** economics -- European colonialism








European Colonialism


Figure 1.--The justification for European colonization was to bring the benefits of modern civlization. This is clearly the statement being made here. Unfortunately we do not know what colony is involved here. We might guess the nen are Belgian. Click on the imge to see the names. This photograph looks to have been taken in the 1880s. The Europeans did bring the benefits of modern medicine and other modern technology. And rge Europeans (especilly the British) largely suppressed the slave trade. They also in many cases behave more savegly than the so-called savages. The Belgians in the Congo and the Germans in Southwest Africa (Namibia) behaved with unimagined brutality. Another important consideratiin is that the colonized people were not all stone-age peoples as in Africa. Colonies like India and othr Asian countries had very highly eveloped civilizations of their own.

European colonialism at it's heighth in the late 19th century dominated much of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The coloninization of the Americas (16th-17th century) and India (18th century) was followed in the 19th century with creation of colonia enclaves in China, the Scramble for Africa, and gunboat diplomacy. The actual colonial regimes varied from country to country. Perhaps the most pernicious was the Belgian rule of the Congo. But the desire to exploit the colonies economically and te prevalent doctrines of religious intolerance, social Darwinism, and white superority created situations in which great harm was done to colonial peoples. The colonial regimes were often justified by paternalistic Victoriam morality, but rarely did pious good intentions result in imrovements in regimes benfitting native people. Many third world countries continue to blame imperialism for their current difficulties. Some of these charge are valid, in many other instances they ar used to mask varing levels of corruption, ineptitude, and venile behavior. Despite the exploitative nature of imperialism, the overall impact is more complicated than often depicted. Imperialism did speed the spred of modern technology and medicine to Aia and Africa. As critical as Indians were of the British, the heritage of British law, democracy, and English law are crutical elements of modern India. Another still unsettled question is whether the colonies really returned mote than the military and admistrative cost of maintainung them. Here economists are deeply divided. Some charge is that colonial peoples suffered because the colonial power dumped inferior goods on protectedcolonial markets. This was not the case for the British Empire which except for relatively brief periods (such as the Depression) was a free market empire. One not well understood aspect of European colonial rule was the class structure introduced there.

Chronology

European colonialism at it's heighth in the 1late 19th century dominated much of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The coloninization of the Americas (16th-17th century) and India (18th century) was followed in the 19th century with creation of colonia enclaves in China, the Scramble for Africa, and gunboat diplomacy.

Voyages of Discovery

The great European voyages of discovery of the 15th and 16th centuries were fundamentally economic enterprises. They were conducted by the European countries of the Atlantic coasts to establish direct trade contacts with China and the Spice Islands (Indonesia) that was being blocked by Byzantium/Venice and the Arabs. At the time, trade in silk, porcelin, and spices from the East carried over the Silk Road had to pass through Turkish, Arab, Byzantine, and Italian middleman, making them enormously expensive. The crusaders failed to break the Islamic wall separating still primitive Europe from the riches of the East. Circumventing the land Silk Road and the sea Spice Route would have profound economic consequences for Europe and the world. The ballance of power would shift from Eastern to Western Europe and eventualkly to northern Europe. Two nations led the early explorarions in the 15th century--Spain and Portugal. These two countries pioneered the sea routes that would lead Europeans to Asia and the Americas, but the Dutch, English, and French were to follow in the 16th century.

Colonized Regions

European colonization spread all over the globe, exceot for Antartica. Some of the European powers had some early experience with colonialism before close to home. The most important such experience was the Spanish colonization of the Canary Islands which set the foundation for their colonial effort in the Americas. The European maritime outreach began in Africa as the Portuguese began sailing south along the coast of Africa to find a sea route to the East (15th century). The other Europeans followed in their wake. They set up trading posts, but did not begin to colonize the area. This only began with the Scrable for Africa (19th century). The Spanish and Portugues led the maritime outreach to the America, beginning in the Caribbean and Brazil. They did begin to colonize the area. The encounter with Native American Empires brought great wealth and new crops to Europe. The gold and silver profoundlt affected the ecoinomy. The humble potato greatly increased the food production potential of European agriculture and significant population growth resulted. Other European powers followed, primarily in the Caribbean. Here the sugar trade made small islands enormously valuable. Norh Aerica colonization bean in Central America and Mexico by the Spanish. Further north it became a struggle primrily between the British and French. The Brutish after expelling the French lost most of North america as the result of the American Revolution (18th century). As aesult they employed new policies as they proceeded to build a new empire. Asia was different than Africa and the Americas because there were well developed states in place that made colonizationmore difficult. Gradually the rising miltary power of Europe made possible the colonization of India (18th century) and then on a more limited basia, China (19th century). Spain began the colonization of Oceania with the Philippines (16th century). The Dutch began colonizing the East Indies (17th century) and the British Australia (18th century). The rest of Oceania was colonized (19th century).

Imperial Regimes

The actual colonial regimes varied from country to country. Perhaps the most pernicious was the Belgian rule of the Congo. But the desire to exploit the colonies economically and the prevalent doctrines of religious intolerance, social Darwinism, and white superority created situations in which great harm was done to colonial peoples. The colonial regimes were often justified by paternalistic Victoriam morality, but rarely did pious good intentions result in imrovements in regimes benfitting native people. In the post-colonial era, the European colonial empires with considerable validity were throughly criticised if not vilified. Yet an unbiased assessment of the British Empire shows that there were major positive influences. Considerable long term investment helped to create modern infrastructures in not onle Empire countries, but countries like America and Argentina. Other influences such as the rule of law, representative and honest government were enormous forces for good. The importance of these institutions was one that was perhaps not fully understood at the time of independence. Many post-colonial elites were strongly influenced by socilaist idelology and and impressed by the seemingly rapid progresses ofstate managed econonomies. Another major force was free trade. Ironically, one of the major reasons America revolted in the 18th century was trade restrictions and limitations on economic development. Notably today the two most pernicious trends impeding economic development in the Third World are arguably the lack of the rule of law and honest government.

Justification

Agression and empire building needs no justification. Commonly the goals are wealth, resources, and power. The Mongols as they conquered most of Asia and the Middle East and large areas of modern Russia did not attempt to justify their conquests. On the otherhand, the Mongol Empire did not last long. Commonly the great empire builders have attempted to justify their conquests. Even the great totalitarian oowers of the 20th century developed justifications for their conquests (Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, militaristic Japan, and NAZI Germany). The basic difference between the Communists and Fascists which share fundamental elements is in the radically different justifications for aggression. Often the justification was a civilizing mission. This was at play with the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. In more recent times humanitarianism became a factor. Often this was a thin veil for the more mundane motiviations of wealth and power. This does not mean, however, that humanitarianism was not a factor to be recoked with and in the 19th century a real concern among European publics. This was at first manifested by missionaries especially in the 19th century who offered schools and modern medical care. This may not have been a major concern for the colonial powers, although when we read about leaders like Gladstone we can see it was not entirely absent even among the powrful. It was among the Victorian public that the humanitarian ideals of empire had real currency. And they donated money to finance the missionary effort. Along with 19th century humanitarianism came racism. This was adecelopment coming from the Atlantic slave trade. Unfortunately in the 19th century as part of socialDarwinism a scientific rationnel was developed that received widespread accaeptance.

Racism

An all to important part of European imperialism was racism. We are not entirely sure why that was. Racism does not always flow from imperialism. There were many empires in history that did not develop such fervent racist attitides as the European colonialists. This appears to be the case with the Persians, Romans, Ottomans and other great empires. A reflection of this was slavery. This was an institution that until modern times was common and often an important part of the imperial economies. Slavery in these empires, unlike the slavery created by the Europeans was not race based. Thus we do not fully understand why racism became so intense in the Western world. There seem to have been several different factors that fueld European racism. 1) The inballance in the technology seemed to suggest that white Europeans were a more avanced people. 2) That technological inballance led to an inballance in military power. Thus the Europeans had the ability to impose their swill on others peoples. 3) Christian religious teaching fueld and justicied colonialism as bringing civilization to the heathen. (Here Christianity also taught against the worst abuses and was a major factor in the fight against slavery.) 4) Science by the 19th century became seen as road to the future and some authors connected evolution with racism--Social Darwinism. 5) Nationalism emerged as a powerful force in the 19th century and some rabid nationalists connected race with the nation. This was especually true in Germany, ironically the European power with the least experience with other races because of its small colonial empire. Racist attitudes varied from country to country. Here historical experiences affected popular attitudes toward race. And within countries there were a range of indivudal attitudes.

Missionaries


The Opium War

Wars for the most part are often complicated complexes of social, ethnic, political, economic, religious, and economic factors. The Opium War, at least from the British perspective, seems a war fought almost entirely for economic reasons. The Opium War was a war between the United Kingdom and Imperial China. The British objected to China's attempt to limit British shipments of Indian opium to China. The Chinese were reacting to ikncreasingly levels of addition among the Chinese people. It is notable that as late as 1840 that British traders were having difficulty supplying goods that were of interest to the Chinese in exchange for the many Chinese products (especially porcelin and silks) that were in demand in the West. One of the few British products that was in great demand was Indian opium. The War was the British effort to force the Imperial Government to cease its efforts to prevent opium importation. The War ended in 1842 with the Treaty of Nanking which opened specified Chinese ports to foreign trade and the cession by China of the island of Hong Kong to the British. The Opium War was a critical turning point in Chinese history. In the West it is a conflict virtually unknown except to historians. In China every schoolboy knows about it.

China


Decolonization (1950s-60s)

Much of Asia and Africa at the beginning of the 20th century had been colonized or under various forms of European control. World war I had weakened the European powers and their were stirings of nationalism, especially in China and India, but the European colonial empires still dominated much of the world through World War II. Those empires, however, could no longer be sustained. The War had further weakened the European powers. In addition, issues raised by the War, namely Fascist and Japanese efforts to create empires, undercut the moral justification of European empires. In addition, Socialist parties opposed to colonialism power or influenced public policies in Europe. The Soviet Union also promoted anti-colonial policies which was very effective for Communist parties in the colonies. The Soviet Union at the same time was creating its own empire in Eastern Europe. World War II has inspired nationalist groups in the European colonies, especially in the countries occupied by the Japanese. Fascist propganda had proven effective in the Arab world. Many nationalists saw the weakness of the colonial regimes and independence movements grew in strength. Here the British decession to grant independence to India was a major turning point (1947). The decolonization process varied greatly from country to country. India had been the jewel in the Crown. Britain's decession meant that it was only a matter of time before other colonies were granted independence. Wars of national liberation forced both the Netherlands (Indonesia) and France (Vietnam and Algeria) to move toward granting independence to their colonies. Independence was greated with great optimism throughout Asia and Africa. In most cases the heady optimism of independence has not been realized. In most of the newly independent countries, the standards of living and levels of personal freedom have actually declined since independence. In large measure this is because the independemce movements of the 1950s and 60s were strongly influenced by Socialist and Communist thought and failed to recognize the political and economic structures in the West that had created productive and just societies.

Modern Assessment

Many third world countries continue to blame imperialism for their current difficulties. Some of these charge are valid, in many other instances they ar used to mask varing levels of corruption, ineptitude, and venile behavior. Despite the exploitative nature of imperialism, the overall impact is more complicated than often depicted. Imperialism did speed the spred of modern technology and medicine to Aia and Africa. As critical as Indians were of the British, the heritage of British law, democracy, and English law are crutical elements of modern India.

Economic Impact

Another still unsettled question is whether the colonies really returned mote than the military and admistrative cost of maintainung them. Here economists are deeply divided. Some charge is that colonial peoples suffered because the colonial power dumped inferior goods on protectedcolonial markets. This was not the case for the British Empire which except for relatively brief periods (such as the Depression) was a free market empire.

Racial Component

As the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century empowered European nations with emense military power, the racial compnent of imperialism grew. To Europeans, their technology and ecomnomic power seemed to confirm the inate superority of White Europeans. The popularity of social Darwinism in the 19th century was the ideological undepinning of this belief. Some historians contend that racism was the ideological center of European imperialism. [Said] The eventual development for this thesis was the eugenics program that the NAZIs initiated in Germany in the 20th century and the NAZI plans for their newly conquered Eastern territoiries..

Social Structure

One not well understood aspect of European colonial rule was a much more nuanced social structure that is commonly assumed. The British cirtainly rasicst attitudes, but these wee complicated by their class views. The British aristocracty in many ways viewed their own working class populations of the teeming cities and the Catholic population of Ireland in much the same way as they viewed the non-White populations of their Asian and African colonies. A good example here is one if many confrontations between the Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) and his nephew the German Crown Prince Wilhelm (future Wilhelm II). The Prince of Wales seated Hawaiian King Kalakaua in precedence before Prince Wilhelm. When Wilhelm objected, the Prince of SWales explained, "Either the brute is a king, or he's a common or garden ____; and if the latter, what's he doing here?" The British in their colonies attempted to recreate the class structure they maintained at home. As long as the local ruling class accepted Britain's imperial rule, the British used them to givern their empire. As a result, the mahrajas of India continued to live in imperial splendor right up to indepencence in 1946. The arristocracy understood this well, more humble Britons abrod often did not. The wife of Britain's colonial remaked how "well bread" and mannered she found the important local ruling class. She wrote about the nursemaid taken care of the children, "Nurse can't understand it at , she looks down on them as an inferior race. I don't like to tell her that these ladies are my social equals , which she is not." [Cannadine] While this was the official view, the racial element that Said describes can not be dismissed. Just look at who British aristocrats married. They did not marry daughters of sultans and maharajahs. Rather they married women of their own class in England or if they needed money wealthy heiresses. Here becauuse of the phenomenal success of American industrialists, American herisses were in special demand. As willie Sutton expalained when asked why he robbed banks, he answered, "Because that's where the money is". There are many such examples here, such as Lord Radolph Churchill who married Jennie Jerome (Winston's parents) or the Ninth Duke of Marlborough who married Consuelo Vanderbuilt.

Colonial Remanents

One interesting aftermath of European empires is the existance today of small groups of people of European ancestry in several former colonies. Some such as the Dutch Brurgers of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) have retained some of their privliges. Others like the Blanc Matignon of Guadeloupe, who were Frenchmen fleeing Napoleon's rule, have lost all vestiages of privlidge. There are Germans in Jamaica who thought they were goung to America, but found themselves indentured servants in Jamaica. Napoleon recruites Poles to help put down the slave rebellion, but when Jean-Jacques Dessalines prevailed, he spared the Poles because they were bravely fighting for freedom in their own country. Although not Europeans, Brazils Confederados might be added to this list. [Orizio]

America

America of course was founded as an English colony in the 17th century. The American Revolution and the break with England came in part because of seconomic and other restrictions placed on America by the British Government. Many of these restrictions were ended after the loss of America so as not to disrupt British administration of colonies in the 19th century. America became an imperial power in a limited way with the acquisition of Spanish colonies (Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico) as a result of the Spanish American War. This ininiated a domestic political debate over colonialism. American actions in the 1920s in the Caribbean during the 1910s-20s lokked to many like a kind of colonialism. President Roosevelt attekmpted to improve relations in Latin America with the Good Neigbor policy, but inballance of power between the United States and Latin America has been a continuing problem. The Philippines was later given its independencev (1946). Puerto Rico is today a Commonwealth and its future status is a coninuing issue in the United States and in Puerto Rico itself. The United sTates throughout its history has opposed imperialism. Its first action was the Monroe Doctrine which rejected European collonization in the Americas. At thre time, however, the United States did not have the military polential to enforce the doctrine. There were incidents throughout the 19th century between the Europeans and the United States. One of the most serious was the French attempt to create a colony in Mexico to be rulled by the Austrian Arch Duke Maximillian (1860s). There was also a contentious confrontation between Britain and America over Venezuela (1890s). Relations with France and Europe improved in part because of World War I (1914-18), but the issue of collonialism was a continuing one and one that complicated Anglo-American cooperation during World war II. The War was in fact the end of European colonialism and most colonies obtained their independence in the 1950s-60s. With the demise of the Eurpean empires a issue has emerged. First the Communists and than others have charged that America and Europe maintain a neo-colonial world system which exploits developing countries. This is a charge whih has been widely adopted in the Islamic world.

Sources

Cannadine, David. Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (Oxford, 2001), 264p.

Mandelbaum, Michael. The Ideas that Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the 21st Century.

Orizio, Riccardo. Lost White Tribes: The End of Privilege, and the Last Colonials in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Brazil, Haiti, Namibia, and Guadeloupe (Free OPress, 2001), 270p.

Said, Edward. Orientalism (1978).









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Created: August 8, 2003
Last updated: 8:39 AM 10/20/2021