Definitions of Imperialism

Amid the welter of vague political abstractions to lay one's finger accurately upon any "ism" so as to pin it down and mark it out by definition seems impossible. Where meanings shift so quickly and so subtly, not only following changes of thought, but often manipulated artificially by political practitioners so as to obscure, expand, or distort, it is idle to demand the same rigour as is expected in the exact sciences. A certain broad consistency in its relations to other kindred terms is the nearest approach to definition which such a term as Imperialism admits. Nationalism, internationalism, colonialism, its three closest congeners, are equally elusive, equally shifty, and the changeful overlapping of all four demands the closest vigilance of students of modern politics. . . . It was this sudden demand for foreign markets for manufactures and for investments which was avowedly responsible for the adoption of Imperialism as a political policy . . . After 1870 this manufacturing and trading supremacy [of Great Britain] was greatly impaired: other nations, especially Germany, the United States, and Belgium, advanced with great rapidity, and while they have not crushed or even stayed the increase of our external trade, their competition made it more and more difficult to dispose of the full surplus of our manufactures at a profit. The encroachments made by these nations upon our old markets, even in our own possessions, made it most urgent that we should take energetic means to secure new markets. These new markets had to lie in hitherto undeveloped countries, chiefly in the tropics, where vast populations lived capable of growing economic needs which our manufacturers and merchants could supply. Our rivals were seizing and annexing territories for similar purposes, and when they had annexed them closed them to our trade the diplomacy and the arms of Great Britain had to be used in order to compel the owners of the new markets to deal with us: and experience showed that the safest means of securing and developing such markets is by establishing 'protectorates' or by annexation. . . It was this sudden demand for foreign markets for manufactures and for investments which was avowedly responsible for the adoption of Imperialism as a political policy . . . They needed Imperialism because they desired to use the public resources of their country to find profitable employment for their capital which otherwise would be superfluous. John Hobson, Imperialism (1902).

If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism. Lenin, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916)

Imperialism is the object-less disposition of a state to expansion by force without assigned limits. Joseph A. Schumpeter, The Sociology of Imperialism (1918) p. 6.

In its origins imperialism meant in the strictest sense the attempt of any nation to extend its control for purposes of exploitation over other peoples not at the moment included in the metropolitan area. Philip M. Brown, "Imperialism," The American Journal of International Law 39 (1945) p. 84.

Imperialism and imperialistic are indiscriminately applied to any foreign policy, regardless of its actual character, to which the user happens to be opposed. Hans J. Morgenthaus, Politics Among Nations, 3rd ed. (New York 1960) p. 45.

The term "imperialism" is no more precise, and its overuse and recent abuse is making it nearly meaningless as an analytical concept. . . ."imperialism" is "more often the name of the emotion that reacts to a series of events than a definition of the events themselves. Where Colonization finds analysts and analogies, imperialism must contend with crusaders for and against." Stuart Creighton Miller, Benevolent Assimilation The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903, (Yale University Press, 1982) page 3, quoting Archibald Paton Thorton, Doctrines of Imperialism, (1965) p. 3.

"Imperialism" denotes a relationship . . . of a ruling or controlling power to those under its dominion. Empire is a state of affairs even when the imperial power is not formally constituted as such. George Lichtheim, Imperialism (New York 1971) p. 4.

Imperialism is activity on the part of any state which establishes or subsequently exercises and maintains qualified or unqualified rights of sovereignty beyond the previous boundaries within which such rights were exercised. Robert Zevin, "An Interpretation of American Imperialism," The Journal of Economic History 32 (1972) p. 319.

Empires are ultimately about power and the sense of power, and belong to a stage of internal political development. B. J. Kemp, "Imperialism and Empire in New Kingdom Egypt," in Imperialism in the Ancient World (1978) 56.

There have been throughout history structures that belong within a single class on substantive grounds, namely, the exercise of authority (or power or control) by one state over one or more other states (or communities or peoples) for an extended period of time. Finley, M.I., "The Fifth Century Athenian Empire: a Balance-Sheet," in P.D.A. Garnesey and C.R. Whittaker (eds.), Imperialism in the Ancient World (1978) 104.

Imperialism may be defined as the effective domination by a relatively strong state over a weaker people whom it does not control as it does its home population, or as the effort to secure such domination. . . . [On] a political level, imperialism may be said to exist when a weaker people cannot act with respect to what it regards as fundamental domestic or foreign concerns for fear of foreign reprisals that it believes itself unable to counter. . . . When imperialism manifests itself directly its presence is unambiguous enough: A political authority emanating from a foreign land sets itself up as locally sovereign, claiming the final right to determine and enforce the law over a people recognized as distinct from that of the imperial homeland. Tony Smith, The Pattern of Imperialism: the United States, Great Britain, and the Late-Industrializing World Since 1815 (Cambridge University Press, 1981).

Empire, then, is a relationship, formal or informal, in which one state controls the effective political sovereignty of another political society. It can be achieved by force, by political collaboration, by economic, social, or cultural dependence. Imperialism is simply the process or policy of establishing or maintaining an empire. Michael W. Doyle, Empires (Cornell 1986) p. 45.

[Imperialism is] something more general than just direct colonial rule; it will encompass informal domination as well, including relations of domination within the industrially advanced world. At the same time, it will mean something more specific than mere inequality of power between different nations and the effects of that inequality. Effective control will remain an essential quality for the notion of imperialism. Schwabe, Klaus. "The Global Role of the United States and its Imperial Consequences, 1898-1973." Imperialism and After: Continuities and Discontinuities. Eds. Wolfgang Mommsen and Jurgen Osterhammel (London 1986).

I define 'Imperialism' as a system devised by elites to keep the poor and powerless poor and powerless. Imperialism is a system which will mutate as often as required by changing circumstances to make sure the poor and powerless remain poor and powerless. To do so, the elites of imperialism use all means to undermine, bypass or destroy any counter-systems which have been invented by the poor and powerless to give themselves more power. Jim Wingate, Saviour of Linguistic Imperialism? A Counterblast to Corpus Linguistics (Plymouth 2000).

"Men with guns looking for money". David Cooper (2006).

"A determination to expand geographically and economically, imposing an alien will upon subject peoples and commandering their resources". Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford 2007).