ENGL 328: Imperialism

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Merriam Webster Online defines Imperialism as the policy, practice or advocacy of exerting power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or gaining control over political or economic life in other countries. In this definition "Imperialism has two meanings, one describing an action and the other describing an attitude. Most commonly it is understood in relation to Empire building, as the forceful extension of a nation's authority by territorial conquest establishing economic and political domination of other nations. In its second meaning the term describes the imperialistic attitude of superiority, subordination and dominion over foreign peoples (Wikipedia). A good example of this would be Rome. Imperialistic countries, such as Rome, tend to believe that there is a moral imperative to spread their society's wonderful and great policies to all other cultures seen as "lesser" than their own.

It is important to examine the root of the word of imperialism: imperial. This meaning of or realted to an empire or emperor. And also as a subset of that definition imperial is defined as of superior or unusual size or excellence.

"If imperialism,...is primarily a political system in which colonies are governed from an imperial centre, for economic but also for other reasons held to be important, then the subsequent grant of independence or self-government to these colonies can be described, as indeed it widely has been, as 'the end of imperialism'. On the other hand, if imperialism is understood primarily as an economic system of external investment and the penetration and control of markets and sources of raw materials, political changes in the status of colonies or former colonies will not greatly affect description of the continuing economic system as imperialist (Williams 160-161)."

Current Definitions & Connotations

In current times imperialism has a negative connotation of over-exerting power on a weaker country. Countries benefit from this imperialism because they gain power and money. It can be related today to what we call globalism, which is now run by corporations aka world super powers. This is also intertwined to what we call neo-colonialism today, which is tied in very tightly to ideas of education and manufacturing. Neo-colonialism can be expressed, in part, through the way that a company uses the raw materials that are available in their own country-do they export it as raw material, or do they make a finished product out of it? The finished product fetches a much higher price on the market, in general. Often times, it can be traced back to the formerly colonizing country that is actually making that profit. "Though the particular social usage became obsolete, the negative use of native to describe the inferior inhabitants of a place subjected to alien political power or conquest, or even of a place visited and observed from some supposedly superior standpoint, became general. It was particularly common as a term for 'non-Europeans' in the period of colonialism and imperialism (Williams 215)."

"Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating, or artificially injecting the culture or language of one nation into another. It is usually the case that the former is a large, economically or militarily powerful nation and the latter is a smaller, less important one. Cultural imperialism can take the form of an active, formal policy or a general attitude. The term is usually used in a pejorative sense, usually in conjunction with a call to reject foreign influence (Wikipedia)."

According to Raymond Williams, the development of the word "imperialism" was due to rival imperialisms in conjuction with colonial trade/rule. (See Keywords Hegemony, Native, Western)

"Imperialism acquired a new connotation in eC20...in varying ways related the phenomenon of modern imperialism to a particular stage of development of CAPITALIST economy (Williams 159)." "Capitalism refers to an economic and social system in which the means of production are predominantly privately[1][2] owned and operated, and in which investments, distribution, income, production and pricing of goods and services are determined through the operation of a market economy. It is usually considered to involve the right of individuals and groups of individuals acting as "legal persons" or corporations to trade capital goods, labor, land and money (see finance and credit)...(Wikipedia)."

Imperialism and Johnson

Johnson relates much of Shakespeare and his plays to common problems in the society of his time. Imperialism can be related to this discussion. Imperialism is intertwined or clustered with freedom from censorship. Although imperialism tends to confine all those involved into a collaboration or rule, the author or writer was not restricted to a particular performance. For example, when Samuel Johnson speaks of Shakespeare: "Shakespeare engaged in dramatic poetry with the world open before him; the rules of the ancients were yet known to few; the public judgment was unformed; he had no example of such fame as might force him upon imitation, nor critics of such authority as might restrain his extravagance (Johnson 425)." A quote to understand the implications of imperialism shall follow from Samuel Johnson's critique on Shakespeare, but first one must understand that the language of understanding variates between the highs and lows of the medians in which case dictates authority to use said language..."Familiar comedy is often more powerful on the theatre than in the page; imperial tragedy is always less (Johnson 432)."

Johnson also relates this cultural aspect of language as an outcome of influence/dominion by countries over other countries. Speaking from Wikipedia's definition, there is the "imperialistic attitude of superiority, subordination and dominion over foreign peoples", but we also have to take into account that there is a part of language from which a dominated people's language does not change, and thus remains unaltered. Therefore it is the negativity of imperialism that remains in the restraints of the common intercourse of life and its people. The origin of words holds influence/dominion across nations and cultures. Johnson says in the discussion of language: "of many words it is difficult to say whether they were immediately received from the Latin or the French, since at the time when we had dominions in France, we had Latin service in our churches (Johnson 309)."

Imperialism and Burke

In comparison to Johnson's view of the performance of imperialism being meant more or less for political arenas, we have Edmund Burke's view of imperialism. He sees it more as an adherence to an emperor and a duty "to and for" state. "I say then, that whilst we consider the Godhead merely as he is an object of the understanding, which forms a complex idea of power, wisdom, justice, goodness, all stretched to a degree far exceeding the bounds of our comprehension, whilst we consider the Divinity in this refined and abstracted light, the imagination and passions are little or nothing affected (Burke 71)." Burke speaks of: "Greatness of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime (74)." Can imperialism, the policy of seeking to extend the power, dominion, or territories of a nation be a cause for the sublime or merely an effect of the affects of trying to inspire or trying to seek that which "one" judges to be sublime for everyone else? In Burke's "Sketch of a Negro Code" he speaks of gradual emancipation and absolute and immediate abolition. Burke believes that slavery should gradually be completely abolished and that abolition should start at the "ports" of slavery and not at their origin. In his "Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies" he speaks about how custom and tradition are to build national citizenship. And in his "Speech on Mr. Fox's East India Bill" he introduces mercantile dealing/policy (375).

"Mercantilism is an economic theory that the prosperity of a nation depends upon its supply of capital, and that the global volume of trade is "unchangeable." Economic assets, or capital, are represented by bullion (gold, silver, and trade value) held by the state, which is best increased through a positive balance of trade with other nations (exports minus imports). Mercantilism suggests that the ruling government should advance these goals by playing a protectionist role in the economy, by encouraging exports and discouraging imports, especially through the use of tariffs. The economic policy based upon these ideas is often called the mercantile system.

Mercantilism was established during the early modern period (starting in the 16th to the 18th century, which roughly corresponded to the emergence of the nation-state). This led to some of the first instances of significant government intervention and control over market economies, and it was during this period that much of the modern capitalist system was established. Internationally, mercantilism encouraged the many European wars of the period, and fueled European imperialism, as the European powers fought over "available" markets. Belief in mercantilism began to fade in the late 18th century, as the arguments of Adam Smith and the other classical economists won favour in the British Empire (among such advocates as Richard Cobden) and to a lesser degree in the rest of Europe (with the notable exception of Germany where the Historical school of economics was favored throughout the 19th and early 20th century). Some have said that America chose not to adhere to classical economics, preferring a form of neo-mercantilism embodied by the "American School," but in 1792 Alexander Hamilton, basing his policies on his study of Adam Smith, established a gold standard designed to conform to that of Britain to promote international trade. America drifted from the gold standard a number of times prior to the Great Depression, but always returned to the Hamilton gold standard. The Great Depression influenced American government to return to neo-mercantilism imposing high protectionist tariffs and suspending private ownership of gold. Finally, during the New Deal, the currency was devalued based on the government’s new neo-mercantilist leaning. Today, mercantilism has seen a resurgence in economic theories that focus on the trade surplus and deficit as determinants of monetary value, but mercantilism as a whole is rejected by many economists. However, elements of mercantilism are still accepted by some economists including Ravi Batra, Pat Choate, Eammon Fingleton, and Michael Lind.[1] (Wikipedia)"

In a positive note, imperialism tends to aspire individuality and at the same time...empires are strengthened. But this positive influence holds only if principles of freedom and liberty are granted. Taken from Edmund Burke's "Reflection on the Revolution in France": "It is better to cherish virtue and humanity, by leaving much to free will, even with some loss to the object, than to attempt to make men mere machines and instruments of a political benevolence (462)."

Imperialism and Equiano

Equiano's life has a direct relation to Imperialism, which explains the often conflicted way that he viewed himself and the others around him. An imperial system, the slave trade, exerted a force over him that completely changed his life, his customs, even his name. His personal goals became vastly different, and while in Georgia, he also even participated in the slave trade, the imperialistic system that had directly led to his kidnapping. Even the picture on the front cover of the book shows that how he identifies himself is a complex system of ideas, given that the painting looks like a typical British noble or merchant man of the 18th century. On page 138, Equiano says, "In short, the fair as well as black people immediately styled me by a new appellation, tome the most desirable in the world, which was freeman." And yet, he participated in the slave trade. Imperialistic forces are more than just what is seen on the surface, the consequences spread much further than what can be immediately assessed.

Imperialism tends to exploit that which is governed by others. For example, the use of man by man (slavery), justifies the cause and effect for changes to the idea of domination. The "others" are seen as underdeveloped individuals in need of development. "It is clear that, through these verbal tangles, an often generous idea of 'aid to the developing countries' is confused with wholly ungenerous practices of cancellation of the identities of others, by their definition as underdeveloped or less developed, and of imposed process of development for a world market controlled by others (Williams 104)." Imperialism can also be connected with the word racial. It is this dominion that establishes the identity of "others" and thus their influence and interests across nations, cultures, and customs. But because of this we have racial conflict. "In its gross forms, this doctrine of inherent racial superiority interacted with ideas of political domination and especially imperialism (Williams 249)."

In Equiano's letter to the Queen he makes the argument that for abolition of slavery: "that they may be raised from the condition of brutes, to which they are at present degraded, to the rights and situation of men, and be admitted to partake of the blessings of your Majesty's happy government; so shall you majesty enjoy the the heart-felt pleasure of procuring happiness to millions" (232). This would allow the British Empire to be expanded to Africa and to make a market of its people.

Imperialism and Wordsworth/Coleridge

Wordsworth does not openly express the term imperialism but instead refers to empire in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads. When he speaks about what a poet is and what a poet does he runs into the concept of human nature and society. He holds the poet responsible for defending human nature. In addition to that "the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human soceity as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time." (In the 20th paragraph). Since imperial is the root of imperialism, which means of or related to an empire, it is important to examine this significance of the poet's role as holding together the entire empire of human society. Obviously Wordsworth holds the poets job in high regards, and heavy responsibility. If, according to Wordsworth, the definition of the empire of human society is spread over the whole earth, and over all time, and the poet's job is to hold it together, this is quite a job. How does Wordsworth expect the poet to be able to do this? Wordsworth says that poetry is both the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" and also the result of being thought out "long and deeply." When these two conditions are met, at the same time, Wordsworth seems to be believe that something magical occurs, and the poet is fulfilling his or her responsibility. However, Wordsworth had very specific ideals about poetry. Its setting, its rhyme structure, are all heavily influenced by his classical British upbringing and tutelage. How can that rigid structure of value judgments about something as universal as the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" be anything but imperialism?

In "The Foster-Mother's Tale" imperialism is implicit in the man's journey to live and die among "savage men" (29). It doesn't appear that he was intentionally invoking British "law and order" among savage men but rather that he is "savage."

Clusters and Related Words

Native, Civilization, New Imperialism, Diplomacy, Neocolonialism, War, Empire, Nationalist

Imperialism: the Game


Description from Moby Games Imperialism: the game: "A turn-based strategy game about the imperialistic expansionism of the 18th and 19th century. Unlike many 'conquer the world' games, the sole emphasis isn't on military conquest. Imperialism promotes victory through a combination of methods, including the relatively unique notion of exploiting underdeveloped nations and expanding your territories through military, political, and economic means. You play a major world power. The New World beckons with promises of riches that can fund your wars against your long term rivals. Your goal is to expand your influence as far as you can in these new territories and use the resources there to become the dominant force in the world. Gameplay takes place on a world map, where you maneuver your strategic units to build, explore, or develop your empire. Combat takes place on its own turn-based battlefield. A number of other screens allow you to manage your economic and diplomatic stances and set your production and trade levels."

Link to Wikipedia Site

This game was followed by Imperialism II: The Age of Exploration. There is a support site called The Daily Imperialist for bot Imperialism I and Imperialism II. This site contains a forum and different strategies for players. The site also has a link to the different civilian units that are helpful in your imperialistic endeavours--most importantly the spy who will help you win wars, and protect your scientific secrets.

This image is the screen that comes up when you lose the game. If you look closely it is full of bad omens such as sunken ships, scavengers flying overhead, dead bodies, bloody weapons, a graveyard, ropes for hanging and even a gallows by the sea. All of this is covered by a dark firey sky. The hollow slashed globe on the left along with the rest of the picture appears to be a horrid picture of the negative effects of imperialism. File:Defeat.jpg

Some more modern examples of these strategy games are Age of Empires and Civilization.

-Age of Empires II Intro

-Civilization IV Trailer

It appears that all of these games that deal with imperialism, empire and civilization are addressing an older concept of imperialism than the one we see today (New Imperialism, globalization and neo-colonialism). These games go back to an age of empires--one of domination through military conquests. The newer games have an underlying theme of imperialism--exploiting underdeveloped nations for porfit and higher status as an empire. Whereas Imperialism: the Game is more open about deliberate and ruthless exploitation of people for personal gain. However, hints of the newer definitions are seen in Age of Empires III, in which you come into contact with Native American peoples. There is no option to actually take over these people, and actually, it has a negative effect on the game. However, if you actually ally yourself with them, you are allowed to set up a train route to trade with them. Essentially, you take goods from them, and sell it to the "port city" of whatever civilization you come from for a much higher amount, making yourself a profit.