Causes of Imperialism

Causes of Imperialism

Imperialism has changed the way our society is structured. It has affected people and countries on the economic, political, social, cultural, and emotional levels, leading to the emergence of globalization (Deckard, 2009). Effects of imperialism have been dramatic for both colonizers and colonized, and it is predicted that its consequences will shape the global political and social relations for many decades. But what were the causes of imperialism? Why did the most powerful nations decide to travel overseas and undertake perilous journeys to invade distant, exotic lands they knew little about? In this essay, the researcher argues that economic, political, and exploratory causes were the main drivers of the global expansion of European and American imperialistic power. Some minor differences between countries are also mentioned.

Before discussing the causes of imperialism, one needs to highlight that European and American expansion overseas was driven by similar aims. To begin with, imperialistic states have always viewed colonies as the main source of economic growth and stability. They sought cheap labor and access to new markets. Precious natural resources that could supplement the budget for many years were also highly sought after (Lewis, 2013). For example, Africa has been the tidbit for European empires that engaged in the slave trade and exploited vast goldfields and diamond mines. America has always been interested in African land as well. This continent brought valuable resources and enhanced the capacity for trade.

Furthermore, there were also political causes of imperialism. Imperialism has always been a matter of national pride and a political tool that allowed to gain more power abroad. Acquisition of new territories has always been used by politicians to manipulate the public opinion and justify their policies. Moreover, the land was a strategic territory where navies and armies could be located. Trade routes could also be created on the land and sea territories (Lewis, 2013). For example, the British colonizers used South Africa as a useful stop for their ships that headed to India and back. Finally, exploratory causes also guided colonizers’ actions. They were fascinated by the possibility of finding new cultures and acquiring some valuable knowledge. Colonizers realized that this knowledge could help them develop. Therefore, they eagerly explored the new territories and people they encountered.

Causes of European Imperialism and Reasons for Imperialism in America: Main Differences

Causes of American imperialism slightly differed from those leading to the European expansion. It is believed that unlike European countries that fought for dominance in Europe through acquiring new land overseas, America did not experience this political rivalry (Foner, 1972). It aimed to increase its prestige and influence. However, it did not have powerful rivals on the continent like European empires had. Another difference is the scale of expansion and its effects. While European countries colonized vast territories and controlled them for decades, Americans controlled Hawaii, Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and other small states only to liberate them eventually. Americans also did pursue new knowledge like Europeans did.

To summarize, causes and effects of imperialism are always the same. Empires seek economic gain and political power overseas. They acquire new land to get access to valuable resources and markets and use the expansion as a political tool to ensure stability. However, unlike European states that also sought new knowledge, America justified its expansion with the desire to liberate nations. The scale of colonization also differs. European empires colonized large countries overseas, while America controlled only small states located nearby.


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Deckard, S. (2009). Paradise discourse, imperialism, and globalization: Exploiting Eden. New York, NY: Routledge.
Foner, P. S. (1972). The Spanish-Cuban-American war and the birth of American imperialism Vol. 1: 1895–1898. New York, NY: NYU Press.
Lewis, W. A. (2013). Theory of economic growth. New York, NY: Routledge.

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