Rise of the New Imperialism
The Rise of the New Imperialism overlaps with the Pax Britannica period (1815-1870). The American Revolution and the collapse of the Spanish empire in the New World in the early 1810-20s, following the revolutions in the viceroyalties of New Spain, New Granada, Peru and the Río de la Plata ended the first era of European empire. Especially in the United Kingdom (UK), these revolutions helped show the deficiencies of mercantilism, the doctrine of economic competition for finite wealth which had supported earlier imperial expansion. The 1846 repeal of the Corn Laws marqued the entrance of the UK in free trade. As the "workshop of the world", the United Kingdom was even supplying a large share of the manufactured goods consumed by such nations as Germany, France, Belgium and the United States. The Pax Britannica era also saw the enforced opening of key markets to European, particularly British, commerce: Turkey and Egypt in 1838, Persia in 1841, China in 1842 with the First Opium War, and Japan in 1858 leading to the Meiji period.
- 1 Background: Before New Imperialism
- 2 The breakdown of Pax Britannica and the rise of New Imperialism
- 2.1 The breakdown of the Concert of Europe
- 2.2 Loss of British comparative advantage in manufacturing
- 2.3 The Long Depression
- 3 United Kingdom and the New Imperialism
- 3.1 Amalgamation of Industry
- 3.2 The UK's increased competition
- 3.3 Russian expansionism
- 3.4 Securing foreign trade
- 4 France and the New Imperialism
- 5 New Imperialism and the emerging empires
- 6 Social implications of New Imperialism
Background: Before New Imperialism
After the 1815 Congress of Vienna which established the Concert of Europe continental order, the British established what was known as the Pax Britannica, which lasted until the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. In the UK, the 1846 repeal of the Corn Laws demonstrated the increasing appeal of Adam Smith's liberalist theories. Richard Cobden, and other disciples of Smith contended that the military and bureaucratic costs of occupation often exceeded the financial return to the taxpayer: formal empire afforded no reciprocal economic benefit when trade would continue in its absence, as instanced by the United Kingdom's lucrative commerce with the now independent United States. Official acceptance of the new doctrine was marked by the United Kingdom's adoption of free trade with the 1846 repeal of the Corn Laws and the subsequent granting of internal self-government to the white settler populations of the Canadian provinces and the Australasian colonies, and governments even considered the sale of some colonial outposts to lesser powers.
The defeat of Napoleonic France led to a continental order quite favorable to the United Kingdom's interests, known as the Concert of Europe, in which Austria was a barrier to the creation of unified Italian and German nation-states until after the 1854-56 Crimean War. Territorial fragmentation at the heart of Europe kept other potential imperial powers preoccupied with Continental concerns rather than overseas expansion. The United Kingdom, an island nation with a long standing tradition of naval and maritime superiority, could afford the luxury of developing commercial ties with overseas markets, following its policy of splendid isolation.
Between the 1815 Congress of Vienna and the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, the United Kingdom reaped the benefits of being the world's sole modern, industrial power. As the "workshop of the world," the United Kingdom could produce goods manufactured so efficiently and cheaply that its goods could usually undersell comparable, locally manufactured goods in other markets. Given stable political conditions, the United Kingdom could dominate overseas markets for industrial goods through free trade alone without having to resort to formal rule. Thus, some argue that the United Kingdom's push for free trade during the mid-nineteenth century was merely a result of her economic position and was unconnected with any true philosophical commitment.
The breakdown of Pax Britannica and the rise of New Imperialism
The breakdown of the Concert of Europe
The decline of Pax Britannica after the Franco-Prussian War was occasioned by changes in the European and world economies and in the Continental balance of power, such as the breakdown of the Concert of Europe. The establishment of nation-states in Germany and Italy resolved two of the great territorial issues which had kept the United Kingdom's prospective rivals enmeshed in Continental affairs. These developments stimulated imperial competition, in spite of the United Kingdom's long-established naval and maritime superiority.
Economically, to the commercial competition of old rivals like France was now added that of newly industrializing powers such as Germany and the United States. All sought ways of challenging what they saw as the United Kingdom's undue dominance in world markets—the consequence of her early industrialization and maritime supremacy.
Loss of British comparative advantage in manufacturing
As the other powers such as Germany and the United States, began to industrialize, the United Kingdom's comparative advantage in trade in finished goods diminished. While it previously had a near monopoly over industrially-produced goods it began to encounter far stiffer competition in overseas markets from the other powers. The United Kingdom's share of world trade fell from a quarter in 1880 to a sixth in 1913. The United Kingdom was even beginning to lose its unrivalled dominance in markets such as India.
To make matters worse, British manufactures in the staple industries of the Industrial Revolution were beginning to face real competition abroad. The German textile and metal industries, for example, had by the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War surpassed those of the United Kingdom in organization and technical efficiency and usurped British manufactures in the domestic market. A number of changes had made this possible, such as the development of new techniques to remove phosphorus from the massive iron deposits of Lorraine, which left France and Germany with cheap and plentiful sources of iron. Both Continental powers had also begun large government-supported railway programs, and had passed the United Kingdom in total length of track by the 1880s.
The development of steam shipping had also firmly brought the United States and Japan into the European market and greatly lowered transport costs. By the turn of the century, the German metal and engineering industries would be producing heavily for the international market as well. More modern technologies such as electricity were often more advanced and widely used in Germany than in the United Kingdom, which possessed older, less-productive plants.
The Long Depression
The prolonged period of price deflation and intermittent business crisis between 1873 and 1896 has been described as the "Long Depression", and is sometimes considered to be even worse than the Great Depression of 1929-1939. It had a number of causes and was itself an important factor in the shift toward formal colonialism.
Amalgamation of industry, in the forms of larger corporations and mergers and alliances of separate firms had created inefficiencies and made economies more unstable. Technological advances along with monopolistic mass-production greatly expanded output and lowered production costs. As a result, production often exceeded domestic demand. In agriculture, large-scale imports of cheaper American grain and poor harvests drove down European producer prices and incomes and further constrained overall demand among a population which, outside the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and parts of Germany, remained predominantly rural. International liquidity was constrained by the widespread adoption of gold-based currency at a time when little new gold was being discovered.
The long-term effects of the Depression were particularly evident in the United Kingdom, the forerunner of Europe's industrial states. Practically every industry suffered after 1873 from lengthy periods of low—and falling—profit rates and price deflation. The crisis brought pressure on governments to support British industry and commerce and to protect the overseas investments interests on which the country had come to rely to offset its long-standing merchandise trade deficit and more recent loss of industrial market share.
The Depression also struck the powers of Continental Europe, prompting their abandonment of free trade (by Germany in 1879, by France in 1881). As domestic demand and export opportunities thus became further limited, some business and government leaders concluded that sheltered overseas markets would solve the problems of low prices and demand caused by stagnating and increasingly fragmented Continental markets.
United Kingdom and the New Imperialism
The United Kingdom in the 1870s remained the world's foremost industrial power, but her share of world manufacturing output was already falling before the impact of international recession. Like the Dutch a century and a half earlier, the British coped with relative commercial and industrial decline in the latter half of the 19th century by becoming the world's preeminent bankers, and invisible exports of financial and shipping services alone kept the United Kingdom "out of the red."
Amalgamation of Industry
During the period of "cut-throat" competition of the mid-Victorian era, producers became aware of the advantages (in mass production, lobbying power, and efficient union busting) of consolidation not only in the form of larger corporations but also through mergers and alliances of separate firms. To create and operate such industrial cartels required larger sums than the manufacturer could ordinarily provide, resulting, it is argued, in the displacement of industrial capital by finance capital. By the 1870s, London financial houses thus achieved an unprecedented control of industry.
Close association of industry and banks enabled financiers to exert considerable influence over the British economy and politics. As a more "gentlemanly" pursuit than industry, finance was able to appeal to the United Kingdom's aristocracy, and the influence of London's financial interest began rising precipitously in a government bureaucracy still dominated by those with formal titles. Late Victorian political leaders, most of whom were stockholders, "shared a common culture with the financial class," according to imperial historian Bernard Porter. Thus, pro-imperialists linked to the financial sector in the 1870s would be in a far better position to influence government than industrialists in the 1850s.
The enhanced power of financiers enabled them to influence policy makers in the direction of government "protection" of overseas investments—particularly those in securities of foreign governments and in foreign-government-backed development activities such as railroads. Although it had been official British policy for years to support such investments, with the large expansion of these investments after about 1860 and with the economic and political instability of many areas of high investment (such as Egypt), calls upon the government for methodical protection became increasingly pronounced.
This prompted imperial critic J.A. Hobson to conclude that finance was manipulating events to its own profit. For Hobson, Overseas markets, whether in colonial areas or in nominally sovereign, pre-industrial states outside Western Europe, offered a higher return on investments owing to their cheap labor, limited competition, and abundant raw materials. While not downplaying this influence of the City's financial interests, later historians such as Bernard Porter, P.J. Cain and A.G. Hopkins contest Hobson's conspiratorial overtones and "reductionisms". Nevertheless, these financial interests were often the prime movers in the drive for imperial expansion.
The UK's increased competition
The new interest of the emergent industrial powers in colonial expansion brought them into direct competition with the United Kingdom.
As Europe descended into an era of aggressive national rivalry between newly industrializing nation-states, many European statesmen and industrialists wanted to accelerate colonial expansion, securing colonies before they strictly needed them. Their reasoning was that markets might soon become glutted, and a nation's economic survival depend on its being able to offload its surplus products elsewhere.
The United Kingdom was no longer the world's sole modern, industrial nation. Pessimists inferred that unless the United Kingdom acquired secure colonial markets for its industrial products and secure sources of raw materials, the other industrial states would seize them themselves and would precipitate a more rapid decline of British business, power, and standards of living.
British imperialists thus concluded that formal imperialism was necessary for the United Kingdom because of the relative decline of the British share of the world's export trade and the rise of German, American, and French economic competition and protectionism. Thus it has been argued that formal imperialism for the United Kingdom was a symptom and an effect of its relative decline in the world, and not of strength.
While protectionism spread through the countries of Europe and to the United States, the only power to escape this trend was the United Kingdom, whose essential strength lay precisely in its preeminence on a formerly open world market. German, American, and French imperialists, as mentioned, argued that the United Kingdom's world position gave her undue advantages on international markets, thus limiting their economic growth.
Some see the root cause of the United Kingdom's adoption of the New Imperialism as primarily strategic or pre-emptive. The failure in the 1900s of Chamberlain's Tariff Reform campaign for Imperial protection illustrates the United Kingdom's underlying attachment to free trade despite her loss of international market share. The adoption of the "New imperialism" can thus be seen as motivated primarily by the need to protect existing trade links and to prevent the absorption of overseas markets into the increasingly closed imperial trading blocs of rival powers.
British colonial activity was motivated in part by fear of Russia's centuries-old southward expansion: in 1878 the United Kingdom took control of Cyprus as a base for action against a Russian attack on the Ottoman Empire, and invaded Afghanistan to forestall an increase in Russian influence there. British Conservatives in particular feared that Russia would continue to expand southwards into Ottoman Empire territory and acquire a base on the Mediterranean or even Constantinople.
As British Viceroy in India, Lord Curzon urged a strong hand against the un-subjugated peoples of India's north-west frontier areas to prevent any destabilization which might weaken India's forward defenses against a possible Russian move. The "Great Game" in Asia ended with the furthest projection of Curzon's policy in a bloody and wholly unnecessary British expedition against Tibet in 1903-04.
British statesmen long feared that the United Kingdom's colonies remained vulnerable to a land attack by Russia combined with a naval assault by Russia's ally France, prompting in part Anglo-German consultations (1898 and 1901) and the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902, before the Entente Cordiale (1904) resolved Anglo-French animosities, laying the basis for rapprochement with Russia.
Securing foreign trade
New Imperialism, economic and strategic in its inception and political in its expression, had a complex relationship with the development of capitalism on a world scale. Foreign trade tripled in volume between 1870 and 1914, although (again) most of the activity occurred among the industrialized countries, or between them and their suppliers of primary goods or their new markets.
In 1913, only 11 percent of the world's trade took place between primary producers themselves. The United Kingdom ranked as the world's largest trading nation in 1860, but by 1913 it had lost ground to both the United States and Germany: British and German exports in that year each totaled $2.3 billion, and those of the United States exceeded $2.4 billion. More significant was the emigration of their goods and capital.
As foreign trade increased, so in proportion did the amount of it going outside the Continent. In 1840, 7.7 million pounds of her export and 9.2 million pounds of her import trade was done outside Europe; in 1880 the figures were 38.4 million and 73 million. Europe's economic contacts with the wider world were multiplying, much as the United Kingdom's had been doing for years.
France and the New Imperialism
The Long Depression hit a France already burdened by substantial reparation payments to the new German Empire following her defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. The nation was also divided by the civil war between socialists and republicans in 1871. The French government ended free trade and began to pursue colonization as a way to increase their power, aid their economy and restore national prestige.
New Imperialism and the emerging empires
Just as the United States emerged as a great industrial, military and political power after the American Civil War, so would Germany following its own unification in 1871. Both countries undertook ambitious naval expansion in the 1890s. Just as Germany reacted to depression with the adoption of tariff protection in 1879, so would the United States with the landslide election victory of William McKinley, who had risen to national prominence six years earlier with the passage of the McKinley Tariff of 1890. Germany, a leading military power after unification, abandoned free trade and embraced expansionism with its adoption of a tariff in 1879, its acquisition of a colonial empire in 1884-1885, and its building of a powerful navy after 1898-1900.
German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck revised his initial dislike of colonies (which he had seen as burdensome and useless) partly under pressure for colonial expansion to match that of the other European states, but also under the notion that Germany's entry into the colonial scramble could press the United Kingdom into conceding broader German strategic ambitions.
United States expansionism had its roots in domestic concerns and economic conditions, as in other newly industrializing nations where government sought to accelerate internal development. The rapid turn to imperialism in the late nineteenth century can be correlated with the cyclical economic crises that adversely affected many groups.
The Panic of 1893 contributed to the growing mood for expansionism. Like the post-1873 period in Europe (the Long Depression), the main features of the U.S. depression included deflation, rural decline, and unemployment, which aggravated the bitter social protests of the "Gilded Age"—the populist movement, the free-silver crusade, and violent labor disputes such as the Pullman and Homestead strikes.
The Panic of 1893 contributed to fierce competition over markets, as the long Depression two decades earlier across the Atlantic. Economic depression led some U.S. businessmen and politicians from the mid-1880s to come to the same conclusion as their European counterparts: that industry and capital had exceeded the capacity of existing markets and needed new outlets.
Advocates of empire also drew upon to a tradition of westward expansion over the course of the previous century. The "closing of the Frontier" identified by the 1890 Census report and publicized by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in his 1893 paper The Significance of the Frontier in American History, contributed to fears of constrained natural resource.
Influential politicians such as Henry Cabot Lodge, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt advocated a more aggressive foreign policy to pull the United States out of the depression. However, opposition to expansionism was strong and vocal in the United States. The U.S. became involved in the War with Spain only after Cubans convinced the U.S. government that Spain was brutalizing them. Whatever the causes, the result of the war was that the U.S. came into the possession of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. It was, however, only the Philippines that remained, for three decades, as a colonial possession.
While Germany, the United States, Italy, and other more recently industrialized empires were under relatively less pressure to offload surplus capital than the United Kingdom, the emerging empires resorted to protectionism and formal empire in response to the United Kingdom's advantage on international markets.
Although U.S. capital investments within the Philippines and Puerto Rico were relatively small (figures that would seemingly detract from the broader economic implications on first glance), these colonies were strategic outposts for expanding trade with Asia, particularly China and Latin America, enabling the United States to reap the benefit of the "Open Door" in China and "Dollar Diplomacy" in Latin America. The U.S. gradually surpassed the United Kingdom as the leading investor of capital in Latin America and East Asia—a process largely completed by the end of the Great War.
Japan's development after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 followed the Western lead in industrialization and militarism, enabling the empire to gain control of Korea in 1894 and a sphere of influence in Manchuria (1905) following its defeat of Russia. Japan was responding in part to the actions of more established powers, and her expansionism drew on the harnessing of traditional values to more modern aspirations for great power-status: not until the 1930s was Japan to become a net exporter of capital.
Social implications of New Imperialism
New social views of colonialism also arose. Rudyard Kipling, for instance, urged the United States to take up the "White Man's Burden" of bringing "civilization" to the other races of the world, whether they wanted such civilization or not. Social Darwinism also became current throughout Western Europe and the United States, while the paternalistic French-style "mission of civilization" (mission civilatrice) appealed to many on the Continent.
The notion of rule over tropical lands commanded widespread acceptance among metropolitan populations: even among those who associated imperial colonization with oppression and exploitation, the 1904 Congress of the Socialist International concluded that the colonial peoples should be taken in hand by future European socialist governments and led by them to eventual independence.
Observing the rise of trade unionism, socialism, and other protest movements during an era of mass society in both Europe and later North America, elites sought to whip up imperial sentiment to enlist the support of the masses. The new mass media of the United States and the United Kingdom promoted jingoism to build their circulation during overseas adventures like the Spanish-American War of 1898, the Second Boer War of 1899-1902 and the suppression of the Chinese anti-western Boxer Rebellion (1900).
Many of Europe's major elites also found some advantages in formal, overseas expansion: mammoth monopolies wanted imperial support to secure overseas investments against competition and domestic political tensions abroad; bureaucrats wanted more offices, military officers desired promotion, and the traditional but waning landed gentry wanted formal titles.
In the colonies themselves, a section of the population came to terms with the new imperial administration and took part in its imposition or maintenance: the imperial rulers everywhere exploited divisions within the territories they sought to rule, enlisting chiefs or communities keen to overturn their pre-colonial status. Both traditional and emerging elites sought a place in the political framework and sent their sons to be educated in metropolitan schools and universities, though many of the professional classes came to resent the limitation of political and government opportunities, contributing to the later growth of modern colonial nationalism.