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One of the most dramatic, morally debatable, and significant activities of the nineteenth-century European social order was its outward movement into a dominant position on several continents and among many islands cast about the earth. Of course, empire was hardly a new institution. It has been a rather constant characteristic of the Western world since well before the days when Roman legions sallied forth to make alien peoples bow beneath standards surmounted by bronze eagles. And even the first years of the nineteenth century were witnesses to Napoleon's effort at surpassing imperial Rome. But never before the end of the century were there so many expressions of imperialism, with rival colonial systems competing in so many areas of the world. Great Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, even Russia (not to mention the United States and Japan outside of Europe) intruded forcefully into Africa, or Asia, the Middle East, or the South Pacific--and finally sought the North and South Poles in the early years of this century. As an American senator of the time remarked, the Western world had an acute case of land hunger.

The intensity of this activity has led it to be called a "scramble," more specifically a scramble for Africa and Oceania (the islands of the South Pacific). Because it appeared to be so sudden and so competitive, and yet so much a part of late nineteenth-century political and economic power, this particular phase of overseas expansion has been labeled the "New Imperialism"in order to distinguish it from the "Old Colonialism" that supposedly ended in the late eighteenth century. Between the two, according to an older school of historians, existed a hiatus, a lull, during which Europe remained at home.

Today there is rather common agreement that European overseas expansion was a constant factor of the nineteenth century, with British commercial activities the most obvious aspect, but with both Great Britain and France seeking new trade outlets, strategic sites, and--on more than one occasion--a political advantage of one over the other. At the end of the century political annexation was the dominant characteristic of imperialism. If one considers that the major European land holdings in Africa before 1870 were Algeria (France) and South Africa (England), and then regards the political map of 1914 when only Liberia and Ethiopia were independent African states, one can appreciate the rapidity of the political change. Why?

The Causes of Modern European Imperialism

Along with the French and Industrial Revolutions, imperialism has been a mine of causes picked at by many generations of historians. The Marxist-Leninist argument would have it that an ever-increasing capitalism needed new places for financial investment and for markets of its goods in order to avoid its necessary collapse. This is the analysis contained in the title of Lenin's most famous work, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, published first in 1917. "Highest" here has reference to a scale of historical progression: it is the last stage beyond which capitalism cannot go because it can find no other outlets to relieve the pressure that capital accumulation has generated. Thereafter the system (in today's parlance) will self-destruct.

Even the pro-imperialists of the late nineteenth century used a somewhat similar argument, but not to condemn capitalism. A famous French supporter of empire referred to colonies as the safety valve of the industrial steam engine, without which it would explode. And more than one publicist exclaimed, "No exportation without colonies." Thus, in the minds of contemporaries imperialism was the process of expansion by which to assist the industrial system in its search for new markets and, consequently, new profits. But where the imperialists considered this process a commercial policy, Lenin deemed it a historical necessity, a particular phase of capitalism, when financial interests controlled industry and were helpless to do anything but place their gold overseas, if they did not want an overwhelming glut.

The distinctions between the two economic approaches to imperialism may seem highly refined at first glance. Yet what the imperialists were urging as policy--a conscious state decision to better the society's economy--Lenin was analyzing as part of an unavoidable, necessary, or fated historical process; for him it was not policy, but inevitability: it could not be reversed or changed, and beyond this "highest" stage lay the necessary fall of the entire capitalist system.

This particular argument is stressed somewhat, not because it effectively accounted for the European history of the moment, but because Lenin's thesis grew in historical importance in the twentieth century to become the most popular explanation of modern imperialism, and one still vehemently proclaimed today.

Yet the commercial argument was and remains an important one, particularly if it is not reduced to a simple correlation between the amount of colonial territory acquired and the amount of goods and money exported. Europe's traditional and then current areas of principal export were the Americas and Europe itself. Very little money or goods went to tropical Africa or the islands of the Pacific. If anything in the commercial domain, the newly acquired colonial territories were "claims" "pegged out" for the future, as Lord Roseben, late nineteenth-century British prime minister, described them in a consciously chosen mining metaphor.

What this idea suggests is the growing political consciousness of the competitive European industrial system. With the United States and Germany added to the great producing nations of the world--alongside England, France, and Belgium--there was concern that national industries would be disadvantaged, that national treasuries would suffer accordingly. Add to this concern another dimension, that stemming from the "social question." The so-called Long Depression of 1873-1896 was a downward trend in cyclical economics which meant chronic unemployment and possible social unrest. When Cecil Rhodes said that imperialism was a "bread-and-butter" question it was this problem that he had in mind: new markets overseas would relieve the economic slump at home by generating the need for more products, hence reemployment of workers. Modern analysts, following the thought of an outstanding English imperialist of the turn of the century, Lord Alfred Milner, have called this "social imperialism."

Alongside the economic argument sturdily stands a political one, as old and as much discussed. In brief, it would read: imperialism is overseas nationalism. The rivalry traditionally demonstrated by



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