Empire in Asia

A New Global History

Modern Imperialism

Book Cover

Book Title

Modern Imperialism: Western Overseas Expansion and its Aftermath, 1776-1965. Lexington: D. C. Heath and Company, 1969

Author

Austen, Ralph A.

Synopsis

The writer hopes to present the selection of documents so as to demonstrate that the process of modern western expansion was far too complex to be reduced to a single moral judgment. Imperialism has played a key role in creating the close ties which bind together almost all parts of the present day world. Asia, Africa and Latin America are portrayed as having undergone a "modernization" resulting almost entirely from western initiatives, and that the relations between West and non-West were shaped also by the influences of western domination. The book showcases a phenomenon frequently referred to as the "Old Colonial System", which dates from the Renaissance to the eighteenth century. This was seen as a greater conscious dedication to imperial power and a lesser capability to transform the non-European world.

The Old Colonial System was viewed as the system of absolutist monarchies who expressed their concern for strict control over all overseas possessions. Mercantilist doctrine also made clear the vital but subordinate function of colonies in strengthening the economy of the mother country. Hence, the objective remained limited to strategic commercial centers and relatively vacant plantation areas; direct control over non-European populations was neither sought nor attained.

The book seeks to identify not just the motivations for empire but how they have to come to dominate the areas they established control over, for even in the post-colonialism era of the 1960s they are still characterized by "spheres of influence" in which western powers exercise economic control, sometimes reinforces by political manipulation and military intervention.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The book begins with the fall of the Old Colonial System; when the fullest European domination of the world first gets under way. The scope of the book includes the essays written during or about the full category of different forms of imperialism: expansion in the era of free trade 1776-1875, the new imperialism 1874-1919, empires in retreat from 1833-1960 and imperialism in a post-colonial world 1955-1965. The issues examined unfortunately limited in nature since most though not all the time, the perspectives of the myriad of issues represent only that of a limited few. Yet, the collection of essays are valuable for the reader to imperial studies, simply because it sheds light on some of the issues generally encountered when discussing the issue of empires, its justification, its nature and many other pertinent issues. However, admittedly the discussion is more broad-based rather than specific,

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The book begins with the fall of the Old Colonial System; when the fullest European domination of the world first gets under way. The scope of the book includes the essays written during or about the full category of different forms of imperialism: expansion in the era of free trade 1776-1875, the new imperialism 1874-1919, empires in retreat from 1833-1960 and imperialism in a post-colonial world 1955-1965. The issues examined unfortunately limited in nature since most though not all the time, the perspectives of the myriad of issues represent only that of a limited few. Yet, the collection of essays are valuable for the reader to imperial studies, simply because it sheds light on some of the issues generally encountered when discussing the issue of empires, its justification, its nature and many other pertinent issues. However, admittedly the discussion is more broad-based rather than specific,

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The book is arranged thematically, with primary materials, interpretive essays, editorial narrative as the major form of introducing the arguments of writers. Unlike the period of the Old Colonial System, the parliamentary state and the industrial economy of the nineteenth and twentieth century means that imperialism in this period is less the result of a deliberate expansive will than the effect of a vast increase in expansive capacity. The book works within the premise that the examples of political interest in colonies formed a rather sporadic pattern, largely subsumed by more serious rivalries within Europe. However, the author espouses that because Europeans had small forces who were able to establish claims to colonial tracts with modern weapons and transport was both astounding and until the rise of anti-colonial nationalism, irreversible.

The perspective of the Europeans arriving in Asia is very much prevalent, for it was seen that even marginal European capital undermined traditional society to the point where colonial rule sometimes offered the only means of maintaining order. Yet what could be of most use to students is in distilling the vital arguments of the European point of view so that they will be able to marry the two perspectives of empire, that belonging to the Europeans as well as non-Europeans and identify similarities and differences, in order to analyze the patterns of transformation to the identity of both societies.

Ultimately, the main framework remains limited to that of showing both the historical continuities of modern empire and the particular problems that empire has presented to the powers responsible for both its growth and decay.

 


Annotated by Michelle Djong