There is no one definition of the term imperialism. The term is actually derived from empire, from the Latin, imperium (rule/authority) and according to various reliable sources; it can be seen as the imposition (usually by force) of the rule of one state or country over another. It is the activity of empire building. Other biased sources define imperialism as the gaining, governing, and exploitation of an area of land and its resources for the benefit of the power that controls it. Imperialism does not necessarily mean colonialism. More broadly, imperialism refers to the control or influence that is exercised either formally or informally, directly or indirectly, politically or economically. Because imperialism consists of such a broad meaning, its positive and negative aspects can be argued in many ways.
By at least having partial control over land, one can benefit themselves economically, politically, and ideologically. And similarly, a colonized or influenced country can gain comparable benefits. Economical benefits of imperialism are the most common. Supporters of this view hold that states are motivated to dominate others by the need to expand their economies, to acquire raw materials and additional sources of labour, or to find means for extra capital and markets for extra goods. For e.g. by the early twentieth century, European powers – Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany and Russia were benefiting from the gains of imperialism. Colonies provide their imperial owners with food sources and raw materials largely unavailable in the northern hemisphere and a cheap labour force to obtain them. They created opportunities to enhance the wealth and the power of the empire builders.
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The gap was increased between the wealth and power of the ruling nation and that of the nations they governed. Imperialists expected that the colonies would also provide a market for the products created by the raw materials. This is a big advantage for the imperial owners. However, the established empires had either reached or had passed the height of their powers. They required an expensive infrastructure to sustain them. Most of the people in the colonies were too poor to be able to afford the goods manufactured from the raw materials they have provided. As the century progressed, indigenous peoples increasingly challenged this control and exploitation of their lives and territory. Imperialism can also benefit the imperial owners in political ways. Imperial countries are motivated to expand primarily by the desire for power, prestige, security, and diplomatic advantages etc.
Similarly, the expansion of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics into Eastern Europe after 1945 can be understood in terms of security needs, specifically the need to protect the nation from another invasion across its western border. But these can also benefit the colonized country. Politically, a colonized country can have an influence n government banking systems. For e.g. India’s government and banking systems are based upon the influence of British rulings. Some sources indicate imperialism benefits through moral motives. According to this perspective, political, cultural, or religious beliefs force states into imperialism as a “missionary activity.” Britain’s colonial empire believed that the merits of European ways were self-evident. Germany’s expansion under Hitler was based in large measure on a belief in the inherent superiority of German national culture.
The desire of the United States to “protect the free world” and of the former Soviet Union to “liberate” the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Third World are also examples of imperialism driven by moral and ideological concerns. But these have an enormous effect on native people of that colonized country as they are forced to give up their culture and tradition. Imperialism has proven both destructive and creative: for better or worse, it has destroyed traditional institutions and ways of thinking and has replaced them with the habits and mentality of the Western world. Because imperialism is so often viewed as economically motivated, discussions of its effects also tend to revolve around economic issues. Disagreement arises between those who believe that imperialism implies exploitation and is responsible for the underdevelopment and economic declination of the poor nations and those who argue that although the rich nations benefit from imperialism, the poor nations also benefit, at least in the long run. The truth has been difficult to ascertain for at least two reasons:
- no compromise has been reached on the meaning of exploitation,
- it is frequently difficult to separate the domestic causes of poverty from those that are possibly international.
What is apparent is that the impact of imperialism is uneven: some poor nations have enjoyed greater economic benefits from contact with the rich than have others. India, Brazil, and other developing nations have even begun to compete economically with their former colonial powers. Thus, it is sensible to examine the economic impact of imperialism on a case-by-case basis.