Were Economic Factors Primarily Responsible for British Imperialism?

Topics: Imperialism, British Empire, Colonialism Pages: 5 (1906 words) Published: March 4, 2006
Since the beginning of time various groups across the globe have fought for their freedom, and territory. Some groups failed and found little fortune while others prospered giving way to powerful nations capable of seizing land from the less fortunate for their own benefit. This is what modern day historians refer to as imperialism. Throughout history these powerful nations have used imperialism to their advantage. In simple terms imperialism is a powerful tool used by powerful nations in order to spread their influence into other smaller less powerful nations, whether it be through religion, pop-culture, technology, or military force. Which eventually results in total domination over the area in which the powerful nation has spread its imperialistic rule into. In this particular case we are to examine whether or not economic factors were primarily responsible for British Imperialism.

For Lance E. Davis and Robert A. Huttenback, whom had taken the YES side on the issue: Were Economic Factors Primarily Responsible for British Imperialism? Their thesis consisted of this.
Much, no doubt, remains to be said concerning the relationship between Empire and economics. But perhaps, when all is said and done, Cecil Rhodes came closest to summing the whole thing up when he said, not totally in jest, that imperialism was nothing more than philanthropy plus 5 percent! But philanthropy for whom? It appears that imperialism can best be viewed as a mechanism for transferring income from the middle to the upper classes. Because of the technology of the imperial machine, the process involved some transfer of those resources to the colonies; however, it is not obvious that either India or the dependent colonies would have chosen to accept that imperial subsidy had they been given the opportunity to object. The Elites and the colonies with responsible government were clear winners; the middle class, certainly, and the dependent Empire, probably were losers. A strange kind of philanthropy—socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor (Davis, Huttenback 92).

What this shows is that although receiving new technologies dependent Empires lower class such as India under imperialistic rule by Britain did not benefit from receiving goods from outside sources. Instead it allowed the British to further impose their imperialistic rule over the colonies for economic purposes. The last sentence, which states, "philanthropy—socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor" is saying that Britain is making a charitable donation to these colonies through imperialism. The rich are socialist because they make up the society that has a voice, and they own the colonies. The poor are capitalists because once the British leave the colony and everything is put in their hands; they become the owners of the means of production. Since Britain is not there it makes it seem like the colonies are profiting, when in fact the British are profiting.

The Thesis of the NO position written by John M. MacKenzie is that British imperialism was not primarily economic, rather was a way of spreading education, religion, and technology. Imperialistic rule would allow Britain to support its ‘highly specialized world'. Britain and much of Europe through imperialistic rule wanted to recast the world in its own image (MacKenzie 99).

When it comes to disagreement between the authors there are several examples to be cited, however, there are two that are most important. The first being that both argue over the obvious, whether or not economic factors were primarily responsible for British Imperialism. Throughout both selections this idea is hinted at whether reading the YES portion or the NO portion. Within the YES portion the authors state: Overall, Empire investors tended to be drawn from two groups: elites, wherever they lived, and businessmen (particularly, in terms of numbers, merchants) who resided in London. The attractiveness of the Empire seemed to decline...
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