COLONIALISM AND IMPERIALISM


1. Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one
people to another.

2. One of the difficulties in defining colonialism is that it is hard to distinguish it from imperialism.

3. Frequently the two concepts are treated as synonyms.

4. Like colonialism, imperialism also involves political and economic control over a dependent territory.


5. The etymology of the two terms, however, provides some clues about how they differ. The term colony comes from the Latin word ”colonus”, meaning farmer. This root reminds us that the practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory, where the arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to their country of origin. Imperialism, on the other hand, comes from the Latin term ”imperium”, meaning to command.

6. Thus, the term imperialism draws attention to the way that one country exercises power over another, whether through settlement, sovereignty, or indirect mechanisms of control.

7. The legitimacy of colonialism has been a longstanding concern for political and moral philosophers in the Western tradition.

8. At least since the Crusades and the conquest of the Americas, political theorists have struggled with the difficulty of reconciling ideas about justice and natural law with the practice of European sovereignty over non-Western peoples. In the nineteenth century, the tension between liberal thought and colonial practice became particularly acute, as the dominion of Europe over the rest of the world reached its zenith. Ironically, in the same period when most political philosophers began to defend the principles of universalism and equality, the same individuals still defended the legitimacy of colonialism and imperialism.


9. One way of reconciling those apparently opposed principles was the argument known as the “civilizing mission,” which suggested that a temporary period of political dependence or tutelage was necessary in order for “uncivilized” societies to advance to the point where they were capable of sustaining liberal institutions and self-government.

10. The goal of this entry is to analyze the relationship between Western political theory and the project of colonialism.

11. After providing a more thorough discussion of the concept of colonialism, the third and fourth sections of the entry will address the question of how European thinkers justified, legitimized, and challenged political domination. The fifth section briefly discusses the Marxist tradition, including Marx’s own defense of British colonialism in India and Lenin’s anti-imperialist writings.

12. The final section provides an introduction to contemporary “post-colonial theory.” This approach has been particularly influential in literary studies because it draws attention to the diverse ways that postcolonial subjectivities are constituted and resisted through discursive practices.

13. The goal of the entry is to provide an overview of the vast and complex literature that explores the theoretical issues emerging out of the experience of European colonization.



Definition and Outline

1. Colonialism is not a modern phenomenon.

2. World history is full of examples of one society gradually expanding by incorporating adjacent territory and settling its people on newly conquered territory.

3. The ancient Greeks set up colonies as did the Romans, the Moors, and the Ottomans, to name just a few of the most famous examples. Colonialism, then, is not restricted to a specific time or place.

4. Nevertheless, in the sixteenth century, colonialism changed decisively because of technological developments in navigation that began to connect more remote parts of the world. Fast sailing ships made it possible to reach distant ports and to sustain close ties between the center and colonies.



5. Thus, the modern European colonial project emerged when it became possible to move large numbers of people across the ocean and to maintain political sovereignty in spite of geographical dispersion.

6. This entry uses the term colonialism to describe the process of European settlement and political control over the rest of the world, including the Americas, Australia, and parts of Africa and Asia.

7. The difficulty of defining colonialism stems from the fact that the term is often used as a synonym for imperialism. Both colonialism and imperialism were forms of conquest that were expected to benefit Europe economically and strategically.

8. The term colonialism is frequently used to describe the settlement of North America, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria, and Brazil, places that were controlled by a large population of permanent European residents.


9. The term imperialism often describes cases in which a foreign government administers a territory without significant settlement; typical examples include the scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century and the American domination of the Philippines and Puerto Rico.

10. The distinction between the two, however, is not entirely consistent in the literature.

11. Some scholars distinguish between colonies for settlement and colonies for economic exploitation.

12. Others use the term colonialism to describe dependencies that are directly governed by a foreign nation and contrast this with imperialism, which involves indirect forms of domination.

13. The confusion about the meaning of the term imperialism reflects the way that the concept has changed over time.

14. Although the English word imperialism was not commonly used before the nineteenth-century, Elizabethans already described the United Kingdom as “the British Empire.”



15. As Britain began to acquire overseas dependencies, the concept of empire was employed more frequently. Imperialism was understood as a system of military domination and sovereignty over territories.

16. The day to day work of government might be exercised indirectly through local assemblies or indigenous rulers who paid tribute, but sovereignty rested with the British.

17. The shift away from this traditional understanding of empire was influenced by the Leninist analysis of imperialism as a system-oriented towards economic exploitation.

18. According to Lenin, imperialism was the necessary and inevitable result of the logic of accumulation in late capitalism. Thus, for Lenin and subsequent Marxists, imperialism described a historical stage of capitalism rather than a trans-historical practice of political and military domination.

19. The lasting impact of the Marxist approach is apparent in contemporary debates about American imperialism, a term which usually means American economic hegemony, regardless of whether such power is exercised directly or indirectly.



20. Given the difficulty of consistently distinguishing between the two terms, this entry will use colonialism as a broad concept that refers to the project of European political domination from the sixteenth to the twentieth century that ended with the national liberation movements of the 1960s.

21. Post-colonialism will be used to describe the political and theoretical struggles of societies that experienced the transition from political dependence to sovereignty.

22. This entry will use imperialism as a broad term that refers to economic, military, political domination that is achieved without significant permanent European settlement.

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