Nationalism and It’s Relation to Imperialism

The last quarter of the nineteenth century was the classical age of European imperialism (Marshall,49). Western European countries such as Britain, France, Belgium and Italy were all trying to impose their imperialistic thoughts on other countries. Funk and Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia defines Imperialism as the practice by which powerful nations or peoples seek to extend and maintain control or influence over weaker nations… power and influence is extended informally, mainly through diplomatic and economic means, rather than formally through direct colonial rule.

Besides the political and economic point of view, the process of imperialism cannot be defined without the cultural concepts such as imposing religion, traditions and or language of a nation. The three main goals for European imperialists were social, economic and political gain. Social motives focused on morals or ideologies. “Britain’s colonial empire was motivated at least in part by the idea that it was the “white man’s burden” to civilize “backward” peoples” (Imperialism,3). Britain believed that they were superior over all others and all countries were in need of British rule.

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This was Britain’s justification for their imperialistic policies. The most common motive for imperialism was economic. This was all about acquiring more raw materials, cheaper labour, finding markets for their surplus goods and to expand their own economy. An example of this would be the British setting up East India Companies along the coast of India to trade materials such as cotton, silk and tea. And lastly some governments just wanted more power.

By expanding, governments gained prestige, security and diplomatic advantages. Imperialism aided Western European countries in securing more troops, as well as naval bases and refuelling points for ships” (European History). In order to attain these goals governments started to implement policies to promote Nationalism. Britannica Encyclopedia defines nationalism as the ideaology based on the premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotions to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests. (Britannica) Nationalism was promoted for the same reasons by all European governments.

Firstly, in order to venture out to imperialize other countries, all citizens in their own country must have the same thoughts and goals and secondly once imperialists exerted their control on another country, they wanted to be able to impose their nationalistic thoughts on them as well. Western Europe was in a good place in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Crime was low, advances in transportation were taking place and international trade was flourishing, however this was also the time of mass democracy, unionization, and urbanization.

There were groups of people who questioned the authority of the current government and the lack of power and say they had. “Both landed aristocracy and new industrial bourgeoisie had a vested interest in halting the slow diminution of their monopolization of power” (Stapleton, 44) European countries seeking to imperialize countries needed to be a unified and strong country in order to attain their goal. Several means were used by the government to create national pride and loyalty, first compulsory education for primary school was introduced.

In school students were taught the basics of reading and writing, but they were also taught their duty to their country. ”School curricula emphasized duty, deference in order, collegiality, respect for class division, loyalty to the State, the uniqueness of the national character and the notion of race as the dominant world force” (Stapleton, 44). Secondly, national symbolism became prominent. National anthems were developed, holidays were introduced and national flags were flown from public buildings. Cities became monuments of national pride. Cheap mass-production of photographic imagery meant national idolatorisaton became universally accessible” (Stapleton, 44) Third, the government had to prove that they were taking care of all their people. Social assistance programs such as welfare started to be developed. This was first seen in Germany by Bismarck and soon other countries followed. And lastly, the press was controlled. During this time period newspapers were the main media and “were the mouthpieces between which the governing classes spoke” (Stapleton, 44).

Whatever the government wanted the public to know or believe, they could print in the country’s national paper. European countries were able to instill a sense of togetherness in the country using these tools. Not only was the government creating a sense of nationalism in the country, but society was also doing it’s part. The Arts were flourishing and creating a sense of pride among various western European countries. Literature, paintings and the development of film all gave people an outlet to express themselves.

By the late nineteenth century a number of European countries possessed new territories overseas. Belgium had control of the Congo in South Africa, France controlled Algeria and Italy controlled Somolia. British imperial rule spanned the world. The phase “The sun never sets on the British Empire” was a perfect explanation. And by the late 1800’s Britain expanded their rule to include Egypt, Kenya and South Africa. Asia was also under imperial control. The British, Dutch and French all established or expanded their control.

But eventually imperialism failed. When Britain came into Africa and implemented their government, health care and schooling, they were teaching the Africans how to live the British life. In school they were taught how to read and write in English, health care helped them stay healthier and they learnt about democracy from observing the government. Africans soon realized that they were not British and they were not going to be ruled by the British. African culture was just too different from the British culture and the two groups clashed.

The African people still had strong beliefs and pride in their own culture. In a way you can say nationalism helped African and Asian countries overcome imperialism. When you look at the big picture nationalism helped all countries unify. Whether it be Western Europe who used nationalism to justify implementing imperialism on overseas countries or Africa and Asia who used nationalism to overcome imperialism. In both cases countries unified and fought for what they needed as a country.

Works Cited

“European History/European Imperialism and Nationalism. ”(n. d. ):Wikibooks. Web. 20 Oct. 2010. . “Imperialism. ” (n. d. ): Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. EBSCO. Web. 30 Oct. 2010. . Marshall, P. J. “European Imperialism in the 19th Century. ” Reading History. May. 1992: 49-51 “Nationalism. ” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 31 Oct. 2010. . Stapleton, F. G. “Making Sense of 19th Century Nationalism. ” History Review. September. 2008: 41-45

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Nationalism and It’s Relation to Imperialism. (2017, Feb 18). Retrieved from