Joseph Chamberlain and the Theory of Imperialism

Joseph Chamberlain and the Theory of Imperialism

Joseph Chamberlain and the Theory of Imperialism

Joseph Chamberlain and the Theory of Imperialism

Excerpt

As the cycle of nineteenth century imperialism, in which Joseph Chamberlain played so striking a role, lost its ebullience and faltered into a decline, the theorists took up where the practitioners had left off. On the whole the entire imperialist forward surge fell outside the expectations and prophecies of the principal schools of the day. Not until the movement had already reached its peak did it receive very serious theoretical attention. Looking backward it is possible to discover exceedingly interesting philosophical and scientific trends which can be seen as the forerunners in the realm of ideas of the great events which were taking place in the realm of action, but they were very scantily noticed at the time, if they were noticed at all.

In almost all respects the general currents of opinion in the first half of the nineteenth century, which reach down strongly but far less confidently into our own time, were not only hostile to the type of expansion by force and fraud which characterized imperialist activity, but were committed to a method of analysis which tended to exclude the likelihood of its happening. In economic thought the two dominant schools were the classical economists of the Manchester variety and their brothers (for they shared much the same intellectual heritage) of the Marxist persuasion. Both, in their different ways, looked to a future in which there would be a brotherhood of man arising from the new industrial system and the scientific discoveries upon which it was based. Politically the major lines were the spread of constitutionalism, democracy, and the self-determination of nations, which likewise pointed in the direction of peace and goodwill among men. Wars and revolutions for the attainment of these purposes were conceivable and even justifiable, but they were wars which in each instance, it seemed, worked to eradicate abuses and to eliminate the necessity of further convulsions of the same order. On the greatest scale this was the content and the source of the Wilsonian idealism of the period of the first World War. But, on the other hand, wars which looked to domination and oppression were the outmoded barbarisms of less advanced people, remote from the blessings of modern industrial civilization.

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