Liberalism and Colonialism

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Liberalism and Colonialism

The form of rule known as liberalism is one that is generally accepted worldwide as an ideology which is rational and promotes freedom, life, liberty and protection of individual rights. Many of the world's political systems are based on the values and concepts evident in liberalism. Historically, the ideals of liberalism were revolutionary especially during the time of this ideology's emergence. However, in order to fully comprehend the strengths and weaknesses of liberalism it is necessary to examine the preceding form of rule; colonialism. Colonialism from a modern standpoint is considered to be a "system of domination" (Colonialism, pg 4). Generally it is viewed as a system of rule that resulted in the destruction of land, people and cultures; the disastrous effects of which are still echoing around the world. However, I will argue that even though liberalism and colonialism have several significant differences; there are few similarities between the two. The similarities between liberalism and colonialism constitute conflicts within liberalism and these conflicts are evident in today's political structures. The purpose of liberalism was to promote individual freedom and equality, yet some of the presuppositions of liberalism were based on the inequalities of colonialism. To prove this the following will compare and contrast colonialism and liberalism by examining in each the definitions of the forms of rule and how they emerged, the central focus (core concepts), as well as the assumptions and contradictions both entail.

In terms of definition liberalism and colonialism are so starkly different it seems almost impossible to conceive of any similarities between the two. According to Osterhammel the definition of colonialism is: "a relationship of domination between an indigenous (or forcibly imported) majority of foreign invaders. The fundamental decisions affecting the lives of the colonized people are made and implemented by the colonial rulers in pursuit of interests that are often defined in a distant metropolis. Rejecting cultural compromises with the colonized population, the colonizers are convinced of their own superiority and their ordained mandate to rule" (Osterhammel, p 16-17). The basis of colonialism is a system of inequality, participants seek out weaker states and "uncivilized" peoples and strip them of their culture, rights and in many cases subject them to slavery for economic gain. An example of this would be the promise of slaves by France to encourage settlers of New France. Colonialism emerged with the breakdown of feudalism in the fourteenth century. During this time period crusades were under way and this led to opening routes of travel for Europeans. These routes led Europeans to the discovery of the "New World". In turn, this discovery led to conquest and the forced application of European government to the "New World". "Results in the integration of colonies into European economy, which fuels the military and economic powers in Europe," (Lecture Notes, Wk. 4). A point that is interesting to note and will be discussed further at a later point is that during the period of colonial rule, a simultaneous emergence of the nation-state is

occurring (Treaty of Westphalia - 1648) as well as the resulting "territorially bound sovereignty" (Lecture Notes, Wk.3). However, the ideal of sovereignty appears to be applicable only to European states, this is evident in the fact the colonialism remained ever rampant at this time. During the emergence of the nation-state the fact that colonialism was occurring was completely ignored. Also occurring is the rise of Royal Absolutism which was encouraged by the processes of colonialism. Nevertheless, the principles of the Treaty of Westphalia are a basis for emerging liberal ideologies at this time. In contrast to colonialism, the definition of liberalism according to Held was used to "signify the attempt to uphold the values...
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