Sarat Chandra IAS Academy

UPSC Civils Daily Mains Question 19th May-2021

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries neo imperialism emerged which is distinct from the earlier wave of European colonization from the 15th to early 19th centuries. What factors led to the rise of neo imperialism? How does it differ from previous imperialism in that era?

Imperialism is the political and economic domination or exploitation of the non-industrialized nations by the industrialized nations. This can be achieved by military conquer or by colonizing the foreign territory i.e. acquiring the foreign territory and then making them dependent. The foreign rulers are a minority and they impose superiority of their race and culture on natives.

Factors that led to rise of New Imperialism

  1. Role of Political Factors: There were a plurality of political factors behind the emergence of New Imperialism. One of these was the rise of Absolute Monarchies in Italy and Germany, post-unification in 1870s. This absolutism increased the aggression on part of the state. However, New Imperialism cannot be attributed solely to the Absolute Monarchies. In fact, Britain which had democracy had the largest colonial empire. Thus, all industrialized regimes, whether democratic or absolute, engaged in Imperialism. Industrialization increased their hunger, as well as potential, to build their colonial empire. The rulers also saw Imperialism as a tool to maintain political control at home. Military victory over colonies and empire building was not only improving the economy of the colonial power, but raising the prestige of the rulers as well. These two factors, viz. a sound economy and national glory provided legitimacy to their rule. It was due to such reasons, for instance, that Italy and Czarist Russia joined the race for colonies.
  2. Role of Nationalism: Nationalism rose after the French Revolution (1789). In the era of Industrial Revolution, it soon manifested in form of economic rivalry among the nation states. National rivalries were further fueled by nationalist ideas propounded by the nationalist thinkers. In Britain, France, Germany and Italy, nationalism resulted in demands for expansion of colonial empires during 1868-72. Also, the Absolute Monarchies relied on both Imperialism and Nationalism to divert attention of the public, which was getting exposed to ideas of democracy.
  3. Role of Industrial Revolution/Industrial Capitalism: Industrial Revolution was one of the major factors in rise of New Imperialism. There was surplus money from trade as well as profits from mass production, after Industrial Revolution. This money was further reinvested for capital formation. The development of transport and communication infrastructure allowed faster movement of goods and people, and development of steam ships reduced the time taken for trading goods around the world. The demand for goods in the domestic markets was also increasing due to rapid increase in European population in the 19th century. The factories’ demand for raw material increased, which led to a search for raw material outside national boundaries. Population pressure in Europe led to search for more colonies where Europeans could settle. Soon, the factories were producing much more than the domestic and existing external markets could absorb. This further increased the attraction of new colonies. Thus, a cycle of more demand for manufactured goods, profits, capital formation, demand for raw material, surplus production and demand for export markets got established and it can be said that the Industrial Capitalism (Capitalism after Industrial Revolution when production of goods was done in factories with machines) gave a thrust to Imperialism.
  4. Increased number of players: Industrial revolution in rest of Europe, USA and Japan happened after 1870s. The industrialized nations desperately started looking for sources of raw material and export markets.
  5. Decreased Geographical space: The world was relatively more peaceful till 19th century when there was enough unoccupied space to be colonized and the empires could expand easily. But in 19th century, any further expansion could only occur at expense of another colonial power. Also, the number of players in the ‘race’ had increased. Thus, colonialism changed into Imperialism as now State’s military power and tighter control over colonies was needed to maintain and expand the colonial empire. In the next four decades (from 1870 onward), there was a race for colonies and the only untouched areas, China and Africa, were scrambled among European nations.
  6. Religion and Cultural Factors: Other factors like aspirations of Christian Missionaries to spread Christianity and the notion of White Man’s burden to spread superior civilization in the backward colonies also played a role. Belgium’s King Leopold II used the latter as a garb for exploiting Congo and so was the case with other Imperial powers. However, some good samaritans actually tried to uplift the life of the people by working for social reforms. Theosophical Society even led the anti-Imperial Home Rule movement in India (1916). Other issues that they dealt with included rights of women and spread of modern education.

The major differences between New Imperialism and previous Imperialism are:

New Imperialism Previous Imperialism
New Imperialism began from the 1870’s Old Imperialism started from 1096 and went on till the mid 19th century.
New Imperialism witnessed Industrial Revolution Old Imperialism witnessed Commercial Revolutions (Mercantile System)
New Imperialism was driven by economic objectives. Old Imperialism was driven with 3 objectives. These 3 objectives were 3G’s – God, Glory, Gold. Gold – With the discovery of America, Christopher Columbus was richly rewarded, Glory – the fame it brings to the explorer and his nation, God – Europeans believed they have to spread Christianity everywhere.
New Imperialism witnessed the major roles played by Britain, France, Germany, Italy, USA, Russia, Belgium. Nations that played a major role in Old Imperialism were Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, France, Britain. Spain and Portugal played a predominant role in the 1500’s, whereas in 1600’s major roles were played by France, Britain and Netherlands.
Under New Imperialism, Empires were established in Africa and Asia and there were political and social reforms in those colonies. Old Imperialism led to exploration of new trade routes, establishment of new settlements in new lands and ultimately led to establishment of Political rule in those lands.
Under New Imperialism, Nations ruled smaller colonial areas. Nations like Belgium and France made use of the policy of paternalism and assimilation, whereas Britain used an indirect rule system. Under New Imperialism there was rise in racial segregation. Under Old Imperialism, a single nation used to control large Geographical areas.The people of the land conquered by Spain were subjected to forced labor, whereas Britain had established a policy of limited self rule.
New Imperialism wanted precious metals, cotton, vegetable oils, dyes etc Old Imperialism sought different goods like spices and cash crops from Asia, land from North America etc.
Under New Imperialism, colonies served as an outlet for larger populations, for example people from the Netherlands were settled in huge numbers in South Africa. Old Imperialism wanted Ivory and Human Labor from Africa.
Under New Imperialism, colonies are both producers and markets for goods, for example the oil produced in Africa was taken to Europe for refining the Oil. After refining the Oil in Europe, it was sold back in African Market. Under Old Imperialism, colonies were producers of goods
New Imperialism used better technologies compared to Old Imperialism. Some of the most significant technological improvements were, use of railroads, steamboats for faster and easier transportation of men and materials; for faster and easier communication, telegraphs were used, machine guns were used for military purpose, vaccines were developed for treatment of diseases. Technologies used in Old Imperialism were Muskets, Naval Vessels, and Canons for military purposes. By the time railroads, steam engines, telegraphs were invented the Old Imperialism almost came to an end, marking the beginning of New Imperialism.
Under New Imperialism, resistance given by colonies to the rulers failed multiple times due to use of sophisticated weapons and various other technological developments by Colonial Rulers. Under Old Imperialism, stiff resistance was offered to the Colonial Rulers.
Reasons for the end of New Imperialism were Word Wars, Native Uprisings. Reasons for end of Old Imperialism were Industrial Development, Cost of maintaining colonies outweighed the benefits accruing from them, Nationalistic movements, Napoleonic Wars.

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