History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 2007: Q.5 (b)

Q.7 (a) New imperialism was a nationalistic, not an economic phenomena. Critically examine.


The New Imperialism was a period of colonial expansion—and its accompanying ideologies — mainly by the European powers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The period is distinguished by an unprecedented pursuit of overseas territorial acquisitions. 

The Great Powers of Europe suddenly shook off almost a century of apathy toward overseas colonies and, in the space of 20 years, partitioned almost the entire uncolonized portion of the globe.

Arguments in favour of New Imperialism as a nationalistic phenomenon:

The new imperialism was a natural outcome of militant nationalism which came to dominate Europe after German unification by the blood and iron policy of Bismarck.

The new imperialism followed hard upon the national wars which created an all powerful Germany and a united Italy, which carried Russia within sight of Constantinople, and which left England fearful and France eclipsed. It expressed a resulting psychological reaction, an ardent desire to maintain or recover national prestige. France sought compensation for European loss in oversea gain. England would offset her European isolation by enlarging and glorifying the British Empire. Russia, halted in the Balkans, would turn a new to Asia, and before long Germany and Italy would show the world that the prestige they had won by might inside Europe they were entitled to enhance by imperial exploits outside. The lesser powers like Portugal and Holland displayed a revived pride in the empires they already possessed and the latter’s was administered with renewed vigor.

Imperialist countries took pride in extending their colonies and calling them empires. The imperialism was considered as the result of national sentiments of superiority and advanced culture.

The authors such as Rudyard Kipling described the sentiments as “The White man’s Burden” to civilize the people of other continents. The industrialized nations considered it important to have colonies outside and fought among themselves for gaining more and more territories. It became matter of pride to have a large empire.

Argument against New Imperialism as an economic phenomenon:

  1. If financial explanation of New Imperialism exist, one would expect a clear correlation between financial involvement and territorial annexation. But in reality, it did not exist.
  2. Theories postulating Europe’s need to export surplus capital (so need to find new colonies) do not fit the facts. It is true that few European countries like Britain and France were capital-exporting countries in 1880 and in years to come but the investors preferred to export capital to other European countries (especially Russia) or the United States rather than to their own colonies.Once the scramble for colonies was complete, pressure groups did form in the various countries to argue the economic promise of imperialism, but just as often governments had to foster colonial development. In most cases, trade did not lead but followed the flag.

However, a clusters of economic motives were also involved in new imperialism. Imperial expansion was in part a response to the emergence of monopoly capitalism in Europe. It was related to Europes industrial growh, her need for raw material and cheap labours for new factories, her desire to create new overseas markets, her quests for new land needed for large scale plantations of tropical products, her interest in the mineral wealth of distant countries, her desire for jnvestment of excessive capital to get good return. Industrial and commercial motives converged to create a compelling expansionist drive.

Hence, economic interest also played role in new imperialism along with nationalistic phenomenon. 

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