Do you think the positive effects of imperialism outweighed the negative impact? Why or why not?

1 Answer
Feb 17, 2016


This is a difficult question, so I'll let you decide. The short answer is no, imperialism was evil and should have never happened - but please read the explanation.


For the record, in my final paper for my college history class, I argued that imperialism's negatives outweighed the positives.

The issue with this question is that many people project sensibilities from today onto the past. They do not consider that times were different back then and instead choose to judge everything from today's standards. That's why many people say that imperialism, with its slavery and exploited colonies, is evil - only because it is considered evil today. When it was actually happening, though, this was not the case.

But why, you may ask, were people okay with the brutalization of millions of human beings? Imagine this: your life is comfortable. Anything you want is available to you. You live in luxury. That was the driving force behind slavery. Let others work until they die while you can have all the benefits of their labor. As a result, society brushed off slavery. All they cared was that an "inferior" race (Africans usually) had a destiny to work for the "superior" whites.

I won't go into more detail here, but I hope you get the picture: we can't easily say imperialism was evil because back then, people thought nothing of it. Now I will give some reasons why people accepted it and some reasons why people didn't. Let's start with the former:

  • Power. The old "my country is larger than yours" argument. A leader could ignite passionate feelings within his country by gaining colonies and thus become more favorable.
  • Economy. Joseph Chamberlain, a member of the British Parliament in the late 1800s, argued that colonies created by imperialism created demand for products and that demand created more jobs to actually make those products.
  • Racism. Rudyard Kipling, in a poem, said that it was the "White Man's Burden" to civilize the brutes of Africa and Asia. A popular theory called Social Darwinism made a similar case, saying that the "superior" whites would eventually completely dominate the "inferior" blacks.

On the other hand, imperialism was considered bad because:

  • Killing millions of people is clearly evil. About 10 million people died in the Belgian Congo alone. Most people back then either weren't informed or didn't care as much, but in the present day we have human rights organizations and activists. Things have indeed changed.
  • The master was also a slave. A very compelling argument against imperialism held that the home country had to feed, protect, and generally take care of all the people in the colonies, draining resources. In essence, the master becomes enslaved to his slave.
  • Economy. Others rebutted Chamberlain, saying that colonies and slaves did more financial harm than good. This one falls into the above case, where we can see that taking care of a whole colony does cost a lot of money.

I'm just giving you some very broad reasons. You can argue either side with pretty much equal effectiveness, but remember that the sentiments of today have not always been the same. Consider what people believed back then when making your opinions right now.