Question: The primary motivation for European powers (and others) to engage in
imperialism in the 19th century was nationalistic pride.
Imperialist countries, which considered themselves sovereign and all powerful,
projected their power to the peripheries through administrative, military, and economic
facades. National pride was not the primary motivator for imperialist expansion in the 19 th
century; instead, economic needs and military strength, which involved resource and wealth
exploitation in the virgin colonies in the interest of the metropoles, were the key motivators.
National Pride not the Primary Motivator
Since imperial states were confident that acquiring more land and expanding their
territories was a show of patriotism, pride, might and dominance, they embarked on the
journey to conquer the inferior and uncivilized. However, it is important to note that national
pride or patriotism was not the primary motivator but simply a support framework. It was a
tool used for supremacy battle between European metropoles (Penrose, 2012). By acquiring
as many lands as possible, which involved establishing navy and army bases, they were in a
position to defend their interests abroad (Porter, 2016). Had national pride been the
fundamental motive, the whole ideology of imperialism would have been vague. Europeans
and others were driven by an element more important to the sustainability of their nations.
Since imperialism began during the industrial age, the primary motive was growth and
economic gains. Therefore, Europe established frameworks that would exacerbate the motive
such as religion, patriotism, and ethnocentrism.
Imperial administrations and companies under the governments sought to maximize
economic gains. The Industrial Revolution meant that most of the industrialized European
giants, such as Britain and France, produced more than they consumed domestically (Porter,
2016). Bankers and businesspersons had excess money to invest irrespective of the risk.
Therefore, it was necessary to expand globally in search of the market for excess goods and
services. Overseas nations provided cheap labor and a constant supply of raw materials such
as rubber and oil (Romano, 2010). Thus, imperialists thought it necessary to retain firm
control of the virgin nations through tribute and plunder to improve their economic positions.
It, therefore, implied establishing colonies under their direct supervision to operate
effectively and efficiently.
It is also important to note that imperial economies technological advancements
enabled smooth penetration and acquisition of resources that would power their economies.
Africa and Asia, at the time of the scramble, had an inferior infrastructure, used antiquated
weapons, and were infested with ailments that were new to whites, such as malaria (Romano,
2010). Had Europeans lacked the appropriate technology to handle the harsh Asian and
African terrain, their imperialistic zest would have extinguished. Advanced medical
knowledge developed quinine to aid in fighting malaria. Availability of steamboats, the
telegraph, and modern weaponry, such as machine guns, augmented the Europeans ability to
communicate and quash any uprising that threatened their dominance (Romano, 2010). While
poverty in the colonies was to the detriment of the industrialized nations since very few had
enough incomes to purchase European goods, European countries acquired significant
amounts of raw materials that built their economies.
Show of Political and Military Strength
Imperialism took place during a period of rivalry among European nations was
intense. The only way to show power was through the acquisition of more land to expand
territory. Exercising dominance of vast amounts translated to global prestige and influence. A
significant percentage of imperialists were also confident that dominating colonies was an
emblem of a nation’s greatness. It was a period when military dexterity set a nation’s strength
(Lenin, 2010). For example, Countries such as Britain established sturdy navy bases in
different parts of the world to seize harbors and build coaling stations necessary during
wartime as well as ensure national security. Britain also occupied the Suez Canal in Egypt
because it was a strategic trade route connecting Europe with South Africa and East Asia
(Romano, 2010). Therefore, a strong military presence abroad acted as security for the
nation’s interest and its agents abroad.
Military strength was necessary because it ensured national security against strong
adversaries and safety of agents overseas as well as dominance over colonies, particularly in
Asia and Africa. However, economic growth contributed immensely. Potential colonies
provided markets for the surplus goods produced domestically, cheap labor, and immense
untapped natural resources that could help build European economies. Religion,
technological advancements, and white supremacy elements played a support role in
exacerbating imperialism. They gave Europeans and others the notion that they were the only
dominant natural human species on earth.
Lenin, V. (2010). Imperialism : the highest stage of capitalism. London: Penguin.
Penrose, E. (2012). European imperialism and the partition of Africa. Hoboken: Taylor and
Porter, A. (2016). European imperialism, 1860-1914. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire:
Romano, J.M. (2010). AP European History with CD-ROM (2 nd ed.). Wiley Publishing Inc.