Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind

Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind

Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind

Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind


Lewis Feuer, a distinguished philosopher and social critic, has presented a remarkable thesis in Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind. Feuer regards imperialism as a natural political process, and one that is endemic to all nations under all political and social systems. The significant distinction to make is whether a given imperialistic period is progressive or regressive. The greatest historical advances, maintains Feuer, have been made during progressive imperialistic eras, such as the Hellenic-Macedonian, the Roman, and the modern British periods. Retrogression took place under the Tartar and Spanish imperialisms.

Feuer claims that neo-Marxists are wrong when they cite the relative backwardness of colonial peoples and blame the condition on the imperialism of advanced Western nations. History tells a different tale. As John Stuart Mill demonstrated in the case of India, the actual historical record shows the British imperialistic era to be one of remarkable development, and one that prompted democracy.

In a sure-to-be controversial passage, Feuer asserts that the results of imperialistic interventions differ as to result in predictable ways. Therefore, the relative "participatory imperialism" practiced by the United States and Britain has achieved positive results, while the authoritarian imperialism of the Soviet Union has resulted in retrogression. He cites the Belgian Congo as a prime example of authoritarian imperialism.


Whether Western civilization has entered upon a declining phase, whether a mood of anti-civilization is spreading, such as that which marked the decay of the Roman Empire, is the question that most haunts political philosophers today.If the American ethic and its power fail to direct the world's social evolution during the coming years, that controlling role will in all likelihood fall into the hands of the Soviet Union.It is now generally recognized that Soviet Marxism has evolved into the ideology of an expanding Soviet imperialism.Although a new Age of Imperialism thus seems a foreseeable alternative, most Western intellectuals and peoples would repudiate the idea that only an American imperialism can halt and reverse the Soviet expansion; they would deny that any "logic of events," insofar as such logic is discernible, suggests that the only practicable alternative might be the rise of an American imperialism.Indeed, several generations of idealistic and sincere anti-imperialist literatures, pamphlets, exposés, and propaganda have transformed the adjective "imperialist" into a word that virtually ignites an impulse to self-denunciaton.

This essay therefore tries to reopen the question of the basic character of imperialism. Is imperialism indeed a universal theme of history? Were Lenin and Hobson mistaken in thinking it probably the last stage of a predatory order? If so, does the distinction between the modes of imperialism—the progressive mode as opposed to the regressive—become more central in our judgment of American policy? Anti-imperialist literature has perhaps beclouded the great fact that the world's advances have been associated with the eras of progressive imperialism.The experience of the Nazi species of imperialism, with its intellectual and emotional trauma, has perhaps misdirected many thinkers into supposing that anti-Semitism and racism arise from an inherent dynamic of imperialism.Therefore, it becomes important to inquire how the Jews, as a persecutable minority, have fared in the setting of a progressive imperialism from the time of Alexander the Great to the British in the nineteenth century.

A progressive imperialism is one in which energies are liberated for the advancement of civilization and creative activity. The psychological portrait of the imperialist character by anti-imperialist writers has perhaps been largely a projection of the underlying psychology of the anti‐ imperialists themselves. To what extent, therefore, can the political confusion, mood of defeat, and retreat of Western society after World War II be attributed to the reluctance of the United States to take up the world's leadership in a straightforwardly progressive imperialist spirit?

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