We explain what imperialism is, and what are its causes and consequences. In addition, its characteristics and the European empir

What is imperialism?

The term imperialism refers to the political doctrines that establish a relationship between nations in terms of superiority and submission . In other words, one of them is dominated and another exercises authority in military, economic and / or cultural matters. Thus the agenda that is most favorable to the dominator is imposed.

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Imperial domination can occur, on the one hand, through colonization . It implies the settlement of the colonized territory, economic exploitation and / or military presence. On the other hand, it can occur through cultural subordination (called in some cases acculturation).

Imperialism is a long-standing political phenomenon in the history of mankind and one that has contributed to shaping the contemporary world panorama . Thus, unequal and vertical relationships are drawn in the world. The greatest benefit always goes to the most powerful nation.

Origin of imperialism

Origin of imperialism

Empires have existed since the beginning of humanity , and their dynamics of conquest have always been more or less the same.

For example, like the Egyptian Empire , the Persian Empire , Ancient Greece or the Roman Empire, they exercised enormous control over other regions of the world by force and through economic domination.

Of these, the most powerful ancient nation was the Roman Empire , which managed to expand to almost all of Europe , North Africa, and the Middle East .

In periods of imperial domination , religions, languages and customs have forcibly expanded . In many cases, the combination of the colonizing and colonized culture reached syncretism , mixed cultural forms that allowed the survival of many elements of the subordinate cultures.

History of imperialism

Although it has existed throughout history and also in the East , usually when speaking of imperialism or colonialism, we refer to a specific period of history : European expansion throughout the world , beginning in the 15th century and continuing until the Contemporary Age .

This period was followed by a time that partly involved the opposite process: after the Second World War there was a complex de-colonization of Africa and Asia. The American colonies had already achieved their official independence through bloody wars throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

During the stage of imperialism, the great European states imposed political , economic and military controls on other less advantaged nations. Thus they managed to gather their resources and nourish themselves from different latitudes.

The most intense period of imperial expansion took place between 1880 and 1914 . The main colonial destinations in Europe were:

  • America .  Recently discovered, it was a source of raw materials in massive volumes.
  • Africa . It was looted to feed the slave industry.
  • Asia . Exotic and high-value commercial inputs were extracted.

Causes of imperialism

Causes of imperialism

European imperialism responded to the following causes:

  • Need for raw materials . A Europe taking its first steps towards early capitalism needed a stable flow of raw materials to accumulate, process and convert into refined or manufactured products. In this sense, the colonial system was perfect: raw material was extracted from less developed countries with slave or semi-slave labor.
  • Competition between empires. The various empires of Europe competed in their growth, since the first to develop would exert predominance over the others, expanding its territory to the maximum. In the same way, they competed for control of the commercial maritime routes, which were the commercial heart of the time (the so-called Mercantilism ).
  • Exploring the world and science . The rise of European science and technology required new materials to discover and process, to amass an industrial and scientific potential that would give them superiority over other empires.
  • Social Darwinism. The dominant ideology in Europe was heir to the newly discovered studies of Charles Darwin , and considered the people of the rest of the world to be biologically inferior. This was supposed to be a justification for the occupation of their territories and their exploitation, since they were "bringing progress" to peoples who otherwise would never know it.

Imperialism and colonialism

Imperialism and colonialism should not be confused, even if they are processes that go hand in hand .

Colonialism is a political-economic system, of an extractivist type , which occurs when a powerful State occupies the territory of a weaker one. In addition, it subjects its population to conditions of servitude or slavery, and imposes laws and systems of government that suit the invader.

Imperialism, on the other hand, can occur in other terms, not strictly colonial, or at least without requiring the physical occupation of the dominated territory . This is the case in cultural imperialism, for example, or in commercial imperialism, in which the other is dominated through cultural impositions or economic inequalities.

More in: Colonialism

Consequences of imperialism

Consequences of imperialism

Imperialism had different consequences, such as:

  • The preparation of Europe to assume capitalism, since it gave it an unfair advantage for the subsequent commercial competition that occurred in later centuries (XX and XXI).
  • The struggle of the subjugated countries to free themselves from the imperial yoke and found young nations, such as the Latin American ones , from populations decimated by war.
  • The expansion of the imperial languages, which today persist in many of the dominated territories.
  • European multiculturalism, which developed in the following centuries, when many citizens emigrated from the colonial territories in pursuit of the best living conditions in the metropolis.

Uneven economy

Imperialism determines uneven economic dynamics . The subject territory must deliver part of its resources to the dominator, in exchange for processed products, cultural goods and sometimes the administration of its own territories.

This exchange took place between European companies and local growers . The producers did not see their work rewarded in ideal terms, but through a paternal relationship on the part of Europe.

The metropolis supposedly favored them by bringing them closer to "civilization" , that is, it imposed more or less a European education , traditions, language and religion. The direct result of this economic model is the enrichment of the metropolis but not always of the colonies, or in any case only of one sector.

The cast of Africa

The cast of Africa

In 1885, in the midst of European expansion, the world powers agreed to the division of the African continent , at the Berlin Conference. The 12 most powerful nations in Europe (Great Britain, France , Germany , Belgium, Portugal, Holland, Austria-Hungary, Spain , Russia, Italy , Sweden-Norway and Denmark) were present there, along with Turkey and the United States.

At the end of the conference, almost the entire African continent was ordered according to European interests, without taking into account the differences between local populations or their needs . For this reason, until today the African nations have completely straight borders (dictated according to the meridians).

Imperialism in the 20th century

Imperialism in the 20th century

A distinction is often made between colonialism and imperialism, to refer with the latter term the attitude of the world powers during the 20th century : the US and Japan , as well as the aforementioned European empires, vis-à-vis the rest of the world.

This new imperialism consisted of an accelerated colonial policy , whose geopolitical and strategic distribution of the globe led to friction and enmity between them. The result (due to other factors as well) was the First World War and consequently the Second World War.

European empires in the 19th century

The main colonial empires of Europe were:

  • The British Empire (16th - 20th centuries)
  • The Spanish Empire (16th - 19th centuries)
  • The German Empire (19th - 20th centuries)
  • The Portuguese Empire (15th - 20th centuries)
  • The French colonial Empire (17th - 20th centuries)
  • The Russian Empire (18th - 20th centuries)
  • The Dutch Empire (17th - 20th centuries)
  • The Danish Colonial Empire (13th - 20th centuries)

Imperialism and capitalism

Colonialism gave Europe the energy, technological and material potential to develop early capitalism. In the long term, it allowed him to achieve the minimum conditions necessary for the Industrial Revolution .

In other words, everything looted from other nations was invested in their own systems and in growth. This is how its development anticipated that of other nations , simultaneously delaying that of the colonies. For this reason, even after becoming independent, they continued to depend economically, financially and technologically on Europe.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Veronica is a culture reporter at Collaborative Research Group, where she writes about food, fitness, weird stuff on the internet, and, well, just about anything else. She has also covered technology news and has a penchant for smartphone stories. .

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