Nationalism and Imperialism

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The process of nationalism had a greater impact on the world than the process of imperialism. The ideas and processes of nationalism and imperialism were both rooted in the notion of superiority. Although the processes for both became more intertwined during the 19th century, it is important to distinguish the two to understand how and why one process had a greater impact than the other. A great impact was felt through Europe and the world when imperialism views were strengthened by components of nationalism, which inspired a determination for global colonization.

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There was a lot of attention given to colonizing at that time for political and economic endeavors, as well as to educate and rule over supposedly uncivilized people groups. In some instances, colonizing occurred in the name of Christianity. Imperialism expanded throughout Europe and the world during the 19th century to create empires. Reasons for countries to colonize in the 19th century was to influence people in other lands, conquer those people, and demand direct rule over them. Also, to vie for economic power and prestige, and a desire to educate and govern groups of people that were considered backward. Because of the Industrial Revolution, Europe had the technological resources and superiority to colonize and command allegiance. Countries in the 19th century tried to expand their territories by dominating other lands for their resources to profit from those resources. For example, Europe took resources from India, like cotton, back to Europe where the English manufactured it into thread and cloth. After the process of using cotton to manufacture products, the English merchants exported the goods back to the Indian markets for a profit.

Not only that, imperialism processes were not easy to achieve and were often unsuccessful in the end. In fact, most of the time imperialist spent their energy subduing rebellions that arose in colonies they had acquired. Additionally, the intensity for imperialist to colonize induced strong feelings among the countries in Europe, causing rivalries with one another to worsen. European countries scrambled to colonize in Asia and Africa, but mainly in Africa. Europeans scrambled to colonize the last available land in the interior sections of the African continent from 1880 to 1914. For example, the Dutch were an established power in an area of Africa known as Cape Colony until the British had taken it from the Dutch. They had been a principal enemy to the British as the British Imperial authority grew. Also, in 1884 Britain and Portugal came close to going to war with Germany over the African colony, Congo. They also wanted free trade along the river. As a result, to regulate colonization, Europe attended the Berlin Conference to regulate power and trade in Africa. The rivalries among European countries eventually led to the onset of World War 1 in 1914. Another example of the imperial process that did not work well happened when imperialists ignored the importance of combining or not combining groups of people with differences together in one kingdom. People with different belief systems, such as those with different ethnic, linguistic, religious backgrounds did not always come together in harmony. For instance, Britain thought they could incorporate several kingdoms with cultural differences into one Nigerian kingdom. The end-result was tension in a newly blended kingdom.

To further complicate the imperialistic processes, Europeans used Christianity to as a reason to colonize Africa in an effort to seize power globally. With the goal to seek power, “an attempt to augment political and regional influence, nations like Great Britain and France needed a justification for expansion.” There was the idea that Africans were uncivilized and uneducated, whereas the Europeans were far superior. “Essentially Christianity was a guise by which Western governments justified the exploitation and conquest of African nations.” Therefore, the imperialists were often unable to control or dominate regions with their influence or through direct rule successfully. Nationalism in the 19th century was an idea that a country could distinguish itself with a national identity. A strong sense of nationalism swept through Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. “With the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte and his conquests across Europe, these French ideas quickly spread to neighboring regions as country after country fell victim to Napoleon’s powerful army.” Napoleon inadvertently unified European countries into nations with his ideas of equal rights and nationalism. Although revolutions occurred, the results were rarely successful, but out of the revolutions and Napoleon’s conquests, there were people groups, like Czechs, Germans, Italians, Magyars, Poles, and Slavs who became aware of their national unity. Their intense sense of national unity occurred when they identified with one another culturally and linguistically. Subsequently, discontentment among the Italians and Germans also ignited a strong sense of unity after Napoleon conquered Italian and German states.

The European nations were inspired by ideas of liberty and nationalism consisting of traditions and common geographic spaces. Consequently, countries all over the world took pride in who they were. “Nationalism, with its ideas of patriotism and ethnic superiority, contributed to imperial ideas since it inspired competition among Europeans who desired greater national glory and pride,” including the United States. Europe and the United States obtained colonies and wealth through overseas acquisitions which were entangled with the impulse for national greatness. It is believed that nationalism was a natural occurrence while others believed nationalism was stimulated by governments. For instance, there were governments who increased patriotism through mandatory military service, honoring national heroes, or by implementing patriotism in school curriculums. There is also a belief that the growth of people in urban areas resulted in people wanting to identify as a nation. They wanted a sense of belongingness. In conclusion, imperialism and nationalism were interconnected in the 19th century. Both concepts were rooted in a belief that countries were more superior than others. In order for the more superior countries to advance their acquisitions politically, economically, and for the good of man, military force was used to acquire and colonize people groups. To differentiate the two processes, imperialism was a conquest for raw materials, wealth, land and to civilize native groups in other lands.

Imperialism was also about taking over with force, whether by military force or by forcing policy and control. As for nationalism, in many cases, was an outgrowth to those that were conquered. The greatest possible outcome to an unfortunate military force, Napoleon’s conquests, was the spread of nationalism throughout Europe and the world. Nationalism has had a greater and lasting impact on unifying countries into nations. It was nationalistic ambitions that inspired imperialism to grow, therefore nationalism had a greater impact on the world.

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Nationalism and Imperialism. (2020, Jan 12). Retrieved from