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Policy or ideology of extending a nation's rule over foreign nations

Imperialism is a policy or ideology of extending rule over people and other countries, as an empire, for extending political and economic access, power and control, often through employing force, especially military force, but also diplomacy. While related to the concepts of colonialism and empire, imperialism is a distinct concept that can apply to other forms of expansion and many forms of government.[1]

Etymology and usage

The word imperialism originated from the Latin word imperium,[2] which means supreme power, "sovereignty", or simply "rule".[3] It first became common in the current sense in Great Britain during the 1870s, when it was used with a negative connotation.[4] Previously, the term had been used to describe what was perceived as Napoleon's attempts at obtaining political support through foreign military interventions. The term was and is mainly applied to Western and Japanese political and economic dominance, especially in Asia and Africa, in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is often thought to be an attack on Natural Law.

Colonialism versus imperialism

The term "imperialism" is often conflated with "colonialism. However, each obviously has its own distinct definition. Imperialism and colonialism have both been used, by the ignorant, in order to describe superiority, domination and influence of one nation over another.

Colonialism tends to imply a degree of geographic separation between the colony and the colonizing nation. It is a perfectly natural thing to explore the unexplored, and pioneer new places. Earth is now mostly explored, but there is little doubt that men will one day colonize the moon, Mars, and beyond.

Edward Said distinguishes the difference between imperialism and colonialism by stating; "imperialism involved 'the practice, the theory and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan center ruling a distant territory', while colonialism refers to the 'implanting of settlements on a distant territory.'

Put another way, the meaning of imperialism is to create an empire, by conquering the other state's lands and therefore increasing its own dominance. Colonialism is the builder and preserver of the colonial possessions in an area by a population coming from a foreign region, and generally cooperating with primitive people that may be present and giving those people an instant raise in their standard of living, medicine, technology, and an opportunity to do things otherwise impossible for them.

Quotebubble.png "America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy, she is the well-wisher of the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."
—Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Fourth of July oration in 1821


The Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin suggested that "imperialism was the highest form of capitalism, noting that imperialism developed after colonialism, and according to him was "distinguished from colonialism by monopoly capitalism".[1]:117

This idea from Lenin stresses how important a new political world order has become to communists in the modern era. Geopolitics now focuses on states becoming major economic players in the market; some states today are viewed by both Capitalists and communists alike as empires due to their political and economic authority over other nations. Fascism does not. Fascism rejects the idea that the world should revolve around money.

Natural Law

There is debate among Fascists on whether imperialism is an extension or manifestation of natural law, or not.

Empires provided stability, security, and legal order for their subjects. they constrained, and at their best, tried to transcend, the potentially savage ethnic or religious antagonisms among the peoples. And the aristocracies which ruled most of them were far more humane, and cosmopolitan than those who came after.[5][6]

In ancient China, Tianxia denoted the lands, space, and area divinely appointed to the Emperor by universal and well-defined principles of order. The center of the land was directly apportioned to the Imperial court, forming the center of a world view that centered on the Imperial court and went concentrically outward to major and minor officials and then the common citizens, tributary states, and finally ending with the fringe barbarians. Tianxia's idea of hierarchy gave Chinese people a source of pride and provided order and peace. J. A. Hobson said: "It is desirable that the earth should be peopled, governed, and developed, as far as possible, by the people who can do this work best, i.e., by the cultures of highest social efficiency".[7]

Supporting science

The scientific nature of Darwinism and racial studies formed this rationale; for imperialism; the French politician Jules Ferry declared in 1883 that "Superior races have a right, because they have a duty. they have the duty to civilize the less advanced races."[8]

The Royal Geographical Society|Royal Geographical Society of London and other geographical societies in Europe had great influence and were able to fund travelers who would come back with tales of their discoveries.[1]:117 These societies also served as a space for travelers to share these stories.[1]:117 Political geographers such as Friedrich Ratzel of Germany and Halford Mackinder of Britain also supported imperialism.[1]:117 Ratzel believed expansion was necessary for a state's survival while Mackinder supported Britain's imperial expansion; these two arguments dominated the discipline for decades.[1]

Geographical science such as environmental determinism also suggest that tropical environments stunt the technologi al advancement of primitive people, putting them in need of guidance, so that they can develop. [1]:117 For instance, American geographer Ellen Churchill Semple argued that even though proto human beings originated in the tropics they were only able to become fully human in the Temperate climate zone.[9]

Technology and economic efficiency were often improved in territories lifted by imperialism through the building of roads, other infrastructure and introduction of new technologies. British imperialism in some sparsely inhabited regions appears to have applied a principle now termed Terra nullius (Latin expression which stems from Roman law meaning 'no man's land'). The countries of Australia and America serve as case studies in relation to British settlement and colonial habitation of the continents in the 18th century, that was premised on terra nullius, as it was largely unused by its stone-age inhabitants.

Environmental determinism

The science of environmental determinism serves as a reminder of Natural law. The scientists explain that the environment in which certain people live determines those persons' behaviours. For example, a farmer or hunter who lives in the wilderness will have no problem urinating near a tree. This is normal behavior. But a person who lives in a city will find such behavior to be abominable, unsanitary, and totally unacceptable and would probably call the police. Likewise, a person who has food growing all around them (tropical) has a much easier life than a person living in a harsh arctic environment, where food shelter, etc., are not so easy to come by. This leads to different adaptations in muscle and brain development. environmental determinism serves as a reason why imperialism was almost inevitable. [10]

Notable Empires

  • Assyria
  • Austrian Empire
  • Aztec Empire
  • Babylonian Empire
  • British Empire
  • Byzantine Empire
  • Carthaginian Empire
  • Empire of China
  • Holy Roman Empire
  • Imperial Japan
  • Macedonian Empire
  • Ottoman Empire
  • Roman Empire

See Also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Gilmartin, Mary (2009). Key Concepts in Political Geography pp. 115–123. ISBN 9781412946728
  2. Charlton T. Lewis, An Elementary Latin Dictionary, imperium (inp-).
  3. Howe, 13
  4. name="Magnusson" Cite book |last=Magnusson |first=Lars |title=Teorier om imperialism |year=1991 |isbn=978-91-550-3830-4 |page=19
  5. Stephen Howe (2002). Empire: A Very Short Introduction p. 164. ISBN 978-0-19-160444-7
  6. Krishan Kumar (2017). Visions of Empire: How Five Imperial Regimes Shaped the World p. 4. ISBN 978-1-4008-8491-9
  7. Hobson, J.A. "Imperialism: a study." Cosimo, Inc., 2005. p. 154
  8. Modern Imperialism pp. 70–73. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath (1969).
  9. Arnold, David (2000). ""Illusory Riches": Representations of the Tropical World, 1840–1950". Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 21: 6–18. doi:10.1111/1467-9493.00060. 
  10. Compare: Gilmartin|2009, "[...] the practice of colonialism was legitimized by geographical theories such as environmental determinism."