. Local police forces, of varying quality, augmented military forces throughout the empire. Colonial troops and locally raised levies were used in most colonial campaigns. This fact demonstrates the extent of collaboration in the British Empire, and the way in which local people formed the bulk of the manpower for the imperial enterprise — with or without British direction.
There were complex layers of loyalty in imperial society. This term refers to British access and interference, mainly economic in character, in territories not formally governed by the British in Asia, the Middle East, South America and Latin America. Economic penetration was dependent on local conditions, and on resistance.
The issue of Informal Empire also raises questions about British trade itself. If Britain embraced free trade, it did so because it was a leading player in a global system of trade that, to some extent, already existed. By contrast, in the settler states like Australia, the economic success of the colony meant that Britain dismantled its formal control in an effort to cut costs.
The West Indies, one of the most important economic zones of the Empire at the end of the eighteenth century, accounted for This growth was due to the natural increase in a population that, from the late seventeenth century, had been shipped out of Africa as slaves, a process that had reached its peak in the s when , were transported in just one decade.
The Gibraltar That Never Was
However, the consequences of colonisation for some local populations were catastrophic: an estimated , Aboriginal Australians were forcibly displaced and many were killed, whilst the Tasmanian population of between — was decimated, largely by disease. However, it was impossible for the British to be consistent in developing every part of the Empire even where they tried, because some regions were more important to British interests than others.
There have been criticisms from Indian historians, such as S. A study of imperialism must also now acknowledge the wider social and cultural aspects of British rule, but also its limits. Imperialism led to the spread of English as the language of the educated and political elite, and also of commerce.
Imperialism was a catalyst for migration and colonisation, which led to the dispossession of indigenous populations. However, migration was not limited to the white colonists. Migratory patterns were generated within the colonies, with, for example, Chinese labourers working in Canada, indentured Indians settling in Natal, or Sikh policemen serving in Hong Kong and Malaya.
British trade, for example, was never as dominant as it seemed. It was dependent on local conditions, such as the availability of resources. The volume of trade was also dependent on the demand for British goods. France, which had frequently tried to solve domestic tensions by recourse to an aggressive foreign policy from Napoleon to the Third Republic , posed a challenge to British supremacy in the Mediterranean, North Africa and South-East Asia for much of the nineteenth century.
Russia, too, was a power that clashed with Britain in the eastern Mediterranean and in Asia.
The decay of the Ottoman Empire, Persia and China, along with the vulnerability of Afghanistan, drew Britain into a prolonged effort to prop up these states against Russian incursions, from Persia in to China in The emergence of Germany, Italy and the United States as Great Power rivals, and the combination of Russia and France as allies in , created a threatening situation for Britain at the turn of the century. Local conditions on the periphery often affected British imperialism.
In West Africa, the high costs of colonisation and the threat of malaria meant that despite some interest in palm oil from the s, there was little incentive to pursue trade or conquest in the region. Foreign competition, the threat that France might annex the area, and resistance by African states combined to overcome the inertia. It was fatally weakened by a loss of prestige and military power in the period —5. National identities in Asia and Africa were often shaped by the achievement of independence from colonial rule.
Despite the deposing of Kwame Nkrumah by Ghanaians in , his successors still use his name and party identity to legitimise their own parties. Robert Mugabe similarly makes use of the language of independence as a form of legitimacy against his political opponents in Zimbabwe. Irish, Welsh and Scottish migrants, driven perhaps by unemployment at home and new opportunities overseas, populated the Empire in large numbers, often preserving their own brand of Celtic identity. However, the colonies of settlement contained migrants from Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Asia too.
British identity was a totem for settlers in a strange land, and they claimed to represent British values more enthusiastically than the British still at home. Identity was also based on separateness from the native community, and whilst there were acts of generosity and benign paternalism, there was also brutality and exploitation, reinforced with views of native inferiority. Characteristics of inferiority were attributed to subject races, and the mantle of superiority exclusively British.
Moguls and Mandarins: Oil, Imperialism and the Middle East in British Foreign Policy, 1900-1940
Punishment was meted out, and discrimination and exclusion reinforced through a set of ideas, which, some would argue, are still unwittingly held by the British today. It allowed the British to separate warring factions, to pacify antagonised subjects and to thwart decades of exploitation by one group over another. Racial identities were based on a sense of pessimism that imperial subjects were incapable of improvement, but they were also the result of trying to make sense of the fact of European domination at the end of the nineteenth century.
This suggests that the theoretical constructions of imperialism were not imposed according to some central paradigm, but, in fact, followed the practical experience of imperialists. Nevertheless, the condescending nature of British assistance, guidance and rule was a humiliation to many indigenous peoples. It evolved through a period of years, it covered a number of climatic zones and geographical areas, as well as a very wide variety of peoples and cultures at very different stages of development.
The Gibraltar That Never Was
That rule was backed by military force, but it was force that was rarely used. Imperialism can also be used to incorporate the imposition or spread of cultural values and ideas. British imperialism was not an unlimited phenomenon, and responses to it must form part of its history. By these means, perhaps, the term can be extracted from its merely pejorative sense and used more effectively.
Continuities and change Vincent T. There was little change, for example, in the land revenue systems of India, and no appreciable difference in the Atlantic slave trade in the late eighteenth century. However, a turning point after could still be valid.
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The events of the last decades of the eighteenth century had a considerable impact on the direction imperialism took in the early nineteenth century, but not because, as Harlow suggested, Britain faced a setback in America. Indeed, British commerce soon revived in that continent. Indeed, manufacturing exports increased. With peace in , European manufacturers recovered and were able to supply their own impoverished markets, which led to a downturn in British exports to the continent.
Certainly, they cast doubt on the direct connections, so often drawn, between economic growth and imperialism. Slavery and anti-slavery in the West Indies Perhaps the most debated aspect of imperialism at the end of the eighteenth century was slavery. It was simply a case of the value of West Indian produce, compared with the costs of production.
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African people and their descendants populated large areas of the West Indies and the Americas, but were left with the stigma of never having been royal subjects. Africa suffered a massive haemorrhage of manpower with internal consequences which are still hardly understood. Sugar was the basis of British interests in the West Indies, and the labour force for the production of sugar was almost entirely made up of black slaves until the ban on their transport in and the abolition of slavery in The reason for the use of black Africans was twofold: they were thought more suited to toiling in the tropical climate and labour costs were minimised.
The revival of French slaving in , after the Anglo-French peace accord that year, re-energised the abolitionist movement and in a new group, the Anti-Slavery Society, dedicated itself to the complete removal of slavery across the world. Only the United States refused to be pressured by the British, although it too banned the trade in slaves. The pursuit of slave ships and slave centres naturally drew the British towards West Africa.
Until the s, historians tended to concentrate on the study of the planters, the slave owners, and the work of the antislavery lobbyists. Often there was more than a hint of inevitability about the abolition of slavery in these works, and a great deal of emphasis given to leaders with a benign approach to their imperial subjects. This, in turn, meant the abolition of the slave trade.
Williams then added an even more dramatic argument.
The capital value of the trade almost doubled in the period —7. Furthermore, the parliamentary committee report on the volume of sugar left unsold in Britain concluded that it was the result of attempts to block British trade on the continent by Napoleon, a temporary problem, and not any long-term overproduction in the West Indies.
R Ward took this one step further. The exploitation of resources, and African people, was not the only method of generating wealth in the empire.
Related Moguls and Mandarins: Oil, Imperialism and the Middle East in British Foreign Policy 1900-1940
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