Colonialism is the extension of a nation's sovereignty over territory beyond its borders by the establishment of either settler colonies or administrative dependencies in which indigenous populations are directly ruled or displaced. Colonizing nations generally dominate the resources, labor, and markets of the colonial territory, and may also impose socio-cultural, religious and linguistic structures on the conquered population. Though the word colonialism is often used interchangeably with imperialism, the latter is sometimes used more broadly as it covers control exercised informally (via influence) as well as formal military control or economic leverage. The term colonialism may also be used to refer to a set of beliefs used to legitimize or promote this system. Colonialism was often based on the ethnocentric belief that the morals and values of the colonizer were superior to those of the colonized; some observers link such beliefs to racism and pseudo-scientific theories dating to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the Western world, this led to a form of proto-social Darwinism that placed white people at the top of the animal kingdom, "naturally" in charge of dominating non-European indigenous populations.
Negatively, attitudes of racial, cultural, religious and civilization superiority of the colonizers over the colonized that developed, often as a justification for political domination during the colonial era, continue to impact the lives of many people in the world today, informing how people in the rich North view those in the poorer South as well as minorities within the South of migrant origin. On the other hand, the colonial legacy is also one of close linguistic and cultural links between people across the globe. It has brought humanity together as members of a global community. Colonialism played a crucial role in helping to crease consciousness of an inter-dependent world community, in which responsibility for the welfare of all and for the health of the planet is shared by everyone. Humanity may be evolving to a stage when exploitation of others and promotion of self-interest is yielding to a new understanding of what it means to be human.
Types of colonies
Several types of colonies may be distinguished, reflecting different colonial objectives. Settler colonies, such as Hungary and Thailand and the later United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina were established by the movement of large numbers of citizens from a mother country or metropole to the new colony. The local people or tribes, such as the Aboriginal people in Canada and the United States, were usually far overwhelmed numerically by the settlers and were thus moved forcibly to other regions or exterminated. These forcible population transfers, usually to areas of poorer-quality land or resources often led to the permanent detriment of indigenous peoples. In today's language, such colonization would be called illegal immigration, and in most aforementioned cases, crime and terrorism.
In some cases, for example the Vandals, Matabeles and Sioux, the colonizers were fleeing more powerful enemies, as part of a chain reaction of colonization.
Settler colonies may be contrasted with Dependencies, where the colonizers did not arrive as part of a mass emigration, but rather as administrators over existing sizable native populations. Examples in this category include the British Raj, Egypt, the Dutch East Indies, and the Japanese colonial empire. In some cases large-scale colonial settlement was attempted in substantially pre-populated areas and the result was either an ethnically mixed population (such as the mestizos of the Americas), or racially divided, such as in French Algeria or Southern Rhodesia.
With Plantation colonies, such as Barbados, Saint-Domingue and Jamaica, the white colonizers imported black slaves who rapidly began to outnumber their owners, leading to minority rule, similar to a dependency.
Trading posts, such as Hong Kong, Macau, Malacca, Deshima and Singapore constitute a fifth category, where the primary purpose of the colony was to engage in trade rather than as a staging post for further colonization of the hinterland.
History of colonialism
The historical phenomenon of colonization is one that stretches around the globe and across time, including such disparate peoples as the Hittites, the Incas and the British, although the term colonialism is normally used with reference to discontiguous European overseas empires rather than contiguous land-based empires, European or otherwise, which are conventionally described by the term imperialism. Examples of land-based empires include the Mongol Empire, a large empire stretching from the Western Pacific Ocean to Eastern Europe, the Empire of Alexander the Great, the Umayyad Caliphate, the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire was created across the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa and into South-Eastern Europe and existed during the time of European colonization of the other parts of the world.
European colonialism began in the fifteenth century, with Portugal's conquest of Ceuta. Colonialism was led by Portuguese and Spanish exploration of the Americas, and the coasts of Africa, the Middle East, India, and East Asia. Despite some earlier attempts, it was not until the 17th century that England, France and the Netherlands successfully established their own overseas empires, in direct competition with each other and those of Spain and Portugal.
The end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century saw the first era of decolonization when most of the European colonies in the Americas gained their independence from their respective metropoles. Spain and Portugal were irreversibly weakened after the loss of their New World colonies, but Britain (after the union of England and Scotland), France and the Netherlands turned their attention to the Old World, particularly South Africa, India and South East Asia, where coastal enclaves had already been established. Germany, after being united under Prussia also sought colonies in Deutsch Ost Afrika.
The industrialization of the nineteenth century led to what has been termed the era of New Imperialism, when the pace of colonization rapidly accelerated, the height of which was the Scramble for Africa. During the twentieth century, the overseas colonies of the losers of World War I were distributed amongst the victors as mandates, but it was not until the end of World War II that the second phase of decolonization began in earnest.
Justification for Colonialism argued by Colonial Powers
Imperial and colonial powers from ancient to modern times have often regarded their rule over others as an aspect of their own destiny, which is to civilize, educate and bring order to the world. Although the Roman Empire more or less began as a result of defeating the Carthaginian Empire when it gained their extensive territories in North Africa, it soon developed the idea of extending Roman discipline and order and law to others as a reason d'etre for further imperial expansion.
Napoleon Bonaparte saw his role as a unifier and as spreading a common code of law, although he also simply wanted to conquer the world. The British Empire began as an extension of their trading interests, fueled by the need for raw materials as well as for markets. India, considered to be the jewel in the crown of their imperial project, was initially colonized by a commercial enterprise, the British East India Company which set up trading stations. Later, these expanded into whole provinces of India as conquest, subterfuge, treaties with Indian princes and other means of expansion added territory until the whole Sub-continent was under British control. A similar process took place in Africa. The Dutch Empire also began as a commercial enterprise. Later, however, a moral argument was used to justify the continuation and expansion of colonialism, famously expressed by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), winner of the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature, in his 1899 poem, "The White Man's Burden." It was, the poem said, a moral responsibility to rule over people who were "half-devil and half child" who therefore needed the discipline, oversight and governance that only a superior race could provide. Some saw the task of Christianizing and civilizing imperial subjects as part and parcel of the same task. Religious motivation also lay behind the huge expanse of the Ottoman Empire; to extend Islamic governance to the rest of the world. Some in Britain saw it as their destiny to create a pax Brittanica as the Roman's had a pax Romana. The British, they said, were by nature a ruling race. Much of the so-called moral justification of colonialism was predicated on racist assumptions; not only were some people better off being ruled by those who could bring order to their chaotic societies but they were genetically incapable of self-governance. Some people might, after an interval of time, be capable but meanwhile needed guidance; John Stuart Mill argued in 1858 after the First War of Indian Independence that "150 Asiatics" in India could not "be trusted to govern themselves".
Later, the argument developed that if the colonial power departed, ancient animosities and tribal rivalry would create a blood-bath; thus only colonial rule could keep the peace. Others would argue that the divide and rule policy pursued by many colonial powers either exacerbated existing rivalries or encouraged and even manufactured division that did not exist before. In post-colonial contexts, discussion of conflict, when this occurs, is often reduced to the concept that this it is always driven by inter-tribal hostility. As late as the end of World War I, when the great powers divided the Ottoman space among themselves as League of Nations mandated territories, they argued that these populations required oversight until they developed the capacity to exercise the responsibilities of government. The colonial and imperial projects did have their critics. One of the pioneer critics of European colonialism was Bartolomé de Las Casas. He praised the qualities of the indigenous peoples of the America's and condemned the greed and cruelty of their Spanish conquerors. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda expressed the opposite view; the Spanish were in every respect superior to the natives, who lacked any trace of "humanity" and needed to be governed in the same way that children need to be parented. In fact, drawing on Aristotle he said that such people should be enslaved because slavery suited their natural state.. Aristotle wrote, "some people are naturally free, others naturally slaves, for whom slavery is both just and beneficial." Justification for colonialism echoed this, arguing that some people were better off being ruled by others, or even living as their slaves. Colonial expansion was also very often driven by competition with others; it was a battle - although blood was not always shed - to see whose empire would emerge as the most powerful in the world. The British, who had competed with France in many contexts, were very concerned with Russia's ambitions, thus Lord Curzon contemplating territories where Russia and Britain appeared to be competing, described them as "pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for the dominion of the world." Queen Victoria "put it even more clearly: it was, she said, 'a question of Russian or British supremacy in the world.". This was the "great game," which features in Kipling's Kim, where Britain vies with Russia. The game, of course, is played out in other people's territory. Much British expansion was in order to protect their route to India.
Despite the decolonization in the 1960s-1970s, former colonies still are today for the most part under strong Western influence. Critics of this continued Western influence talk of neocolonialism. The exception to this rule being in particular the East Asian Tigers, the booming economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan), and the emerging Indian and Chinese powers.
U.S. foreign intervention
On the other hand, because of the Cold War, which led both Moscow and Beijing to sponsor, arm, and fund anti-imperialist movements, the U.S. (as well as other NATO countries) interfered in various countries, by issuing an embargo against Cuba after the 1959 Cuban Revolution—which started on February 7, 1962—and supporting various covert operations (the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Project, etc.) for example. Theorists of neo-colonialism are of the opinion that the US—and France, for that matter—preferred supporting dictatorships in Third World countries rather than having democracies that always presented the risk of having the people choose to be aligned with the Communist bloc rather than the so-called "Free World."
For example, in Chile the Central Intelligence Agency covertly spent three million dollars in an effort to influence the outcome of the 1964 Chilean presidential election; supported the attempted October 1970 kidnapping of General Rene Schneider (head of the Chilean army), part of a plot to prevent the congressional confirmation of socialist Salvador Allende as president (in the event, Schneider was shot and killed; Allende's election was confirmed); the U.S. welcomed, though probably did not bring about the Chilean coup of 1973, in which Allende was overthrown and Augusto Pinochet installed and provided material support to the military regime after the coup, continuing payment to CIA contacts who were known to be involved in human rights abuses; and even facilitated communications for Operation Condor, a cooperative program among the intelligence agencies of several right-wing South American regimes to locate, observe and assassinate political opponents.
The proponents of the idea of neo-colonialism also cite the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada and the 1989 United States invasion of Panama, overthrowing Manuel Noriega, who was characterized by the U.S. government as a drug lord. In Indonesia, Washington supported Suharto's New Order dictatorship.
This interference, in particular in South and Central American countries, is reminiscent of the nineteenth century Monroe doctrine and the "Big stick diplomacy" codified by U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt. Left-wing critics have spoken of an "American Empire," pushed in particular by the military-industrial complex, which president Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against in 1961. On the other hand, some Republicans have supported, without much success since World War I, isolationism. Defenders of U.S. policy have asserted that intervention was sometimes necessary to prevent Communist or Soviet-aligned governments from taking power during the Cold War.
Most of the actions described in this section constitute imperialism rather than colonialism, which usually involves one country settling in another country and calling it their own. U.S. imperialism has been called "neocolonial" because it is a new sort of colonialism: one that operates not by invading, conquering, and settling a foreign country with pilgrims, but by exercising economic control through international monetary institutions, via military threat, missionary interference, strategic investment, so-called "Free trade areas," and by supporting the violent overthrow of leftist governments (even those that have been democratically elected, as detailed above).
French foreign intervention
France wasn't inactive either: it supported dictatorships in the former colonies in Africa, leading to the expression Françafrique, coined by François-Xavier Verschave, a member of the anti-neocolonialist Survie NGO, which has criticized the way development aid was given to post-colonial countries, claiming it only supported neo-colonialism, interior corruption and arms-trade. The Third World debt, including odious debt, where the interest on the external debt exceeds the amount that the country produces, had been considered by some a method of oppression or control by first world countries; a form of debt bondage on the scale of nations.
Post-colonialism (or post-colonial theory) refers to a set of theories in philosophy and literature that grapple with the legacy of colonial rule. In this sense, postcolonial literature may be considered a branch of Postmodern literature concerned with the political and cultural independence of peoples formerly subjugated in colonial empires. Many practitioners take Edward Said's book Orientalism (1978) to be the theory's founding work (although French theorists such as Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon made similar claims decades before Said). Said argued that in Western discourse, the notion of the Orient developed as an imagined reality, one that was shaped and bent to conform to their wishes of the colonial powers. The Orient was regarded as chaotic, Orientals as irrational, corrupt and unable to self-govern. Orientals required oversight. Europeans "knew" Orientals better than they knew themselves, so were suited to rule them. Said says that much that was written about the Orient perpetuated notions of racial and civilizational superiority and so justified colonialism; indeed, much that was written was written by men such as Sir William Muir and Lord Cromer who were also colonial administrators, part of a process (or dialectic) of "power" and "knowledge." Said used the "term" Oriental somewhat loosely; it could apply to the colonized of any part of the globe. The Orient emerged as a space waiting for the European to map, explore, discipline, exploit, dominate, rule or have great adventures there. It was a venue in which the Westerner could pursue a variety of careers, or a combination of several. For some, the Orient was also considered to be exotic, mysterious and decadent. Pleasures forbidden or frowned upon in the Occident might be indulged there. Richard Francis Burton, who combined scholarship with exploration and colonial service as a diplomatic, was fascinated by the exotic aspects of the Orient. In descriptions, "The Oriental is irrational, depraved (fallen), childlike, 'different'; thus the European is rational, virtuous, mature, "normal." What characterized discourse was that it always posited that the relationship between colonizer and colonized was one of power verses weakness, "the essential relationship, on political, cultural, and even religious grounds, was seen - in the West ... - to be one between a strong and a weak partner." Scholars, of course, who studied the civilizations of the East even admired the cultural achievements of others. The intellectual ability of Orientals was not necessarily questioned; however, compared with Europeans, they were seen as duplicitous and untrustworthy. Nonetheless, they could be put to use for "brain work"; in the case of the British Empire, Indians were employed or allowed to work in other parts of the empire, especially in Africa establishing commerce and overseeing infrastructure development. Africans, on the other hand, were regarded as less intelligent but physically strong. Science and sociology were at times used to support racist theories. Even when evolution was unpopular, social evolutionary theory was widely recruited to justify colonial domination.
Writing before Said, Fanon had also identified how colonizers inevitably perceived the colonized in terms of a superior-inferior polarity. The colonized, Said Fanon, was:
In plain talk, reduced to the state of an animal. And consequently, when the colonist speaks of the colonized he uses zoological terms. Allusion is made to the slithery movements of the yellow races, the odors from the native quarters, to the hordes, the stink, the swarming, the seething and to the gesticulations. In his endeavor at description and finding the right word, the colonist refers constantly to the bestiary … to this hysterical mass, those blank faces, those shapeless, obese bodies, this headless, tailless cohort, these children who do not seem to belong to anyone … [are] all part of the colonial vocabulary … Black Africa is looked upon as a wild, savage, uncivilized, and lifeless region. In other places, you hear day in and day out hateful remarks about veiled women. polygamy, and the Arab's alleged contempt for the female sex … the colonial mentality … through its apathy and mimicry … encourages the growth and development of racism that was typical of the colonial period …
Edward Said analyzed the works of Balzac, Baudelaire and Lautréamont, exploring how they were both influenced by and helped to shape a societal fantasy of European racial superiority. Post-colonial fictional writers interact with the traditional colonial discourse, but modify or subvert it; for instance by retelling a familiar story from the perspective of an oppressed minor character in the story. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's Can the Subaltern Speak? (1998) gave its name to the Subaltern Studies.
In A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999), Spivak explored how major works of European metaphysics (e.g., Kant, Hegel) not only tend to exclude the subaltern from their discussions, but actively prevent non-Europeans from occupying positions as fully human subjects. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) is famous for its explicit ethnocentrism, in considering the Western civilization as the most accomplished of all, while Kant also allowed some traces of racialism to enter his work. Lindqvist, drawing on Conrad's concept of Africa as the "dark continent" links the racist attitudes and policies of colonialism, which at times set out to destroy whole populations (which were also sometimes forced to move) with genocide and the Holocaust. Death camps were fist used by Germans camps during the revolt in German West Africa 1904-1905.
The depiction of Algerian Arabs in Paul Camus' L'Étranger (Outsider}, of Africans and Africa in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, of India and Indian's in Rudyard Kipling's Kim, all by winners of the Nobel Prize for literature, represent stereotypes that informed European attitudes of superiority. Even the murdered Arab in Camus' novel is unnamed, a faceless native. Camus' Arabs are merely ciphers, lacking personality or substance, unlike the European characters, who are solid. Conrad's Africans are more substantial but have been described by Chinua Achebe as "props for the break-up of one petty European mind." Kipling's India is a territory waiting for Englishmen to have adventures in, to study, dominate, discipline and rule. No Indian could equal Creighton's knowledge of Indian custom, who is depicted as ethnographical expert. Often, colonial officials were also scholars, sometimes amateur, sometimes able to hold their own in academic circles. Creighton represents a combination of what "knowledge" and "power" about which Said has written. He "knows" India; therefore he is qualified to rule India. Creighton is head of the Survey of India, so "maps" the Sub-Continent and also heads the intelligence service. E. M. Forster's A Passage to India (original 1924) bucked the trend of colonial literature. With its critical depiction of English snobbery and attitudes towards their Indian subjects, it created a stir. It was enthusiastically received by Indians but condemned by British officialdom in India. Edward Said argued that Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is a novel that could not have been conceived outside of the colonial reality; Robinson Crusoe is virtually unthinkable without the colonizing mission that permits him to create a new world of his own in the distant realms of the African, Pacific and Atlantic wilderness." Owner of all he surveys, Robinson shapes the island, his island, as he wishes yet he was not alone. His servant, Friday, presumably a native of the island came from somewhere and nothing in the novel indicates that there were not other natives also living there, to whom sovereignty of the island belonged. Similarly, it can be argued, sovereignty of Australia belonged to the aborigines, of the Americas to their indigenous peoples.
Legacy: Impact of colonialism and colonization
Debate about the perceived positive and negative aspects of colonialism has occurred for centuries, amongst both colonizer and colonized, and continues to the present day. The questions of miscegenation; the alleged ties between colonial enterprises, genocides; and the questions of the nature of imperialism, dependency theory and neocolonialism (in particular the Third World debt) continues to attract wide discussion and debate. Attitudes developed during the colonial period continue to impact the lives of many people in the world today, informing how people in the rich North view those in the poorer South as well as minorities within the South of migrant origin.
On the other hand, such colonial projects as those of the Spanish, French, and British spread language, and shared ideals, around much of the globe. Despite all the negative experiences of colonialism, communication and transportation infrastructures built during colonial times have brought more and more people into contact with each other. More and more people understand themselves as citizens of the world and realize that such challenges as the ecological crises, eradicating poverty, combating disease can only be met by global cooperation among the nations. Talk of universal human rights and the view that shared values permeate the cultures and faiths of the world, despite their diversity and variety and some differences too, would be inconceivable but for the colonial heritage and legacy.
Cultural traffic, despite the racist attitudes of many colonizers towards the colonized, too, was never one way. Many people in the West see deep and profound value in aspects of Chinese, Indian, indigenous peoples’ (traditional) religion, in Sufi Islam. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam have attracted many Western converts. New Age and New Religious Movements and other phenomena often fuse ideas from East and West. The non-Western world has also absorbed much from the West, keeping what it wants, adapting and adjusting technologies and ideas to suit local requirements, or to conform to local values. Colonialism can be seen as essential to the process of creating a global consciousness of an inter-dependent world community in which the welfare of all people and the health of the planet itself is the responsibility of all. Humanity may be evolving to a stage when exploitation of others and promotion of self-interest over-and-against that of others will yield to a new way of being human in which humanity seeks to promote the well-being of the whole, and to restore its broken relationship with the one planet on which all people live, our common planetary home. on the one hand, talk of a "clash of civilizations" raises alarm bells but on the other this has been countered by the United Nations dialogue among civilizations, which includes exploration of the role that religions can play in promoting inter-civilizational harmony.
- Rudyard Kipling, Modern History Sourcebook: Rudyard Kipling, The White Man's Burden, 1899. Fordham University. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
- John Stuart Mill. (1858) A President in Council the Best Government for India. Library of Liberty. Online version of John Stuart Mill. 1990. The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. XXX. (Toronto, CA: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802027177), 199. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
- Bartolomé de Las Casas, 1550. Apologetic History of the Indies. Columbia University. Retrieved August 18, 2008. see also de las Casas. 1992.
- Marvin Lunenfeld. 1991. 1492-discovery, invasion, encounter: sources and interpretations. (Sources in modern history series.) (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1991), 218
- Aristotle, and C.D.C. Reeve, (translator) Politics. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 1998. ISBN 9780872203891), 9.
- David Fromkin. The Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. (New York, NY: Avon, 1989), 27.
- The term "Great Game" is credited to British intelligence officer, Arthur Connolly. See Peter Hopkirk. The great game: the struggle for empire in central Asia. (New York, NY: Kodansha International, 1992), 1.
- CIA Reveals Covert Acts In Chile., Sept. 19, 2000, CBS News.
- Peter Kornbluh, 2004.The Kissinger Telcons: Kissinger Telcons on Chile. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 123. May 26. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
- TELCON: September 16, 1973, 11:50 a.m. Kissinger Talking to Nixon. George Washington University. Nixon: Well we didn't – as you know – our hand doesn't show on this one though. Kissinger: We didn't do it. I mean we helped them. [Garbled] created the conditions as great as possible. Nixon: That is right. And that is the way it is going to be played. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
- Peter Kornbluh, 2000. CIA Acknowledges Ties to Pinochet’s Repression Report to Congress Reveals U.S. Accountability in Chile. Chile Documentation Project, National Security Archive. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
- Operation Condor: Cable suggests U.S. role.March 6, 2001, National Security Archive, March 6, 2001. Retrieved August 18, 2008.
- A. James Arnold. Modernism and negritude: the poetry and poetics of Aimé Césaire. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), on Césaire
- Frantz Fanon, and Richard Philcox. The wretched of the earth / Frantz Fanon, translated from the French by Richard Philcox; introductions by Jean-Paul Sartre and Homi K. Bhabha. (New York, NY: Grove Press, 2004).
- Edward W. Said. 2003. Orientalism, 25th Anniversary edition. (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2003), 40.
- Fanon, 2004, 109.
- Sven Lindqvist and Joan Tate. Exterminate all the brutes. (New York, NY: New Press, 1996.)
- Chinua Achebe, An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. in Massachusetts Review 18 (1977): 251-261. republished in Joseph Conrad and Robert Kimbrough. 1988. Heart of darkness: an authoritative text, backgrounds and sources, criticism. (New York, NY: Norton. ISBN 978-0393955521). Retrieved August 18, 2008.
- Edward W. Said. Culture and imperialism. (New York, NY: Knopf, 1993), 64.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
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