Colonialism

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Colonialism usually refers to the earlier territorial expansionism by Europeans outside of Europe and argued effects due to this.

Contents

Etymology

The term comes from the Latin colonia which refers to specific areas within foreign countries conquered by ancient Rome. These areas were populated by Roman citizens and in particular by Roman military veterans after military service. This bound the conquered countries closer to Rome and spread Roman culture.

However, today the term usually does not imply a similar process and a colony usually simply refers to a conquered non-European territory regardless of if this was followed by large scale European immigration or not.

Non-European territorial expansionism

In practice the term colonialism is seldom applied to non-European territorial expansionism. Numerous examples of such non-European territorial expansionism exist in all continents throughout history such as the various non-European empires. The term is also seldom applied to communist expansionism such as by the Soviet Union or China (in Tibet and Xinjiang).

This usage causes the impression that only Europeans have practiced colonialism.

Argued negative effects from colonialism

Western colonialism and argued exploitation of the conquered territories is a very popular explanation for various current problems in developing countries. This is arguably dubious since, for example, most of Africa was only under colonial rule for less than a hundred years. Thus, colonial rule did not occur during most of the time during which Africa has been underdeveloped.

Related is blaming current problems in Africa on slavery. Regarding this, see the Slavery: Long-lasting economic effects on Africa.

Some negative effects which are associated with colonialism were involuntary such as the transmission of infectious diseases from Eurasia/Africa to the Americas and which caused a dramatic population decline due to the Amerindians initially lacking genetic resistance to these diseases. Eurasia/Africa was in turn affected by infectious disease from the Americas such as syphilis.

The Congo Free State is popular example of the negative effects of colonialism. However, the Congo Free State was not an ordinary colony but a private project by the Belgian king. It was the European colonial powers who together decided to transfer the area to the Belgian state due to the reports stating maltreatment. In politically correct descriptions very large scale population declines in the Congo Free State are often stated. Less commonly mentioned is that a very important cause of this was an epidemic of trypanosomiasis ("sleeping sickness"). The widespread transmission of the disease may to some degree have been caused by the societal changes in the Congo Free State but the epidemic and the population decline were involuntary and negative for exploiters since the available labor force decreased and was frequently sick. Even less commonly mentioned is the large scale work by the colonial power against the disease and which eventually controlled and reversed the epidemic in Congo and other areas. "After independence, population growth, civil disorder, and political problems interrupted this downward trend and provoked a new epidemic."[1]

The high numbers sometimes claimed to have been killed in Congo Free State have been criticized as impossibly high. Also, "there were roughly 200 Europeans in the Congo Free State administration at any one time, versus around 13,000 black FP troops at any one time. And so the mutilating, raping and killing that was done had to have been done overwhelmingly by the black FP troops" and "from 1904 to 1908, in response to public outcry over the Congo, an independent council created by Italy, Switzerland and Belgium conducted an ongoing investigation and released periodical reports called The Official Bulletin of the Congo Free State (translation). Of course this council did not report extreme genocide going at the behest of Leopold’s government. In fact, they reported that the abuses occurred almost exclusively when FP detachments were sent out WITHOUT a European commander, and that the presence of European commanders was what prevented atrocities and rape."[2]

Certain periods of crop failure and starvation in some colonies (like in India) have sometimes been blamed on the colonial powers. However, crop failures and starvation have been repeated patterns throughout history in all parts of the world. Although they may be worsened by administrative failures, periods of starvation were likely difficult to avoid before the technological development and the demographic transition caused most of the population to no longer live near the subsistence level. Furthermore, periods of starvation were nothing unique for non-European colonies. For example, also during the 19th century there were periods of crop failure and starvation in Europe such as in Ireland 1845-1852, in Sweden and Finland in 1867-69, and in Russia in 1891-92. After the end of colonialism there have been periods of starvation in, for example, communist non-European countries such as China, North Korea, and Ethiopia.

Argued positive effects from colonialism

The European colonial powers contributed to the colonies in many different ways:

  • The conquest put an end to often chronic and large scale internal violence and wars due to, for example, ethnic, religious, and tribal conflicts. The colonial powers also often fought widespread banditry, piracy, and raiding - in short, colonialism increased peace, law, and order.
  • Prohibiting slavery, human sacrifices, cannibalism, and widow burning.
  • Building, for example, public buildings, bridges, public roads, wells, channels, telegraph lines, dams, railways, and ports. Any form of advanced construction was almost completely absent in Sub-Saharan Africa before the arrival of the colonial powers.
  • Creating colonial administrations employing natives and teaching them European administrative methods.
  • Educating and creating educational systems. This could include measures ranging from for the first time teaching someone in an area to read to sending individuals to European universities.
  • Introducing new forms of employment such as wage labor which may have been seen as a better alternative than the traditional alternative for groups such as women and poor agricultural workers.
  • In, for example, India the colonial power introduced several reforms which gave women some basic legal rights (such as the right to own property and certain rights regarding marriage), prohibited some customs harmful for women (such as widow burning), and made possible and supported certain education for women.
  • Building and staffing hospitals and other health centers, educating health care personnel, improving and teaching sanitation, and researching and developing cures against tropical diseases.
  • Introducing new technology and science.
  • Introducing new agricultural plants and animals.

Even if the motives in part included reasons such as education being necessary for creating a colonial administration, schools and hospitals being part of a religious mission, or building up a previously non-existing infrastructure in order to enable exports, this still caused positive effects.

Western expansionism also created positive effects and development in areas not colonized by forcing reforms, such as in Japan where the contact with Western expansionism forced the country to abandon medieval feudalism and the country was then able to rapidly modernize itself by adopting Western technology and administrative methods.

Motives

The motives for European colonialism are often described as purely egoistic but other kinds of motives have been stated.

The stated motives could include to improve the situation for the population in the colonies and civilize the colonies (exemplified in expressions such as "Civilizing Mission" and "The White Man's Burden"). Critics have sometimes dismissed this as a pretext. This criticism may however be difficult to apply to groups such as missionaries who made large scale contributions to improving education and health care and be difficult to apply to measures such as abolishing slavery or improving the situations for women.

An alternative criticism is by arguing that the stated motives such as spreading Western civilization were genuine but are examples of "cultural racism". However, such criticisms presume that Western civilization or aspects of Western civilization were/are in fact not the superior/better alternative(s).

In particular before the Enlightenment a stated motive was to save non-Christians from Hell by converting them to Christianity. This may have been a pretext in some cases but may have been a genuine motive in other cases. When a similar motive is stated today by, for example, expansionist Islamists, it is usually not doubted that the stated religious motive(s) are genuine.

Often argued motives are "scientific racism" and social Darwinism. However, both non-Western and Western expansionism existed long before the birth of Darwin or any scientific study of race. Furthermore, accepting the reality of race differences does not necessarily imply adopting social Darwinism but may instead be interpreted as more advantaged groups having a responsibility to help less advantaged groups and may thus be compatible with "Civilizing Mission". Also, instead of creating phenomena such as slavery, the scientific study of race occurred at the same time as slavery was abolished by Western countries in both Western and non-Western countries.

See also

External links

References

  1. Headrick DR (2014) Sleeping Sickness Epidemics and Colonial Responses in East and Central Africa, 1900–1940. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 8(4): e2772. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0002772 http://www.plosntds.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pntd.0002772
  2. Mythologies About Leopold’s Congo Free State http://thealternativehypothesis.org/index.php/2016/07/24/mythologies-about-leopolds-congo-free-state/
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