Derived from the Latin verb imperare, which means to command, imperialism is the policies or system of a government exacting a policy of extending its rule or authority over other nation(s), whether directly, through territorial acquisition, or indirectly, through gaining control of political, economic, religious or cultural aspects of life. It is the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations. The dominant country typically subordinates the weaker in an unequal relationship.
The term imperialism was first used in the early 19th century in discussion of Napoleon, Rome and British foreign policy. Religious and cultural imperialism are experienced when a dominant country's influence is felt in the Church and in cultural and social circles, such as when foreign music becomes popular with younger people.
Colonialism is often confused with imperialism, but there is a distinct difference. Colonialism is the implanting of settlements in a foreign territory for commercial or other reasons, whereas imperialism is a state policy that operates with government restrictions. The land and the people are used to developed financial advancements as well as for ideological reasons.
During the 1870s, imperialism became considered a necessity by some countries. As they came to need more land for growing populations they started taking over weaker nations by influencing them politically as well as religiously. The power countries would often also colonize them so they could expand their own worth and influence.
Imperialist practices have, of course, existed for thousands of years but the "Age of Imperialism" is the term used to describe the 19th and 20th centuries when nations like France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Japan and Italy attempted to exploit weaker countries in order to reap economic benefits. Often they were colonized and absorbed into the political structure of established countries so the natural resources of those small nations could be used to enhance the wealth of the imperialistic nation.
But economic profit was not always the result of the Age of Imperialism. Nations in Africa and Asia were not the best places to colonize for a variety of health and social reasons, and their raw materials were not always the best due to the climate and the lack of a manufacturing base. The intention was to transform these colonies into manufacturing states so the stronger country could import and export those materials and products for financial gain.
Communist imperialism was one of the focal points in early 20th century history. Bolshevik leaders established a Romanov empire by 1921, and the roots of imperialism continued to grow up to and after the Second World War. The Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China took advantage and tried to harness as many colonies as possible in order to increase their power and influence, not always successfully.
The United States became the 'world's policeman' during the 20th century. The political machine within the US exerted tremendous power through financial means, usually executed behind the scenes, often quietly in the form of financial and military aid with a high repayment price attached.
Attempts to justify imperialism have been made through the centuries as a necessary means to expand political rule as well as to increase the economic growth of both the colony and the imperialist. "Directed history" offers imperialism in light of the "White Man's Burden," or a religious calling to help others, presented as the seductive meme that the empire is "helping" in some way the "poor people" in "lesser nations." In this age of the Internet Reformation, however, many of the often devastating effects of such "help" have come to light, as well as the costs to citizens of the empires.
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