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Empire and Imperialism

EuropeCauses, Impact Of Imperialism On Europe, Relationship Between Metropole And Colonies, Changing Attitudes To Empire

Few subjects have generated as much controversy as that of European imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Because of the term's pejorative connotations, even attempting to define it causes difficulties. What, precisely, constitutes an empire? Is any relationship between two societies involving an imbalance of power in some way "imperial"? For many years, imperialism was narrowly defined as applying only to actual conquest and administration of one state by another. More recently, it has been accepted that imperialism can be perceived in broader terms, and that a variety of methods of exerting influence by one state over another, stopping short of conquest, can amount to imperialism; this "informal" imperialism, it is argued, is as imperial as the more "formal" conquest more usually described. Even accepting this distinction, there is considerable debate over the meaning of the term. Marxist scholars would see imperialism as a relationship involving economic exploitation, with economic benefits flowing from subject to ruler; some conceive of this in the broadest terms, with imperialism represented by an unequal economic relationship that involves a degree of continuing dependency going well beyond formal colonial rule. Critics of these economic models, however, would see imperialism in political terms and restrict its application to the assertion of political or strategic goals by one society over another.

For the purposes of this entry, imperialism is defined to involve the subordination of one society by another to the benefit of the latter, in a relationship that involves some degree of control over a period of time.

In historical terms, imperialism is herein taken to refer to the subjugation of the states and societies of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific by the European powers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Such expansion, of course, did not begin in this period and can be traced back to the Iberian voyages of discovery of the fifteenth century. Yet clearly this phenomenon took on new impetus in the nineteenth century, when much of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific came under European rule in what is sometimes called the "New Imperialism." What characterized this period was how extensive this process became, not only in incorporating most of the world under European rule but also in involving most of the major European powers. By 1900, the British ruled 400 million subjects and a quarter of the globe, while French possessions encompassed 6 million square miles and 52 million subjects. Germany, united only in 1871, by 1900 had acquired an empire of 1 million square miles and 15 million people, while Italy and Belgium also obtained significant overseas territories in the years before 1914. By that year most of the globe—with China and the Middle East the main exceptions—had experienced formal European rule; this was to expand to include the Middle East after 1919 and was to continue in most parts of the world until after 1945. This was a remarkable transformation in the relationship between Europe and the wider world.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to Ephemeral