The period 1875-1920 has been described by some historians as a period of “selflessness” during which the United States helped weaker nations from dominant European powers and spread the “blessings….
Two Sides of Imperialism
Imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries began crumbling at its foundations. Small enclaves of ethnic and nationalist groups sprouted throughout their native countryside, binding their people together to rise against their enemies and oppressors. The thought of independence from the foreign rulers, from the class system they set up, and from the atrocities they committed to gain control of the land was more than enough to motivate the fellow countrymen to take action. The foreigners, however, stood confused, wondering how such a great colony turned into such a massive conflict.
The seeds of oppression and cruelty were sown year after year, and finally bore fruit. What these foreigners didn’t consider, however, was that there are many ways of creating an empire. The Roman Empire’s standard of conglomeration is a better method of imperialism than the exploitative approach employed by 19th century nations. The Roman Empire never fell by a revolution from its own people. Rather, many of its subjects lived life as either full-time or part-time citizens of the empire. Many of the conquered people were given some semblance of citizenship, as “provincials”.
The Empire, however, did provide the newly-conquered the opportunity to become a citizen, provided they meet certain qualifications or expectations. In the study of Roman affairs, it is found that, … the Roman government worked to maximize the number of persons to whom Roman ius civile, the law of Roman citizens, applied… … Beginning with the reign of the emperor Augustus (27 B. C. E. -14 C. E. ), institutionalized practices permitted provincials to become citizens, generally by serving either in the Roman army or on a city council”.
While the Roman Empire continued its oppressive conquest of Europe, it continually sought to make conquered lands and their people a part of Roman life and economy. By providing the conquered a chance to someday become a Roman citizen, there was little incentive to rebel and revolt against the Empire. The Western stance on imperialism, however, was based off of an ideology much more different than the Romans. The general consensus many European countries shared was that Europeans were, racially speaking, superior to any other race, and as such, were predetermined to rule the rest of the world.
One such instance is given in a speech given by Jules Ferry at the French Chamber of Deputies in 1883. At one point, Ferry states that “in effect, superior races have rights over inferior races”. When questioned about the rights of man, he promptly replies that, “if the declaration of the rights of man was written for the blacks of equatorial Africa, the by what right do you impose regular commerce upon them? They have not called upon you. ” While the French were, like the Romans, interested in expanding, the justification by which they use extend themselves onto other lands are not the same.
Ferry is of the opinion that because the French are a superior race, they should embark on a conquest over inferior races and makes them work for the benefit of the French Empire, without any of the same rights as a French citizen. The difference is that while the Romans implemented a system to someday incorporate their newly-conquered people, the French were only planning on exploiting their labor and commerce without ever extending to the people the same rights the French enjoyed.
This exclusion did not go unnoticed among the French colonies, and would be a foundation for revolution in the coming years. But what about in colonies where there existed such a small opportunity for advancement? In colonies like India, there were chances for an Indian to learn like scholars, and as a result of such education, could communicate effectively with their ruling British counterparts. In fact, many of the Indians who had such education could see the flaws the colony had to address, and hoped to work with the British on fixing such problems.
William Duiker writes that “members of the (Indian National Congress) did not demand immediate independence and accepted the need for reforms… at the same time, they called for an Indian share of the governing process and more spending on economic development” The British however, still shared the same Western notion of racial superiority as the French, and as a result, remained convinced that British rule over India is still the best thing. Duiker states that the “British responded with a few concessions…but in general, change was glacially slow”3.
Great Britain remained focused on keeping India’s resources, and giving Indians the same rights as British citizens was never part of the plan. Dissent grew over the imbalance of government, and the same people who were educated by the British were now starting to realize that there lay no future in pledging loyalty to British rule. One such man, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, spoke openly against Great Britain at the Indian National Congress in 1907. Pax Britannica has been established in this country in order that a foreign government may exploit this country…
We believed in the benevolent intentions of the government, but in politics there is no benevolence. Benevolence is used to sugarcoat the declarations of self-interest and we were in those days deceived by the apparent benevolent intentions under which rampant self-interest was concealed Great Britain’s biggest concern was for itself and its interests, and never intended to follow through on any plans benevolent to the Indian people. Even after being provided with an education, Indians still would never attain the same level of citizenship and respect that Britons night receive.
The British Empire never expanded into India to make Indians a part of Great Britain; its textiles, teas, and labor were more than enough. With the chance to become fellow British citizens practically non-existent, many Indians soon turned to rebellion, boycotts, and a push for independence. Without the opportunity to ascend into British society, the Indians were left with no choice but to stay as loyal subjects of the British Crown, or call for independence.
To conclude, the Roman Empire, while it may not have survived the test of time, used a method by which it kept its subjects content. The path for upward mobility in society was available to those who wanted it. The 19th century imperialist countries, however, such as France and England, felt that it was only necessary to implement brute force and harsh laws to get the same output from their subjects in distance colonies. Were it not for that sense of superiority, we might all still be loyal subjects of European nations.