Imperialism and colonialism are two different but closely related terms. Some historians have put it simply by laying the view that imperialism gave birth to colonialism, clarifying the substantial relationship between the two. Nevertheless, both imperialism and colonialism demonstrates a country’s supremacy, power and influence over weaker nations. The imposition of dominion over other nations was often encouraged by diverse motivational factors that included economic, political as well as the religious motives. There are contrasting views concerning the effect of both to the rest of the world; while some claimed of the adverse effects to third world countries, still others supported the notion that imperialism helped in the development and progression of colonized nations.
In his book The Economics of Resentment: Colonialism and Underdevelopment, Peter Bauer opposed the influential notion in the West that the colonialism was responsible for the regression and poverty in the third world countries. According to Bauer, this concept was being spread by vocal groups in the West, but he expressed doubt on whether the people from poor countries share on these sentiments (Bauer 1969, 51). He argued that the West did not cause poverty in the third world countries and consequently presented facts showing how some of the previously colonized nations improved their economy after colonization (Bauer 1969, 52-54). In fact, Bauer claimed that the West has positively influenced its previous colonies by bringing growth to the underdeveloped countries ranging from intellectual, political, administrative as well as material progresses (Bauer 1969, 52-54).
But the rapid progress in these countries was faced with other struggles such as “personal, social, and political difficulties of adjustment to rapid change, especially the adjustment of attitudes and of social institutions” (Bauer 1969, 55). These struggles however, do not mean a regressive and unproductivity effect of colonization but mere signs of the difficulties faced by newly liberalized nations who have to contend with rapid changes. Further, Bauer clarified that most regions in African and Asia that were never colonized were among the most backward in terms of material progress. The popularity of the idea that the West caused the poverty of most colonies was promoted by well-known individuals, causing the seeming truthfulness of their claims. For instance, Lenin who was influential in both sides of the world authored the Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, suggested how external exploitation has negatively affected the underdeveloped countries. Other well-known authors supported his claim but it remains that these claims are only motivated by political agenda.
The negative portrayal of imperialism by influential people such as Lenin resulted to the idea that imperialism and colonialism is evil in itself. However, Robert Kaplan claimed that imperialism as exemplified by the history of the British Empire has caused the provision of an immense frame of stability brought by the growth in rail communications among other improvements. Through the imperialistic approach of Britain during the 19th and 20th century, several developments were made on their colonies and these were further improved by the presence of American influence through their large naval and air presence (Kaplan 2014). Other earlier empires resulted “to more peace and stability than the United Nations ever has or probably ever could” (Kaplan, 2014). Kaplan noted the stand of the current U.S administration in its seeming exhaustion to world affairs and argued that this is a more preferable strategy, for the United States to be involved in world affairs to a limited scope and may interfere only when its national interest is threatened. Kaplan suggested that the debate that the Americans should be having is on whether the foreign policy of the United States is sustainable (Kaplan 2014).
In his article, Kaplan claimed imperialism is not evil and on its downside is in being a costly and difficult approach for a nation such as the United States (Kaplan 2014). Throughout history, numerous empires collapsed due to the expensive and burdensome duties to imperial territories. This truth is in support of the assertion of Bauer in his The Economics, where he argued that the whatever material development that has been realized in underdeveloped world was mainly introduced and encouraged by the West, which brought the human and financial means that are not available locally, and stimulated the needed adaptations “in attitudes, beliefs, motivations and institutions” (Bauer 1969, 71).
In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis presented a contrasting view about imperialism and colonialism. In his book, the author offered an examination on the droughts and famines that was often attributed by many to the adverse effect of the El Nino during the last quarter of 19th century. He argued that the cause of the terrible drought and famine in India, some parts of China and Brazil were not solely attributed to natural causes but also of the added superiority and selfishness of high imperialism. In contrast to what Bauer discussed in his The Economics, Davis has strongly thought otherwise. While the former opposed the view that imperialism had caused the extreme poverty in the colonized regions, the latter supported it and he presented several instances in his book. Davis claimed that Chinese were resilient and productive people, and it was needless for them to have experience the great famine had it not been for the selfish motive of Great Britain. For example, he cited how the skilful leadership of Fang Guancheng were able to employ precautionary measures even before the occurrence of disasters.
In part of four of The Late Victorian, Davis argued on how the pre-colonial government in India, China and Brazil were well equipped against adversities such as famine. He indicated that Guancheng, who was committed to agricultural intensification, even inscribed a manual showing the organized principles of planning and relief management, a system that little was known in backward European institution (Davis 2001, 51). Davis fastidiously investigated into historical proofs in coming up with interesting evidence that showed how pre-colonial Brazil, China and India have higher standards of living than majority of people during the 18th century (Davis 2001, 52). With this evidence at hand, Davis contradicts how Bauer talked about colonizers bringing developments to underdeveloped countries.
In his article, Kaplan talked about how imperialism being good and not evil. However, this is contradicted by the instances as shown by Davis depicting imperialism as an evil and selfish act. There is an extremely great number of death and too much poverty that has been caused by the military involvement of Great Britain in the peaceful culture of these people. The case of India revealed how the evil and selfish intent of imperialism can destroy a nation. India had always been depicted in British history as impoverished and having no economic development from 1757 to 1947 (Davis 2001, 63). By imposing tis power over India, Great Britain was able to control most of its economic activities. Vast landowners were stripped of their rights by presenting alternative land systems to the locals, but “in reality the government became the supreme landlord” (Davis 2001, 64). The reengineering system introduced by Great Britain in India actually benefitted only a few. For example, the collection of taxes were given to a controlling few such as the moneylenders and grain merchants who, in turn come to be the central intercessors directing nearly all dealings from Calcutta and Manchester (Davis 2001, 64).
In the Late Victorian Holocausts, Davis emphasized how Great Britain caused famine in India. For instance, he described Curzon, the viceroy to India from 199 to 1905 as “the architect of a brilliantly organized crime” (Davis, 164). Despite the struggles of the Indian people with famine, he led a policy to cut back on ration and stiffened the requirements on the eligibility for relief. One American missionary noted how grain traders gained large profits while millions die in starvation (Davis, 170). Curzon’s policy was a mere duplicate of those came before him, for instance, viceroy Lytton on 1877 was unmoved by the desperate condition of the people of India (Davis, 48). The severe famine in India did nothing to bother the conscience of the British representatives and this event added to the concept that Imperialism is evil as opposed to the claims of Kaplan to the goodness it has brought to the developing nations.
With the historically proven adverse effect of imperialism, one can say that Davis was right in citing that imperialism has caused the horrific famine and poverty in India, China and Brazil. Though these regions were affected by the climatic change that resulted to the wide ranging agricultural failure, it was the self-seeking interest of high imperialism that brought the destruction. The colonist did not only deal with the natural disaster, but they have to struggle with the destructive systems promulgated by a superior colonizer.
There are differing opinions about the effect of imperialism to the rest of the world. Some scholars proved their claims by rationalizing with the improvements that have come to former colonized regions, while others delved into history and present their arguments with historical facts. While the author’s views presented in this paper have their own merit, one can only rationalized that indeed imperialism has brought good and evil effect to the world.
Bauer, Peter. The Economics of Resentment: Colonialism and Underdevelopment. Journal of Contemporary History. Vol. 4 No. 1. 1969. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/259791
Davis, Mike. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World. New York. 2001
Kaplan, Robert. In Defense of an Empire. 2014. Retrieved from http://www. theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/04/in-defense-of-empire/358645/