How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
Now that the liquidation of Europe's overseas empires is all but complete, the world is in travail, beset by problems of readjustment and groping for new relationships that may make possible the peaceful and prosperous coexistence of more than a hundred states of widely differing characters and needs. The age-old expansion of Europe in terms of military power, settlement, trade, proselytism, territorial rule and, finally, social dominance has come to an abrupt end. Thoughtful people, particularly in the Western world, are bound to reflect on this epochal upheaval, and to realize that one of the very great revolutions in human affairs has taken place. They must be impressed, not to say awed, by the thought that the political and social structure of our planet has undergone such fundamental alterations at the very time when science and technology are opening to view the vast possibilities as well as the dangers of the space age.
Historians and political scientists have for some time been grappling with the problems of expansion, without, however, having come to anything like generally accepted conclusions. Political controversy has seriously beclouded the meaning of the terms imperialism and colonialism, while scholarly analysis has revealed ever more clearly how loose and unmanageable these words and concepts really are. I take it that, in its broadest sense, imperialism means domination or control of one nation or people over another, recognizing that there may be many forms and degrees of control. But there is probably no hope of ever constructing a generalized theory of imperialism. Indeed, the most violent differences of opinion persist with regard to the causes and character even of modern European expansion, with little if any prospect of reconciling the Communist doctrine, so positively formulated by Lenin, with the manifold theories advanced by Western "bourgeois" writers.
However, among non-Communist critics and students substantial progress is being made in the evaluation of European imperialism. The initial phase of expansion, consequent to the great discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, involved large-scale settlement of Europeans in sparsely populated areas of the world. This in turn led to the gradual conquest of vast territories, along with complete subjection and at least partial extermination of the natives. But this earlier stage of imperialism, while it certainly remade much of the globe in the European image, had relatively little bearing on recent and contemporary problems of expansion. For in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries most of the American colonies of Britain, Spain and Portugal attained their complete independence of European rule. In the sequel Canada, Australia, New Zealand and eventually South Africa became British dominions, independent of the mother country in all but name. Meanwhile Siberia, which was overrun and partially settled by Russians in the seventeenth century, became an integral part of the contiguous Tsarist state.
This process of settlement and territorial extension occasionally brought in its train the destruction of highly developed cultures like those of the Inca, Maya and Javanese. But in general it touched only primitive, thinly populated regions, which previously had been outside the main stream of history. Such was the case also with the trading posts and military establishments acquired in the East by the Portuguese, Dutch, British and French in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Only with the military victories of the British over local potentates and the repeated extension of their territorial domination in India did modern imperialism, in the sense of the rule or control of one state or nation over an alien people or culture, become a reality. Even so, India remained a rather special case, an almost unique instance of a private company over a long period of time ruling a huge area of highly developed cultures and constantly expanding its territorial control even at times when the home government was opposed to any extension of its responsibilities. For the European powers had, by the early nineteenth century, become highly skeptical about overseas commitments. It is true that both the British and the French made substantial territorial acquisitions in these years, but they resulted largely from the efforts of local officials to safeguard existing establishments and further trade. Only in Russia, where the government engaged in systematic encroachment and eventually in the conquest of the Transcaucasian principalities, was there anything like purposeful expansionism, though on this side of the Atlantic the war against Mexico was certainly a comparable demonstration of imperial acquisitiveness.
Imperialism revived only in the period after 1870 when, however, it developed to such a degree that most of Africa was quickly partitioned among a few European powers and some form of domination or control was established over many Asian peoples. Concurrently Russia, operating against adjoining countries, imposed its rule upon most of Central Asia and, having earlier acquired the Maritime Province on the Pacific, inaugurated a policy of peaceful penetration of Manchuria and Korea.
To account for this phenomenal spread of European authority is certainly a fascinating and challenging assignment for the historian. Innumerable theories, both general and special, have been advanced in the search for an adequate explanation. They run the gamut from the hard-hitting, straightforward propaganda of Lenin's "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism" to the highly sophisticated and daringly original speculation of Schumpeter's "Sociology of Imperialism." But the one conclusion to be safely drawn from all this ratiocination is that modern imperialism constituted a most complicated episode of recent history, that it was the expression of many and varied forces and motives, and that the economic explanation, so cogently argued by Hobson in his "Imperialism: A Study" (1902), and so fondly cherished by Lenin, is as inadequate as it is popular. Humanitarian, religious and psychological factors were clearly important, to say nothing of considerations of national power and pride. It should never be forgotten that the present condemnation and rejection of imperialism by the Western world is a very recent development. Prior to 1920, if not even later, European rule of overseas colonies was considered honorable and altruistic-definitely in the best interest of the "backward" peoples. It has been pointed out with complete justice that the campaign against the slave trade and the effort to propagate Christianity were among the prime motive forces behind modern expansion, and that the imperial powers as well as their agents were moved, with some exceptions, by a desire to play a beneficent role in the world, to fulfill a noble, national mission.
Recent monographic studies of various aspects of modern imperialism suggest also that certain elusive, not to say irrational, forces contributed to the dynamism of expansion. Schumpeter, and indeed both Kautsky and Hobson before him, gave emphasis to the atavistic feature of imperialism. That is to say, they saw it as a survival in modern society of an outworn, feudal- militaristic mentality, devoted to conquest for its own sake, without specific objective or limit. One might underline also the importance of basic human traits such as aggressiveness and acquisitiveness, along with the urge to dominate, as fundamental to any analysis of imperialism. To do so would leave open, however, many instances in which powerful states with dynamic populations showed no inclination to express these drives in terms of expansion and domination. The American people's rejection of imperialism almost as soon as it was tried, in the wake of the war with Spain, would be a case in point.
Yet it does seem that there was something feudal or at least aristocratic about imperialism, even in its modern phase. It was, in fact, frequently criticized on this score. Colonies, it was said, were desired by the ruling classes in order to provide for their "clamorous and needy dependents." They were, according to James Mill, "a vast system of outdoor relief for the upper classes," and, in the words of Richard Cobden, a "costly appendage of an aristocratic government."[i] And much later, in 1903, Henry Labouchere referred to imperialists as magpies: "They steal for the love of stealing." Certainly the men who made the decisions for expansion were, in England, peers and great landowners, and on the Continent aristocrats, notables and soldiers. Bismarck, than whom no statesman of modern times had a keener sense of the requirements of power politics, reckoned at all times with the dynamism of the traditional military castes. He encouraged Russian expansion in Central Asia on the theory that it was better to have the military engaged there than on the European front. In the same spirit he attempted to divert the attention of the French from the blue line of the Vosges by supporting their activities in North Africa. And a particularly clear demonstration of the operation of feudal-military forces is provided by the history of modern Japan. The Genyosha Society, which was the driving power behind Japan's expansion, represented primarily the samurai elements which had been eclipsed by the Restoration.[ii]
It may be argued that the above theory is at least in part invalidated by the fact that imperialism enjoyed great popular acclaim. But actually this proves very little, for it was more true of England than of other countries, and in England, it will be conceded, the lower classes were traditionally interested in the doings of the aristocracy and readily applauded its achievements. Actually the common man, in England as elsewhere, knew little of the issues and policies involved in imperialism. Colonial affairs, like foreign affairs, remained the preserve of the ruling class. As for continental countries, it is perfectly clear that popular interest in and support for colonial enterprise were never widespread or sustained. Explorers, missionaries, publicists, professors and certain business interests were the prime movers in the cause of overseas undertakings.
With further reference to the economic interpretation of imperialism, I would say that recent studies of specific cases reinforce the proposition that business interests were much less important than considerations of national power and prestige, to say nothing of national security. A new analysis of the partition of Africa[iii] contends convincingly that Britain, concerned by the disturbance of the European balance of power by the German victories of 1870-1871, was driven primarily by concern for its communications with India to assume control of Egypt, and that this move in turn had such repercussions on international relations as to precipitate the "scramble for Africa." It certainly becomes increasingly clear that much of modern imperialism reflected problems of power in Europe itself during a period when the alliance systems had produced a temporary deadlock.
The competition for markets and for sources of raw materials as well as the search for new fields for capital investment were much talked of in the heyday of imperialism and underlay the argumentation of a host of writers on economic imperialism. But it is well known now that in actual fact the colonies played a distinctly subordinate role in the foreign economic activities of the major imperial powers. These powers at all times remained each others' best customers. At the height of the colonial age, in the early twentieth century, less than a third of Britain's exports went to the dominions and colonies, and less than one-half of British foreign investment was in the Empire. The major European investments in this period were in the United States, Russia, the Ottoman Empire and Latin America, where there could hardly be any question of true imperial domination.
If in fact the European governments in the 1880s and 1890s plunged headlong into the scramble for colonies, they were evidently acting in panic. Confronted with the entirely novel problems arising from progressive industrialization, and alarmed by the depression that set in in 1873, as well as by the strong tendency on the Continent to abandon free trade in favor of protection, they sought to safeguard their overseas economic interests by acquiring actual control of as much territory as possible. They hoped thereby to ensure themselves against unknown eventualities. Failure to act seemed improvident and dangerous. I would call this "preclusive imperialism," and would describe it as obviously a concomitant of the onrushing industrial revolution. A misguided effort, this reaction to hypothetical dangers, as we can now recognize; but in the late nineteenth century it evidently was so compelling that most statesmen, even the skeptical Bismarck, were carried away by it.
The final accounting suggests that the colonies brought their masters but indifferent returns. It has been frequently argued that even though the European governments may have spent more on their overseas possessions- especially in terms of defense, police, administration and public health- than they ever received in return, private interests made huge profits through the ruthless exploitation of native labor and natural resources. Bookkeeping in these matters is extremely difficult, because it is impossible to isolate and allocate specific items of expense. The best recent studies indicate that the governments, and so the home countries, did in fact make large and continuing outlays, in many ways anticipating more recent policies of aid to underdeveloped nations. An admirable analysis of the finances of the Congo[iv] arrives at the conclusion that that colony, unusually rich in raw materials such as ivory, rubber and copper, was indeed a source of considerable enrichment for Belgium as a country, but that between 1908 (when the Belgian government took over the colony from King Leopold II) and 1950 the Brussels government spent 260 million gold francs on the Congo in return for only 25 million francs in taxes and other income. In like manner an eminent French authority[v] has estimated that even in the period prior to 1914 the Paris government spent two billion gold francs on the French colonial empire.
In the large, the profits taken by private interests seem to have been anything but exorbitant-indeed, little above the average returns of home investments. Of course there were instances of huge profits made through forced labor and other forms of ruthless exploitation, as in the Congo of King Leopold, in German Southwest Africa and in British South Africa. No one would excuse or condone such practices, but again it is important to retain a proper sense of proportion. The mercantilist idea that colonies existed solely for the purpose of enriching the mother country persisted for a long time. Leopold II of Belgium, for example, was an ardent admirer of the Dutch "culture system" as enforced in the East Indies, and was interested in the Congo exclusively for the revenue it might bring. As for the treatment of the natives, it may be doubted whether it was any worse than that meted out to Russian serfs and American Negro slaves until past the middle of the nineteenth century. Sad though it may be, the fact is that the human race became sensitive to suffering only at a very late date. When one considers the heartless attitude taken toward the miseries of the early factory workers or even toward the Irish peasantry in the days before the great famine, one is bound to marvel at the callousness of human nature, obviously not restricted to the brutalities of Hitler's Nazi régime.
Students of the problem have of late devoted much attention to the advantages which accrued to the colonies from European rule. They included defense and public order, suppression of tribal warfare and restriction of patriarchal tyranny, the establishment of adequate administration and justice, the furtherance of public health and, in many cases, substantial contributions to the development of communications.
No doubt the price paid by the colonies was a high one: the subversion of traditional institutions and social forms, not necessarily intentionally, but none the less effectively. To some Europeans as well as to many natives this has been a matter of real regret. But if in fact European expansion was the ineluctable expression of a dynamism generated by the economic and social revolution of the nineteenth century, then it follows that the progressive destruction of static, traditional societies was inevitable under the impact of outside forces. Thinkers and statesmen of the Ottoman Empire, of Japan and of China recognized this feature of the situation at an early date. They saw that the only hope of survival lay in the adoption of Western technology and institutions, however distasteful they might be. The remaking of the world in the Western image began long before the tide of imperialism came to the flood.
The South African War (1899-1902) not only drained imperialism of much of its emotional content but also induced the British and other imperial governments to reconsider their relations to the colonies. Far more thought was given to the welfare of the colonial peoples, and far more effort was made in the direction of development and improvement. The more liberal régimes encouraged the education of the natives and their participation at the lower levels of the administration. Thereby they fostered the growth of the native élite, members of which presently began to apply the lessons learned from the West to the task of getting rid of Western control. The imperial powers, having themselves inculcated the ideas of equality, self- determination, independence and nationalism, thereby prepared the way for the destruction of their own dominion. For it would hardly seem possible, in historical retrospect, that Western rule could have long withstood the weight of the arguments drawn from its own intellectual armory. Imperialism was bound to lose its moral basis as soon as the principle of equality was recognized and the notions of responsibility and trusteeship were generally accepted. The reaction of British liberals, radicals and socialists to the war in South Africa was in itself irrefutable proof of the incompatibility of democracy and imperialism. Without doubt the anti-colonialist movement that developed in Europe and in the United States following the war with Spain contributed heavily to the growth of nationalism in various colonies during the early twentieth century. So also did the defeat of the Russians by Japan in 1904-1905, for that defeat broke the spell of European superiority and invincibility.
The First World War then set the stage for the actual breakdown of imperialism. The fratricidal conflict within the European master race deflated whatever prestige the ruling nations may still have had, while the employment of hundreds of thousands of colonial troops and laborers in the great war opened the eyes of multitudes of natives to conditions in the more advanced countries of the world. It is generally recognized that in 1919, while the victorious powers were busily applying the principle of self-determination to European peoples and as consistently ignoring it as regards the colonial peoples, imperialism had already received the mortal blow. The subsequent inter-war period then witnessed the rapid development of nationalist movements in many additional areas, despite the drastic measures of repression employed by some of the imperial governments. It took only the Second World War, fought as it was in many of the most remote places of the world, to loose the impounded flood-waters of colonial nationalism. The European nations were now so weakened and discredited that they could no longer offer effective resistance. Those which, like France, attempted to hold their possessions found themselves involved in long and costly wars, ending invariably in colonial triumph. In less than 20 years, millions of subject peoples attained their independence and more than 50 new states appeared on the international scene.
Ever since its advent to power in Russia, the Soviet Government has proclaimed the right of self-determination and has given all possible encouragement and support to the national movements aimed at liberation of the European overseas colonies from imperial rule. Soviet propaganda has to a large extent succeeded in restricting the definition of "imperialism" and "colonialism" to these overseas territories and in fostering the idea that Russia, having no such colonies, has had no part in imperial domination. Actually, it is impossible to draw a valid distinction between the expansion of Russia and that of other European states. The conquest of Central Asia was basically equivalent to the extension of British power in India. It began with trade interests, followed by conquest and annexation for reasons of security and prestige. And at the end of the nineteenth century Russian penetration of Manchuria and Korea was an integral part of the European effort to "partition" the Celestial Empire. Eminent Russian historians like Kliuchevski and Miliukov were just as bitterly critical of Russian expansion as were the anti-colonialists of the West with reference to the overseas empires.
The Russian-Japanese War put an early end to Tsarist aspirations in China, while the First World War, by precipitating the revolution in Russia, brought on a premature struggle for independence or autonomy on the part of almost all the subject peoples of the old empire. In this extremity Lenin and Stalin proclaimed the most conciliatory policy, even going so far as to recognize the right of any people to cast off all ties to Russia. It soon turned out, however, that these moves were purely tactical. Self- determination was to be restricted to the "workers" of the subject nations, which were warned by Stalin that if they seceded, they would surely fall victim to world imperialism. It was inconceivable, he added, that these peoples should abandon the Soviet Union, which was so dependent on them for food and raw materials. They clearly had an important contribution to make to the victory of socialism. In order to forestall "treason" on their part, the Soviet Government proceeded to suppress liberation movements, by force if necessary, carrying on a protracted war against even the avowedly Communist leaders of the various Turkic peoples.
For geographical reasons it is much easier for Soviet Russia to hold adjacent peoples in subjection than it was for countries like Britain and France to maintain their hold on distant overseas possessions. For a time following Hitler's attack in 1941, Soviet rule was, nevertheless, again seriously jeopardized. In revenge, the Kremlin in its hour of victory meted out the most ferocious treatment to the disaffected peoples and furthermore set up on its western borders a system of satellites reminiscent of the client system through which the great Napoleon controlled so much of the Continent. Whether for ideological or for security reasons, the Soviet Government now exercises effective control over adjoining states all the way from Finland in the north to Bulgaria in the south. To safeguard that control it will, if necessary, resort to military force, as was demonstrated so clearly in the case of Hungary.
In short, the Soviet Government has taken advantage of its contiguity to hold in subjection not only the ancient states of Eastern Europe, but also Armenians, Georgians and other Caucasian peoples, as well as some millions of Turkic peoples in Central Asia. Under the old régime, spasmodic attempts were made at Russification and at forced conversion to orthodoxy. In Central Asia much of the best land was appropriated by the conquerors, while the natives were subjected to heavy taxation. On the other hand, the nomadic tribes were left largely to themselves and the well-developed khanates of Khiva and Bokhara enjoyed a large measure of autonomy. The Soviet Government, especially in Stalin's time, was much more repressive. The status of the subject nationalities as federated republics was altogether misleading, for all important political and economic posts were held by Russians or by carefully selected native Communists. Besides, the economic life of these puppet republics was regulated entirely by the needs of the Kremlin. For a time the Soviet Government carried on propaganda directed even at the language, religion and culture of the subject peoples.
In some respects this policy is still in effect. In any event, the subject nationalities have been deprived of all hope of freedom. Their leaders disappear before they can become dangerous. Unobtrusively, Russians are being settled among the native populations, so that by now some six or seven million Europeans are established in Central Asia. In Kazakhstan it has been reported that fully half of the population is now European. Furthermore, the Russian language is an obligatory subject in all schools and a Cyrillic-type alphabet has been introduced for the Turkic languages. While there is no concerted attack on non-Russian cultures, it has been made abundantly clear that the chances of success in life depend largely on identification with Russianism as well as with Communism.
In view of the realities of Russian imperialism, it is surprising that the Soviets have been so successful in their efforts at concealment and have managed so well to exploit the issue of "colonialism" to the detriment of the West. It is likely, however, that the effectiveness of their propaganda has already passed its peak. After all, the world cannot ignore the fact that the overseas empires have now been largely liquidated. Besides, the experience of some of the new states with Soviet guidance and aid has been disillusioning and disquieting. Already at the Bandung Conference (1955) there were round denunciations of Soviet imperialism, accompanied by pointed warnings against Communist designs on the freedom of colonial peoples.
It is unrealistic to suppose that either the European satellites or the subject nationalities of the Soviet Union can obtain their independence so long as the Soviet Government remains what it is and its objectives are unaltered. How long that may be is certainly a debatable question. The Soviet régime, having itself become outspokenly nationalistic and having systematically supported nationalist movements in the overseas colonies, can no longer condemn nationalism among its own subjects as a reactionary deviation. Furthermore, Soviet society is steadily evolving along lines familiar to us from Western history. It is at least not inconceivable that its transformation under the impact of industrialization may become accelerated and that, with the growth of representative institutions and the development of a more democratic mentality, there will come a change of attitude toward the imperialism that is now so basic to Russian policy. At the same time the economic evolution of the satellites and subject nationalities is speeding their westernization and strengthening forces which in the long run the Kremlin may find it difficult to hold in check.
The Soviet Government, with its prodigious military and economic power, can for the present certainly hold in subjection the adjacent nationalities of Europe and Asia. It may, indeed, succeed in exploiting the nationalist theme to the point of luring some of the newly liberated peoples into the Communist camp and thereby bending the anti-colonialist sentiment of the entire world to the purposes of the world revolution. But the subjection of weaker peoples by the stronger runs counter to the democratic sentiments characteristic of modern industrial societies. There may be serious lapses, such as the Nazi interlude in Germany. But the example of Western nations suggests that industrial populations are basically peace-loving and definitely averse to the subjugation and exploitation of other peoples. In the later nineteenth century the imperial aspirations of the French Government met their strongest obstacle in the opposition of democratic and socialist elements. It is most unlikely, therefore, that the Soviet Union, simply by denying its imperialism, will be able, in the long term, to shield itself from the forces inherent in modern society.
In this context, some reference to the forces of Chinese Communist expansion and indeed to the entire problem of world Communist domination is perhaps unavoidable. Communist China's imperialist aspirations permit of no doubt. They appear, however, to derive from traditional notions of universal or at least Asian empire as well as from more immediate considerations of national security or ideological zeal. The Chinese thus interpret their efforts to establish control over Korea, Taiwan and the countries of southeastern Asia as a gathering-in of the membra disjecta of the millenary Celestial Empire, less as the conquest of new than the recovery of ancient domains.
As for the world revolution and the new world of Communism, it would seem that whatever validity this program might have would depend on its ideological content. If neither Napoleon nor Hitler could dominate Europe, it can hardly be supposed that Soviet leaders-on the whole a sober and realistic lot-imagine it possible for the U.S.S.R. to control the entire world. The developments of recent years must suggest to them the difficulties of managing even the present Communist domain. No doubt the Soviet Union would feel more secure in an all-Communist world, just as the United States would in a world made safe for democracy. But as the Soviet Union grows in strength this consideration is bound to lose some of its importance. It is quite possible, in fact, that Marxism, already so largely overtaken by events, may in time lose not only its revolutionary fervor but also its incentive to world domination.
The end of European political domination in Africa and Asia does not alter the fact that the stamp of European ideas and institutions has now been put upon the whole world. Even the Soviet and Chinese Communists rely for their power upon Western technology and to a considerable extent upon the imitation of Western institutions. As for the newly liberated peoples, they have set themselves the same course. No doubt there are in all of them conservative and even reactionary elements which would like, if possible, to return to their traditional society. But in most countries the ruling group consists of men educated in Western schools and convinced that the future lies with the adoption of Western techniques. They have no intention whatever of reverting to pre-imperialist days. On the contrary, they want more and more of what imperialism brought them: greater productivity and a higher standard of living through industrialization; social improvements of every kind, and especially more and better education as a basis for democracy.
Their problems are many, and by no means exclusively economic. The transformation of assorted tribes into modern nations is in itself a stupendous undertaking. Besides, these new states are for the most part too weak militarily as well as economically to stand on their own feet. Their political independence therefore does not by any means imply complete independence. Because of their almost unlimited need for economic and technical assistance they are certainly in some danger of falling again under the influence if not the control of powerful advanced nations, be they Western or Communist.
They can find some insurance against such threats in the antagonism between the free world and Communism, which enables their leaders to play off one side against the other. They are bound to derive some protection also from the strong anti-imperialism that has come to pervade the entire free world and will probably become ever more deeply enrooted. Indeed, the new underdeveloped states will be fortunate if Western disillusionment with empire does not reach the point where it will obstruct seriously the aid programs without which many of the former colonies cannot hope to survive. Happily some progress is being made in the coördination of the economic efforts of the free world through the Organization for Economic Coöperation and Development. The Western world has so much greater an aid potential that it should be possible, with even a modicum of statesmanship, to maintain the connection of Europe and the United States with the erstwhile colonial world.
It is truly noteworthy that, for all the heat and rancor generated by anti- colonialism, so many liberated colonies have chosen to remain members of the British Commonwealth or the French Community. The enthusiastic reception accorded to Queen Elizabeth in India and Ghana provided occasions for the expression, on the part of their governments, of appreciation for the important contribution made by imperial rule. No doubt considerations of security have a significant bearing on the attitude of the former colonies, but it would seem that in the world at large the old-shall we say atavistic, aristocratic?-notion of domination and exploitation has given way to the concept of association and collaboration. Even in the Communist world it has become fashionable to speak of the "Socialist Commonwealth."
In bidding farewell to empire we cannot and must not suppose that human nature has undergone a sudden, radical change-that basic aggressive urges will disappear completely and that sweetness and light will soon prevail. The argument of this essay has been that fundamental drives lay behind imperial expansion; that European dynamism, combined with technological superiority, enabled the European nations to settle the largely unoccupied continents and to found European communities all over the globe. It permitted them also, in the sequel, to impose their rule over many peoples of old and highly developed, as well as of primitive, cultures. So marked was Europe's material power and so alluring its political and economic institutions that within a comparatively short span of time the stamp of European civilization was put upon the whole earth.
Europe's political domination is gone. Its cultural influence remains, and there is no likelihood that it will be supplanted in the foreseeable future. The new states, while still vociferously denouncing "colonialism," may genuinely fear that cultural influence will eventually change to economic control and so to some new form of political domination. The Soviet Government is already accusing the Common Market of being a new device by which the Western powers will attempt to keep the colonial world in an economically subordinate and undeveloped state. In this connection the importance of the erstwhile colonial areas as sources of raw materials for the industrialized nations remains a prominent consideration. But imperialism provided no real solution for this problem, while for the future more, it would seem, is to be hoped from coöperation than from domination and exploitation.
It is highly unlikely that the modern world will revert to the imperialism of the past. History has shown that the nameless fears which in the late nineteenth century led to the most violent outburst of expansionism were largely unwarranted. The Scandinavian states and Germany since Versailles have demonstrated that economic prosperity and social well-being are not dependent on the exploitation of other peoples, while better distribution of wealth in the advanced countries has reduced if not obviated whatever need there may have been to seek abroad a safety-valve for the pressures building up at home. Even in the field of defense, the old need for overseas bases or for the control of adjacent territories is rapidly being outrun.
It is often said that human nature does not change, but it is none the less true that it does undergo changes of attitude. With reference to imperialism it is certainly true that there has been over the past century a marked alteration of mood, reflecting greater sensitivity to human suffering and a greater readiness to assume responsibility for the weak and helpless. In our day, anti-imperialism runs as strong in the West as did imperialism a couple of generations ago. Domination and exploitation of weaker peoples by the stronger, which seemed altogether natural in the past, is now felt to be incompatible with the principles of freedom, equality and self-determination so generally accepted in modern societies. Imperialism has been on its way out since the beginning of the century and particularly since the First World War. Writing on imperialism in this very journal in the days when Mussolini was embarking on the conquest of Ethiopia, I ventured to disparage his undertaking and to describe him as being behind the times. The world, I opined, had outgrown the mentality of imperialism. I could not, of course, foresee that the edifice of colonialism would collapse so suddenly and so completely after the Second World War, but I suggested that if the tide of native resistance continued to rise, the abandonment of the colonies would soon become inevitable. To make this forecast did not require any particular prescience, but only recognition of the forces at work in modern society. At the present day the Soviet Union may still pose as the doughty opponent of a system that is already done for, but by maintaining its own imperial sway it is appearing more and more in the role of champion of an outworn and discredited system.
Imperialism's one great achievement was to open up all parts of the world and to set all humanity on the high road to eventual association and collaboration. In the process much has been lost of cultural value, but much also has been gained in the suppression of abuses, in the alleviation of suffering, and above all in the raising of the standard of living. The seamy sides of industrial society are familiar to us all, but it should never be overlooked that the machine age for the first time in history provided the common man with more than the requirements of the barest subsistence. This in itself has given human life a new dimension. It was perhaps the greatest of Europe's contributions to the world. Without the imperialist interlude it is difficult to see how the static, secluded, backward peoples of the globe could possibly have come to share in it. So much at least seems certain: without the period of European rule none of these peoples or states, not even India, would today be embarked on the course leading to a better and richer life.
[i] Klaus Knorr, "British Colonial Theories, 1570-1850." Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1944, p. 356 ff.
[ii] E. H. Norman, "The Genyosha: A Study in the Origins of Japanese Imperialism," Pacific Affairs, XVII, 1944, p. 261-284.
[iii] Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher, "Africa and the Victorians." New York: St. Martin's, 1961.
[iv] Jean Stengers, "Combien le Congo a-t-il coûté à la Belgique?" Brussels: Académic royale des sciences coloniales, 1957.
[v] Henri Brunschwig, "Mythes et réalités de l'impérialisme colonial français." Paris: A. Colin, 1960.