Imperialism: A Study
By John A. Hobson
This study of modern Imperialism is designed to give more precision to a term which is on everybody’s lips and which is used to denote the most powerful movement in the current politics of the Western world. Though Imperialism has been adopted as a more or less conscious policy by several European States and threatens to break down the political isolation of the United States, Great Britain has travelled so much faster and farther along this road as to furnish in her recent career the most profitable guidance or warning.While an attempt is made to discover and discuss the general principles which underlie imperialist policy, the illustration of that policy is mainly derived from the progress of British Imperialism during the last generation, and proceeds rather by diagnosis than by historical description. [From the Preface]
First Pub. Date
New York: James Pott and Co.
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
- Part I, Chapter I, The Measure of Imperialism
- Part I, Chapter II, The Commercial Value of Imperialism
- Part I, Chapter III, Imperialism as an Outlet for Population
- Part I, Chapter IV, Economic Parasites of Imperialism
- Part I, Chapter V, Imperialism Based on Protection
- Part I, Chapter VI, The Economic Taproot of Imperialism
- Part I, Chapter VII, Imperialist Finance
- Part II, Chapter I, The Political Significance of Imperialism
- Part II, Chapter II, The Scientific Defence of Imperialism
- Part II, Chapter III, Moral and Sentimental Factors
- Part II, Chapter IV, Imperialism and the Lower Races
- Part II, Chapter V, Imperialism in Asia
- Part II, Chapter VI, Imperial Federation
- Part II, Chapter VII, The Outcome
The Measure of Imperialism
Part I, Chapter I
THE ECONOMICS OF IMPERIALISM
Quibbles about the modern meaning of the term Imperialism are best resolved by reference to concrete facts in the history of the last thirty years. During that period a number of European nations, Great Britain being first and foremost, have annexed or otherwise asserted political sway over vast portions of Africa and Asia, and over numerous islands in the Pacific and elsewhere. The extent to which this policy of expansion has been carried on, and in particular the enormous size and the peculiar character of the British acquisitions, are not adequately realised even by those who pay some attention to Imperial politics.
The following lists, giving the area and, where possible, the population of the new acquisitions, are designed to give definiteness to the term Imperialism. Though derived from official sources, they do not, however, profess strict accuracy. The sliding scale of political terminology along which no-man’s land, or hinterland, passes into some kind of definite protectorate is often applied so as to conceal the process; “rectification” of a fluid frontier is continually taking place; paper “partitions” of spheres of influence or protection in Africa and Asia are often obscure, and in some cases the area and the population are highly speculative.
In a few instances it is possible that portions of territory put down as acquired since 1870 may have been ear-marked by a European Power at some earlier date. But care is taken to include only such territories as have come within this period under the definite political control of the Power to which they are assigned. The figures in the case of Great Britain are so startling as to call for a little further interpretation. I have thought it right to add to the recognised list of colonies and protectorates the “veiled Protectorate” of Egypt, with its vast Soudanese claim, the entire territories assigned to Chartered Companies, and the native or feudatory States in India which acknowledge our paramountcy by the admission of a British Agent or other official endowed with real political control.
All these lands are rightly accredited to the British Empire, and if our past policy is still pursued, the intensive as distinct from the extensive Imperialism will draw them under an ever-tightening grasp.
In a few other instances, as, for example, in West Africa, countries are included in this list where some small dominion had obtained before 1870, but where the vast majority of the present area of the colony is of recent acquisition. Any older colonial possession thus included in Lagos or Gambia is, however, far more than counterbalanced by the increased area of the Gold Coast Colony, which is not included in this list, and which grew from 29,000 square miles in 1873 to 39,000 square miles in 1893.
|Zanzibar and Pemba||1888||200,000|
|East Africa Protectorate||1895||2,500,000|
|Somali Coast Protectorate||1884-1885||68,000||(?)|
|British Central Africa Protectorate||1889||42,217||688,049|
|Niger Coast Protectorate||1885-1898||400,000 to 500,000||25,000,000 to 40,000,000|
|British South Africa Charter||1889||750,000||321,000|
|Orange River Colony||1900||48,826||207,503|
|Hong Kong (littoral)||1898||376||100,000|
|Jammu and Kashmir||80,000||2,543,952|
|Malay Protected States||1883-1895||24,849||620,000|
|North Borneo Company||1881||31,106||175,000|
|North Borneo Protectorate||1888||…||…|
|British New Guinea||1888||90,540||350,000|
The list is by no means complete. It takes no account of several large regions which have passed under the control of our Indian Government as native or feudatory States, but of which no statistics of area or population, even approximate, are available. Such are the Shan States, the Burma Frontier, and the Upper Burma Frontier, the districts of Chitral, Bajam, Swat, Waziristan, which came under our “sphere of influence” in 1893, and have been since taken under a closer protectorate. The increase of British India itself between 1871 and 1891 amounted to an area of 104,993 square miles, with a population of 25,330,000, while no reliable measurement of the formation of new native States within that period and since is available. Many of the measurements here given are in round numbers, indicative of their uncertainty, but they are taken, wherever available, from official publications of the Colonial Office, corroborated or supplemented from the “Statesman’s Year-book.” They will by no means comprise the full tale of our expansion during the thirty years, for many enlargements made by the several colonies themselves are omitted. But taken as they stand they make a formidable addition to the growth of an Empire whose nucleus is only 120,000 square miles, with 40,000,000 population.
For so small a nation to add to its domains in the course of a single generation an area of 4,754,000 square miles,
*4 with an estimated population of 88,000,000, is a historical fact of great significance.
Accepting Sir Robert Giffen’s estimate
*5 of the size of our Empire (including Egypt and the Soudan) at about 13,000,000 square miles, with a population of some 400 to 420 millions (of whom about 50,000,000 are of British race and speech), we find that one-third of this Empire, containing quite one-fourth of the total population of the Empire, has been acquired within the last generation. This is in tolerably close agreement with other independent estimates.
The character of this Imperial expansion is clearly exhibited in the list of new territories.
Though, for convenience, the year 1870 has been taken as indicative of the beginning of a conscious policy of Imperialism, it will be evident that the movement did not attain its full impetus until the middle of the eighties. The vast increase of territory, and the method of wholesale partition which assigned to us great tracts of African land, may be dated from about 1884. Within fifteen years some three and three-quarter millions of square miles have been added to the British Empire.
Nor does Great Britain stand alone in this enterprise. The leading characteristic of modern Imperialism, the competition of rival Empires, is the product of this same period. The close of the Franco-German war marks the beginning of a new colonial policy in France and Germany, destined to take effect in the next decade. It was not unnatural that the newly-founded German Empire, surrounded by powerful enemies and doubtful allies, and perceiving its more adventurous youth drawn into the United States and other foreign lands, should form the idea of a colonial empire. During the seventies a vigorous literature sprang up in advocacy of the policy
*8 which took shape a little later in the powerful hands of Bismarck. The earliest instance of official aid for the promotion of German commerce abroad occurred in 1880 in the Government aid granted to the “German Commercial and Plantation Association of the Southern Seas.” German connection with Samoa dates from the same year, but the definite advance of Germany upon its Imperialist career began in 1884, with a policy of African protectorates and annexations of Oceanic islands. During the next fifteen years she brought under her colonial sway about 1,000,000 square miles, with an estimated population of 14,000,000. Almost the whole of this territory is tropical, and the white population forms a total of a few thousands.
Similarly in France a great revival of the old colonial spirit took place in the early eighties, the most influential of the revivalists being the eminent economist, M. Paul Leroy-Beaulieu. The extension of empire in Senegal and Sahara in 1880 was followed next year by the annexation of Tunis, and France was soon actively engaged in the scramble for Africa in 1884, while at the same time she was fastening her rule on Tonking and Laos in Asia. Her acquisitions since 1880 (exclusive of the extension of New Caledonia and its dependencies) amount to an area of over three and a half million square miles, with a native population of some 37,000,000, almost the whole tropical or sub-tropical, inhabited by lower races and incapable of genuine French colonisation.
Italian aspirations took similar shape from 1880 onwards, though the disastrous experience of the Abyssinian expeditions has given a check to Italian Imperialism. Her possessions in East Africa are confined to the northern colony of Eritrea and the protectorate of Somaliland.
Of the other European States, two only, Portugal
*9 and Belgium, enter directly into the competition of the new Imperialism. The African arrangements of 1884-6 assigned to Portugal the large district of Angola on the Congo Coast, while a large strip of East Africa passed definitely under her political control in 1891. The anomalous position of the great Congo Free State, ceded to the King of Belgium in 1883, and growing since then by vast accretions, must be regarded as involving Belgium in the competition for African empire.
Spain may be said to have definitely retired from imperial competition. The large and important possessions of Holland in the East and West Indies, though involving her in imperial politics to some degree, belong to older colonialism: she takes no part in the new imperial expansion.
Russia, the only active expansionist country of the North, stands alone in the character of her imperial growth, which differs from other Imperialism in that it has been principally Asiatic in its achievements and has proceeded by direct extension of imperial boundaries, partaking to a larger extent than in the other cases of a regular colonial policy of settlement for purposes of agriculture and industry. It is, however, evident that Russian expansion, though of a more normal and natural order than that which characterises the new Imperialism, comes definitely into contact and into competition with the claims and aspirations of the latter in Asia, and has been advancing rapidly during the period which is the object of our study.
The recent entrance of the powerful and progressive nation of the United States of America upon Imperialism by the annexation of Hawaii and the taking over of the relics of ancient Spanish empire not only adds a new formidable competitor for trade and territory, but changes and complicates the issues. As the focus of political attention and activity shifts more to the Pacific States, and the commercial aspirations of America are more and more set upon trade with the Pacific islands and the Asiatic coast, the same forces which are driving European States along the path of territorial expansion seem likely to act upon the United States, leading her to a virtual abandonment of the principle of American isolation which has hitherto dominated her policy.
The following comparative table of colonisation, compiled from the “Statesman’s Year-book” for 1900 by Mr. H. C. Morris,
*10 marks the present expansion of the political control of Western nations:—
|Number of Colonies||Area. Square Miles.
The political nature of the new British Imperialism may be authoritatively ascertained by considering the governmental relations which the newly annexed territories hold with the Crown.
*11 British “colonial possessions” fall into three classes—(1) “Crown colonies, in which the Crown has the entire control of legislation, while the administration is carried on by public officers under the control of the Home Government; (2) colonies possessing representative institutions, but not responsible government, in which the Crown has no more than a veto on legislation, but the Home Government retains the control of public affairs; (3) colonies possessing representative institutions and responsible government, in which the Crown has only a veto on legislation, and the Home Government has no control over any officer except the Governor.”
Now, of the thirty-nine separate areas which have been annexed by Great Britain since 1870 as colonies or protectorates, not a single one ranks in class 2 or 3. The new Imperialism has established no single British colony endowed with responsible government or representative institutions. Nor, with the exception of the three new States in South Africa, where white settlers live in some numbers, is it seriously pretended that any of these annexed territories is being prepared and educated for representative, responsible self-government; and even in these South African States there is no serious intention, either on the part of the Home Government or of the colonists, that the majority of the inhabitants shall have any real voice in the government.
It is true that some of these areas enjoy a measure of self-government, as protectorates or as feudatory States, under their own native princes. But all these in major matters of policy are subject to the absolute rule of the British Government, or of some British official, while the general tendency is towards drawing the reins of arbitrary control more tightly over protectorates, converting them into States which are in substance, though not always in name, Crown colonies. With the exception of a couple of experiments in India, the tendency everywhere has been towards a closer and more drastic imperial control over the territories that have been annexed, transforming protectorates, company rule, and spheres of influence into definite British States of the Crown colony order.
This is attributable, not to any greed of tyranny on the part of the Imperial Government, but to the conditions imposed upon our rule by considerations of climate and native population. Almost the whole of this new territory is tropical, or so near to the tropics as to preclude genuine colonisation of British settlers, while in those few districts where Europeans can work and breed, as in parts of South Africa and Egypt, the preoccupation of the country by large native populations of “lower races” precludes any considerable settlement of British workers and the safe bestowal of the full self-government which prevails in Australasia and Canada.
The same is true to an even more complete extent of the Imperialism of other continental countries. The new Imperialism has nowhere extended the political and civil liberties of the mother country to any part of the vast territories which, since 1870, have fallen under the government of Western civilised Powers. Politically, the new Imperialism is an expansion of autocracy.
Taking the growth of Imperialism as illustrated in the recent expansion of Great Britain and of the chief continental Powers, we find the distinction between Imperialism and colonisation, set forth in the opening chapter, closely borne out by facts and figures, and warranting the following general judgments:—
First—Almost the whole of recent imperial expansion is occupied with the political absorption of tropical or sub-tropical lands in which white men will not settle with their families.
Second—Nearly all the lands are thickly peopled by “lower races.”
Thus this recent imperial expansion stands entirely distinct from the colonisation of sparsely peopled lands in temperate zones, where white colonists carry with them the modes of government, the industrial and other arts of the civilisation of the mother country. The “occupation” of these new territories is comprised in the presence of a small minority of white men, officials, traders, and industrial organisers, exercising political and economic sway over great hordes of population regarded as inferior and as incapable of exercising any considerable rights of self-government, in politics or industry.
Expansion of Chief European Powers since 1884.
|BRITISH COLONIES AND DEPENDENCIES, 1900.|
|India (1,800,258 square miles,287,223,431 inhabitants)||1,827,579||291,586,688|
|Others (27,321 square miles,4,363,257 inhabitants) .|
|Africa (including Egypt, EgyptianSoudan)||3,530,000||54,730,000|
(Compiled from Morris’ “History of Colonisation,” vol. ii. p. 87, and “Statesman’s Year-book,” 1900.)
|British New Guinea||1884||90,540||350,000|
|Nigeria||1884||(?) 450,000||(?) 30,000,000|
|British East Africa||1886||860,000||2,500,000|
|Zululand (with Tongaland)||1887||15,000||240,000|
|Sarawak and Brunei||1888||65,000||545,000|
|Pahang (Straits Settlements)||1888||10,000||57,000|
|British Central Africa||1891||42,217||900,000|
|Transvaal and Orange River Colony||1900||167,000||1,301,000|
Total area, British Empire, January 1884—square miles, 8,059,179. Population, 248,000,000.
Bedarf Deutschland der Colonien was the most vigorous and popular treatise.
Part I, Chapter II