World History: Factors Driving Colonialism and New Imperialism

The important driving factors of colonialism and new imperialism are discussed below:

Industrial Revolution
  • As European nations industrialized, they searched for new markets and raw materials to improve their economies.
  • As the competition for colonies intensified, each country was determined to plant its flag on as much of the world as possible.
Social Darwinism
  • In the Social Darwinism theory, the ideas of Charles Darwin about evolution and “survival of the fittest” were applied to social change.
  • Those who were fittest for survival enjoyed wealth and success and were considered superior to others. The non-Europeans were considered to be on a lower scale of cultural and physical development because they did not have the technology that Europeans had.
  • Europeans also believed that they had the right and the duty to bring the results of their progress to other countries.
Decline of Mercantilism
  • The mercantile theory which laid that ‘colonies where beneficial and necessary to the mother country’ was gradually losing its appeal on account of the sharp criticisms directed against it by economist like Adam smith, who stood for the new economic theory  of laissez-faire.
  • With the growth of the free trade movement, the very foundation and utility of the old colonial policy based on mercantilism, was undermined. People began to lose faith in the value of colonies.
  • But as the century progressed, several focuses were found at work, which created a new impetus for colonial expansion. This revival of imperialism (the new imperialism as it is called) was largely the product of the new economic conditions brought into being by the industrial revolution.
Technological Advancements
  • Transport communication was greatly improved due to the brilliant triumphs of modern science and engineering. The consequence was that the conquest and occupation of distant land became infinitely more feasible.
  • The requirements of modern industries led to enormously increased demands for raw tropical products. Thus, it enhanced the value of colonies as sources of suppose.
  • The new weapons such as Maxim Gun proved vital in expansion of European powers in Africa.
Population Pressure
  • Expanding population was an important reason for which new colonies were required. Economic distress and periodical recurrence of unemployment forced people to find new homes and careers abroad.
Surplus Capital
  • Surplus capital required investment in newly opened up countries where greater returns could not be easy. Therefore, this sort of economic penetration was often the forerunner of political control as in the case of Egypt and Morocco etc.
Political and Military factors
  • As the temper of the age grew more militartic, the nations of Europe came to realise that the colonies might have also a military value.
  • During the 19th century, thousands of emigrants left Europe for Argentina, America, Brazil and other countries. This meant the passing away of so many citizens under an alien flag and the consequent loss of the military manhood of a nation. Hence to conserve the man-power of a nation it was found necessary to have colonies where the emigrants might remain under the allegiance of the mother country.
National honour and prestige
  • The spirit of national pride and desire for prestige supplied a very strong incentive to colonial expansion. This spirit was especially strong in the two new states of Italy and Germany.
  • British proudly said that sun never sets in British Empire.
Role of Christian missionaries
  • The missionaries often led the way for the merchants and then for the military penetration and occupation in Africa and in the islands of the south sea.

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