Imperialism Imperialism is the practice by which powerful nations or peoples seek to extend and maintain control or influence over weaker nations (Freeman 2). Some people associate imperialism solely with the economic expansion of capitalist states, others reserve the term for European expansion after 1870. Imperialism and colonialism are similar in meaning and are often used interchangeably. However, there are distinctions between the two (Freeman 3). Colonialism usually implies formal political control including territorial annexation and loss of sovereignty (Jones 34).
A sovereign state is one that is independent of all others. Imperialism refers more broadly to control or influence that is exercised either formally or informally, directly or indirectly, politically or economically (Jones 34). Throughout history imperialism has taken many forms. In the ancient world, imperialism manifested itself in a series of great empires that arose when one people, usually representing a particular civilization and religion attempted to dominate all others. Examples of this are the Empire of Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire (Lernoux 12).
Historically, the motivation of imperialism has a variety of reasons. These may be classified broadly as economic, political, exploratory, religious and ideological (Scammel 14). Economic explanations of imperialism are the most common. States are motivated to dominate others by the need to expand and control foreign trade, to acquire raw materials and additional sources of labor, to find outlets for surplus capitol and markets for surplus goods and to export industrial technology and transportation methods (Scammel 14). Alternatively, some stress the political determinants of imperialism.
In this view, states are motivated to expand primarily by the desire to gain power, security, and diplomatic advantages from other states. They are also motivated to expand control, to exercise military force and compete with other European countries. (Lernoux 16). A third set of explanations focuses on ideological or moral motives. According to this perspective, political, cultural or religious beliefs force states into imperialism as a missionary activity (Scammel 41). These are based on values such as the belief that the white race was superior, other cultures were primitive, and the Europeans should civilize people in other parts of the world.
This belief, that one group is superior to every other, is called ethnocentrism. Next, exploratory motives are based on the desire to explore unknown or uncharted territory and discover differing cultures. They are also based on the desire to conduct scientific research, and conduct medical searches for the causes and treatment of diseases (Searly 6). Furthermore, the religious motives of imperialism include the desire to spread Christianity. Religion is an important aspect of society. When cultures possess strong beliefs the people often think that their beliefs are superior and want to enlighten other cultures because their beliefs are correct.
The Europeans also wanted to protect their missionaries in other lands, and to spread their values and moral beliefs (Searly 6). Finally, some explanations of imperialism focus not on the motives of powerful states but rather on the political circumstances in weaker nations (Lernoux 17). The argument holds that powerful states may not intend to expand, but may be forced to by instability (Lernoux 17). Early European imperialism took the form of overseas colonial expansion. The new European nations of the 1400s and 1500s acquired colonial possessions as they spread Christianity and searched for markets and new materials (Lernoux 12).
In the mid-nineteenth century another form of imperialism appeared: the imperialism of free trade. European power and influence were extended informally mainly through diplomatic and economic means, rather than through direct colonial rule (Lernoux 13). This form was short lived and lasted only until the end of the 19th century. The late 1800s are often called the age of imperialism. During this time, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal, and Spain divided up nearly all of Africa (Jones 63).
Beginning with the voyages of Christopher Columbus, Europeans sailing from Spain and Portugal reached, conquered, and colonized vast areas of the New World. The Spaniards expanded into Central America, Mexico, and Peru overthrew the indigenous peoples living there (Fagg 45). By the end of the sixteenth century, they had occupied large areas of South and Central America as far as the present southern border of the United States (Fagg 45). The conquerors brought with them Roman concepts of law, administration, and justice, as they developed a highly bureaucratic system. They imposed their language, culture, and institutions on the native peoples (Fagg 22).
The great organization became the Roman Catholic Church. The clergy converted the Native Americans to Hispanic Christian culture, became the principle educators in the colonies, and built hospitals and other charitable institutions (Fagg 23). The church was also an important economic producer. Aside from the royal governments, it was the largest landholder in the colonies (Fagg 23). Columbus was at first convinced that the so-called Indians were a gentle unspoiled people who were eager to accept Christianity and serve the monarch. Isabel and the pope endorsed this view and immediately wanted the Indians to become as Europeanized as possible (Fagg 27).
Most of the Spaniards who came in contact with the Indians developed extremely unfavorable attitudes toward them. They saw these people as not even human (Fagg 27). Furthermore, since they needed these people as a labor force, it was easy to rationalize that such disgusting people had no feelings and it was natural for them to serve the white men (Fagg 27). Francisco Pizarro was sure that a fabulous culture richer or comparable to the Aztec awaited conquest in the central Andes (Searly 7). When Pizarro reached Peru, he decided to take the boldest possible course: to take the small force he had deep into Peru and capture the Inca leader, Altahualpa.
Crossing the desert, the mountains, the valleys and chasms, the march required several weeks. Pizarro had sent word that he wished only to pay respects to this triumphant Altahualpa (Searly 7). He did, in fact, achieve this goal and eventually he took Altahualpa and many Incas prisoner. The Inca realm was suffered grief and bewilderment. Spaniards roamed about the country, abusing the Indians and taking whatever they wished (Se …