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Pros & Cons of Imperialism

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Imperialism comes in a number of different, yet overlapping, forms, from economic to cultural to political and military, and was most evident between the 18th and early-20th centuries. Nations such as Britain were looking for ways to expand and imperialism seemed to offer them this opportunity. Not only did they seek to extend their formal empire through colonialism; imperialism enabled them to exert their influence over nations which were not even part of the empire. Representatives of these dominant nations were able to coerce or manipulate political leaders of less developed nations into doing what they wanted.

Power over indigenous population

Clearly, then, not everyone was going to benefit from imperialism. Imperial powers wanted to control indigenous populations, which they could do by inculcating them with their own brand of religion. Indigenous populations were encouraged to embrace the “Western” way of life and to become more civilized. Consequently, indigenous languages and cultures were eroded and communities became more fragmented, thus leading to disharmony and sometimes violence. Outbreaks of violence only gave imperial leaders an excuse to enforce their will, which they would do by using their own armed forces.

Competition between industrial nations

Imperialism gave industrial nations a chance to outdo each other, to prove that they were the best and most competitive. Nations had an opportunity to spread their own national philosophies and to exploit natural resources for profit. Entrepreneurs took what they wanted, knowing that they had the backing of their national government and that they would be protected. Politicians were also able to revel in the “glory” of being able to dominate other nations by not only exploiting resources, but also the people. It was the indigenous people who were going to lose out.

Transfer of technology and democracy

On the other hand, imperialism did enable technology that was prevalent in the West to spread farther afield. To be able to explore the different territories, roads and railways needed to be built, something which nations subject to imperialism would benefit from. This helped with industrialization and modernization, as did the education which Christian missionaries brought with them. Representatives from imperial nations also brought with them certain ideas and ideals of politics and governance, which helped subject nations to develop their own take on democracy.

The good and bad of imperialism

Nations such as Britain also benefited from being able to access cheap labor and raw materials. Imperialism offered citizens of Britain and other imperial powers a sense of pride and superiority. However, citizens of subject nations were clearly not going to accept their position forever and so it was only a matter of time before they would begin to declare their desire for independence. Imperialism was often imbued with racism and condescension, which indigenous populations and people who had settled in the colonies would finally develop the strength to argue against.