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Were Economic Factors Primarily Responsible for British Imperialism?

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Since the beginning of time various groups across the globe have fought for their freedom, and territory. Some groups failed and found little fortune while others prospered giving way to powerful nations capable of seizing land from the less fortunate for their own benefit. This is what modern day historians refer to as imperialism. Throughout history these powerful nations have used imperialism to their advantage. In simple terms imperialism is a powerful tool used by powerful nations in order to spread their influence into other smaller less powerful nations, whether it be through religion, pop-culture, technology, or military force. Which eventually results in total domination over the area in which the powerful nation has spread its imperialistic rule into. In this particular case we are to examine whether or not economic factors were primarily responsible for British Imperialism.

For Lance E. Davis and Robert A. Huttenback, whom had taken the YES side on the issue: Were Economic Factors Primarily Responsible for British Imperialism? Their thesis consisted of this.

Much, no doubt, remains to be said concerning the relationship between Empire and economics. But perhaps, when all is said and done, Cecil Rhodes came closest to summing the whole thing up when he said, not totally in jest, that imperialism was nothing more than philanthropy plus 5 percent! But philanthropy for whom? It appears that imperialism can best be viewed as a mechanism for transferring income from the middle to the upper classes. Because of the technology of the imperial machine, the process involved some transfer of those resources to the colonies; however, it is not obvious that either India or the dependent colonies would have chosen to accept that imperial subsidy had they been given the opportunity to object. The Elites and the colonies with responsible government were clear winners; the middle class, certainly, and the dependent Empire, probably were losers. A strange kind of philanthropyÐ'--socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor (Davis, Huttenback 92).

What this shows is that although receiving new technologies dependent Empires lower class such as India under imperialistic rule by Britain did not benefit from receiving goods from outside sources. Instead it allowed the British to further impose their imperialistic rule over the colonies for economic purposes. The last sentence, which states, "philanthropyÐ'--socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor" is saying that Britain is making a charitable donation to these colonies through imperialism. The rich are socialist because they make up the society that has a voice, and they own the colonies. The poor are capitalists because once the British leave the colony and everything is put in their hands; they become the owners of the means of production. Since Britain is not there it makes it seem like the colonies are profiting, when in fact the British are profiting.

The Thesis of the NO position written by John M. MacKenzie is that British imperialism was not primarily economic, rather was a way of spreading education, religion, and technology. Imperialistic rule would allow Britain to support its Ð''highly specialized world'. Britain and much of Europe through imperialistic rule wanted to recast the world in its own image (MacKenzie 99).

When it comes to disagreement between the authors there are several examples to be cited, however, there are two that are most important. The first being that both argue over the obvious, whether or not economic factors were primarily responsible for British Imperialism. Throughout both selections this idea is hinted at whether reading the YES portion or the NO portion.

Within the YES portion the authors state: Overall, Empire investors tended to be drawn from two groups: elites, wherever they lived, and businessmen (particularly, in terms of numbers, merchants) who resided in London. The attractiveness of the Empire seemed to decline almost exponentially the farther one traveled north from the City. In terms of the socioeconomic background of its participants, the British capital market was clearly two markets, and it is from one of those segments, the segment populated by elites and London businessmen, that the most strident Empire support could have been expected to come (Davis Huttenback 90-91). This shows that the British upper class or elite, were primarily interested in making large imperialistic investments due to the fact that they knew it was in their economic interest to do so. By doing so they would allow themselves to profit from their investments. Much like our government and private investors do today with oil in the mid east. : (

Within the NO portion the author states several things to support that imperialistic rule by Britain was not primarily economic. Industrial Europe required a highly specialized world, in which some areas would produce food for its industrial proletariat, others would produce raw materials for the industrial process, and the entire world would constitute a market for industrial goods. But to achieve this Europe needed to recast the world in its own image, to create the same infrastructures and similar institutions that would permit resources to be exploited and trade conducted (MacKenzie 99). This shows that imperialistic rule by Britain and other European nations was not solely economic but more so a way to gain materials, trade materials, and expand their cultures and receive outside cultural influence through imperialistic rule rather than using imperialistic rule to collect money for the wealthy.

The second major disagreement has to do with the Expansion of the British Empire. The disagreement is that the YES position feels that British imperialism at the turn of the 20th century was too costly where as the NO position takes the stance that imperialism was necessary in order for British expansion.

In the YES portion the author's state: Disraeli, even as he proposed further imperial expansions, acknowledged that the Empire was costly and that India was a particularly expensive undertaking. Chamberlain, although he looked at imperial expenditures as potentially profitable investments, admitted that they required money. Ð'-- For those like Chamberlain, who argued that the Empire was good business for the British, imperial costs had still to be offset against private profits in any calculation of social gain: a point Marx had recognized as early as 1858. Even if the claim was only that the Empire was good for a few but not for the many, the question still remains: How much did it cost the many to enrich the few? (Davis Huttenback 85) Through this the authors are trying to show that although the investors in British imperialism were wealthy it was not in their interest to expand



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