Imperialism in Western Civilization

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Near the end of the nineteenth century, there was a sharp increase in the need for people of Western civilization to expand their way of life across the globe. Colonization had begun in the 1600s as a method of economic gain for European countries. The reasons for expansion in the late nineteenth century, however, had deviated from only economical prosperity. The notion that evolution as well as the belief in their racial and cultural superiority caused many white Europeans and Americans to assume that they, as a people, had the right and were destined to dominate the world and thus served as one of the central justifications for imperialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

In 1859, Charles Darwin, a scientist from England, formulated the theory of evolution. His theory was composed of two ideas: variation and natural selection. Variation was explained to be certain biological characteristics that a creature possessed in order to survive. Certain creatures who had the positive, favorable traits equipped them better for survival as opposed to the individuals lacking them. Natural selection was the process in which a species that adapted better to the environment because of preferable physical or mental characteristics continued to evolve and what caused the weakest of the species who were lacking in these to perish.

Many Europeans and Americans embraced the theory of evolution because it appealed to their firm belief in competition. People who subscribed to the theory of natural selection as a means of social progress were known as social Darwinists. One of the most famous of the social Darwinists was a British man named Herbert Spencer. His view was that “human societies evolve like plant and animal species and only the fittest, those able to adapt to changing conditions, survive” (Levack 490.) In one of Herbert Spencer’s writings, Social Statics: Liberalism and Social Darwinism, he states that “by destruction of all such, [weak individuals] not only is existence ended before it becomes burdensome, but room is made for a younger generation capable of the fullest enjoyment” and that “the development of a higher creation is a progress towards a form of being capable of a happiness undiminished by these drawbacks” (211). He meant that natural selection would weed out the people in society who were perceived as weak (handicapped people, the sick, the physically and intellectually inferior) whom he viewed as a burden to a successful and advanced civilization. “Society is constantly excreting its unhealthy, imbecile, slow, vacillating, faithless members; these unthinking, though well-meaning, men advocate an interference which not only stops the purifying process, but even increases the vitiation and absolutely encourages the multiplication of the reckless and incompetent” (Spencer 212.)

The strongest and “fittest” people would survive, thus creating a more perfect society. Social Darwinism soon fostered the idea that white males had come the furthest in evolutionary development, which not only delegated them most fit to rule their own countries, but it also gave them the right of superiority over every group of people in the world.

Social Darwinism also led to another idea of Western superiority: superiority of the white race. In his essay From Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1900) Houston Stewart Chamberlain rejected the idea that each race of people was “equally gifted” (213) and argued for the superior traits of the Aryan (white) race over all the peoples of the world. “Physically and mentally the Aryans are pre-eminent among all peoples (Chamberlain 213). To him, the superiority of the Aryan race awarded it the right of global authority. “Some men are by nature free, others slaves” (Chamberlain 213). He believed that white Europeans were placed at the top of the racial hierarchy, and it meant that they, by nature, stood apart from other ethnic groups by...
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