The development of modern western civilization can be traced back to the period between the early eighteen centuries and early twentieth century. This is the period that would witness the dominance of the European culture and values with other civilizations taking a back seat. The spread of western values and influence into the rest of the globe took place in two phases, these being the old and the new imperialisms. Both the old and the new imperialism were driven by similar motives that revolved around economics.
The old imperialism was predominantly motivated and driven by the search and establishment of trade routes. Imperialism can simply be defined as the exertion of influence and control by one nation over another, culturally, politically, or economically. The old imperialism took place between the 16-18th centuries. This was a period characterized by relative expansion of the economy in most of the European powers and intensification of commerce. There arose the need for these powers to expand their trading territory. This was the basic drive unlike in the new imperialism that was fuelled by a multiplicity of factors. This period would see the then European powers ranging from Great Britain and Spain emerge dominant over the rest of the nations by establishing trade routes in commerce lucrative areas.
On the other hand, the new imperialism kicked off in the late nineteenth century and would see the rise of the powerful nations extending political control over the weaker ones. It would see the exertion of immense influence held by the powerful empires over the weak states especially in the Third World countries. One major difference between the new and old imperialism exists on the territory shift. While in the old one, the imperialists were targeting the territories that were along the prime trade routes, now these nations were moving deeper into the interior; they wee not limiting their influence along the sea and ocean routes. This radical shift in the territories covered emanates from the differences in the motivation for imperialism. As mentioned, the first venture was purely based on economics. The new imperialism however was based on economics, balance of power and nationalism.
The first imperialism had the search for gold and other valuable minerals as the key commodities. However at the onset of the new imperialism there came an urgent and insatiable need for raw materials. Intense industrial revolution was going on in most European countries. Mechanization was becoming the order of the day coupled with mass production and consumption. New territories had to be found from which raw materials could be found to support industrialization at home as well as to market the products across the oceans (Headrick, D. R., 19).
There had also arisen a battle of supremacy among the European powers, nations such as Europe were stepping up their efforts to challenge the dominance of great Britain both in economics and in maritime. The only way to fight this dominance was through extending their influence abroad mostly to Asia and in Africa. Britain was not to be left behind. What would follow after this was the scramble of Africa.
Close to nationalism was also the issue of balance of power. The domination of Britain led to some of other European nations feeling inadequate and had to acquire colonies abroad to balance this and be on an equal footing. Europe too was undergoing superiority complex where the nations made it their duty to civilize the uncivilized territories especially in Africa and in Asia.
Unlike the old imperialism, which did not go beyond trade and where the European traders respected the local rulers especially in Asia and along African coast, the new imperialism was characterized by subjugation and alienation of land. They took over political leadership and transformed the social and religious foundation in the process of colonialism that was to ensue. This imperialism was seen as being as result of the growing economic and social unrest at home. These powers had to acquire colonies to ease pressure at home.
Most of the European powers acquired colonies in Asia and Africa amidst much rivalry amongst them, with some trying to outdo each other to grab the strategically placed territories. The end of the 19th century would witness each power laying a claim to rich territories; this however would not last long as it would be followed by a haste retreat especially by the empire towards the start of the second quarter of the twentieth century. There are a number of factors that would lead to the initiation of the process of decolonization in both Asia and Africa. These were; changes in economics, ideology, self-determination movements as well as the lackluster support of the public in Europe (Raymond F. Betts, 19).
The post world war two periods saw the rise of two dominant nations; the United States and the Soviet Union. This was a period that was characterized by a raging debate internationally on the legitimacy of colonialism. The United States and the soviet bloc were against colonialism. Their foreign policies especially in Asia and Africa were meant to supplant the predominant authority in these colonies. These powers were on a collision path due to the differences in ideology. Each power was trying to exert a new kind of influence that was against the ideals of colonialism. The United States was spreading capitalism while the Soviet Union was for communism. This meant spreading new ideals that would go against what the colonial powers were seeking to accomplish (Kennedy, Paul, 33).
The post war period also saw the rise of self-determination in the colonies as well as the rise of revolutionary movements. There were also changes in the political scene with mass movement parties becoming the order of the day. Charismatic leaders who were rallying people behind the fight against colonialism had also arose, such leaders as mahatma Gandhi of India and Ho Chi Minh in China. Africa too had its share of these nationalistic leaders. The rise in self-determinism was fueled by bloody wars as the nations braced themselves to free their people from the yoke of colonialism. The European powers could not ignore such forces (Lace, William W, 44).
Economics too were at play. It had become impossible for the colonial powers to hold any colonies. This was exacerbated by the disquiet from the public who had grown tired of paying for colonies that were no longer viable in the economic sense. The huge costs of maintaining colonial territories were having a huge toll in the mother countries and the public was rising against their governments in opposing the colonies. It is the multiplicity of these factors and events that would see the initiation of the decolonization process which kicked off earnestly in Asia then later on in Africa which bore the worst blunt of colonialism. By the end of the third quarter of the 20th century, colonial occupation had almost come to a close signaling the end of a process that had kicked off over three centuries ago.
Lace, William W. The British Empire: The End of Colonialism. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2000; 44
Kennedy, Paul. Rise and fall of the Great Powers. New York: Random House, 1987.33
Headrick, D. R. The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the
Nineteenth Century. New York, Oxford University Press. 1981; 19
Raymond F. Betts.Decolonization: The making of a contemporary world. Routledge; Taylor & Francis Group. February 2004; 28