What is Imperialism & What are Reasons for Imperialism?

What is Imperialism & What are Reasons for Imperialism?

A basic definition of economic imperialism is the export of capital from one country to another. In order to arrive at a more substantive general definition than this, considerable challenges must be overcome. This is because the very meaning of the term is in great measure dependent upon the particular theoretical framework in which it is employed.

All frameworks examine at least the causes and consequences of capital exports, though they differ in how they define these. Because of these differences in purported causes and consequences, a more comprehensive definition seems impossible.

As well as claiming that political imperialism serves economic imperialism, imperialism theorists also differ in their views of the former. This has implications for an account of imperialism that takes a moral view. A general account of the morality of imperialism would be insensitive to some of the particularities (causes and consequences) of the chief empirical theories.

Reasons for Imperialism

Imperialism has its roots in the following causes.

Industrial revolution

The industrial revolution in European countries resulted in a great increase in production. They could not find a market in Europe as they followed the “Protective Trade Policy”. Furthermore, capitalism lowered the purchasing power of the people. It also brought about great progress in the means of transport and communication. Telegraphs connected the world and shortened great distances.

The development of railways greatly facilitated the movement of goods between colonies and the mother country. It was therefore easier to transport raw materials as well as finished goods to the interior parts of the colonies in Asia and Africa.

National security

Colonialism was instigated by the sense of national security and self-sufficiency among European political groups. Business interests or some other interest influenced the Presidents or Prime Ministers to work for colonial imperialism.


Late in the 19th Century, Europe was characterized by extreme nationalistic ideals. Many nations developed pride over their race, culture, and language and started feeling superior to other countries. They believed that acquiring colonies would increase their prestige.

Imperialism became the fashion of the age. The Europeans felt that it was the ‘white man’s burden to civilize the backward and uncivilized native people of African and Asia.

Balance of Power

One of the driving factors was the concept of balance of power. The European nations had to acquire new colonies in order to maintain a balance with their neighbors and competitors.

Discovery of new routes

The discovery of new routes on the African and Asian continents encouraged imperialism. The discovery of sea routes paved the way for traders and soldiers to exploit the abundant wealth of the countries.

Growth of population

Population growth caused unemployment, which drove many Europeans to emigrate in search of new lands and career opportunities abroad.

State of Anarchy

Before the First World War, there was no international organization to enact and enforce laws to maintain peace and security among nations. A state of anarchy facilitated colonialism.

The final cause of the Age of Imperialism was the competitive nature of the major western nations and their desire to gain prestige over one another. The concept of prestige refers to how each of the European nations viewed themselves or their reputation in relation to each other. The European nations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were competitive and had rivalries that dated back centuries. Throughout the 19th century, Europe had a long history of wars and conflicts between its major nations. During the 19th century, nationalism was a leading motivating factor among the European nations, pushing them to expand their empires of control throughout the world.

The European nations also experienced a period of prolonged rivalry during the Age of Exploration, which lasted from the 15th century until the 17th century. At the time of the Age of Imperialism, these nations were still politically and economically competitive with each other. Each nation sought to conquer as much territory as possible. In 1914, this sense of rivalry became so intense that it led to the outbreak of World War I. Therefore, historians considered the rivalries that existed between European nations in the 19th century as a major factor in the Age of Imperialism.

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