Imperialisms: An Overiew

Imperialism is the policy of extending the control or authority over foreign entities as a means of acquisition and/or maintenance of empires, either through direct territorial control or through indirect methods of exerting control on the politics and/or economy of other countries. The term is used by some to describe the policy of a country in maintaining colonies and dominance over distant lands, regardless of whether the country calls itself an empire.

Imperialists normally hold the belief that the acquisition and maintenance of empires is a positive good, combined with an assumption of cultural or other such superiority inherent to imperial power. However, imperialism has often been considered to be an exploitive evil: Marxists, and also many non-Marxists from the left, use the term imperialism as Lenin defined it: "the highest stage of capitalism", specifically the era in which monopoly finance capital becomes dominant, forcing the empires to compete amongst themselves increasingly for control over resources and markets all over the world. This control may take the form of geopolitical machinations, military adventures, or financial maneuvers. Globalisation and the practices of the World Bank, for example, frequently are said to serve imperialist interests. Although the classical cases of imperialist powers are the richest capitalist countries of the First World, there are also many people, including some Marxists, who believe that the Soviet Union eventually became social-imperialist‹socialist in words but imperialist in deeds‹ using its power and influence to dominate the East Bloc and various other countries. China, India, and other large countries with regional influence are sometimes charged with imperialism as well.

It is worth noting that Marx himself did not propound a theory of imperialism, and in contrast with later Marxist thinkers generally saw the colonialism of European powers as having a progressive aspect, rather than seeing it as the pillage of those countries in favour of the European centre countries.

Imperialism as a philosophy

Many countries these days that are accused of imperialistic practices do not actually embrace imperialism as a philosophy as many in the British Empire did. Here is an edited version of the viewpoint of a subject of the British Empire: Wherever Empire has extended its borders, there misery and oppression, anarchy and destitution, superstition and bigotry, have tended to disappear, and have been replaced by peace, justice, prosperity, humanity and freedom of thought, speech and action. Empire can only be achieved or maintained provided it has a moral basis. It must give people what they cannot otherwise or elsewhere enjoy; not merely justice, order, or material prosperity, but the sense of partnership in a great idea. The true imperialist has a certain power that makes him master of the world. The true imperialist pursues his purpose with the industry and steadfastness that comes from strong conviction and deep sense of moral responsibility. He is never at a loss for an effective moral attitude. As the great champion of freedom and independence, he conquers the world.


The term imperialism was a new word in the mid-19th century. According to the OED, it dates back to 1858, to describe Pax Britannica. However its intellectual roots can certainly be traced as far back as Dante, who in his Monarchia depicted a world with a single political focus and governed by rationalism. Dante was very influential on John Dee, who coined the term British Empire in the late 16th century. Dee was instrumental in creating the intellectual and scientific environment whereby English seafarers such as Humphrey Gilbert, Martin Frobisher and Walter Raleigh could set the groundwork for a maritime empire.

According to the OED, in 19th century England, imperialism, was generally used only to describe English policies. However, soon after the invention of the term, imperalism was used in retrospect about the policies of the Roman Empire.

In the 20th century, the term has been used to describe the policies of both the Soviet Union and the United States, although these differed greatly from each other and from 19th-century imperialism. Furthermore, the term has been expanded to apply, in general, to any historical instance of the aggrandizement of a greater power at the expense of a lesser power.

Since the end of World War II and particularly following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, claims of imperialism have almost exclusively been levelled at the sole-remaining superpower, the United States.

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)