Courtesy Reuters

A Modern Colonial Fallacy

MANY of the spectres of modern civilization, supposedly banished by the Treaty of Versailles, have returned to stalk their old haunts. Of these, the question of colonial expansion is one of the latest to reveal its threatening potentialities. Japan, moreover, has shown that it is a threat not confined to Europe. One of the most disturbing characteristics of this development is the widespread sympathy with which the expansionist claims of such countries as Italy and Japan are received. Economic exigency is made to excuse, even if it does not justify, the breach of international covenants. Thus lenient critics held that the Japanese plunge into Manchuria had an economic basis; and now we are told that Italy expects to find in the temperate highlands of Ethiopia an outlet for her surplus population as well as raw materials which she lacks. Germany employs an analogous argument in keeping alive claims to her lost colonies.

This strenuous reiteration of the dogma that dense population, paucity of natural resources, or any other kind of national impoverishment, makes overseas colonies an "economic necessity" for the great Power in which these conditions develop, indicates a remarkable change of opinion from that of little more than fifty years ago, when the prospect of colonial acquisitions was anathema to good nationalists in Europe. Cobdenite England regarded international trade as of greater importance than overseas possessions; in France the few protagonists of colonial expansion in the 'seventies and 'eighties met bitter hostility from a public which thought that revanche for the loss of Alsace-Lorraine could be better pursued without colonial impediments; and in 1871 Bismarck replied to the advocates of a colonial policy for Germany with the sneer that for Germany to acquire colonies would be like a poverty-stricken Polish nobleman providing himself with silks and sables when he needed shirts. Clearly, until late in the century at any rate, these countries did not regard the colonization of backward areas as profitable undertakings.

Nevertheless, by the time the new century opened,

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