Colonialism in Asia and Africa
Colonialism is a process of domination, involving the subjugation of one people by another. Like colonialism, imperialism, also involves political and economic control over a dependent territory. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy differentiates the two as follows: The term colony comes from the Latin word colonus, meaning farmer. This root indicates that the practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory, where the arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to their country of origin. Imperialism, on the other hand, (from the Latin term imperium, meaning to command) draws attention to the way one country exercises power over another, whether through settlement, sovereignty, or indirect mechanisms of control.
In world history, no continent possessed so many colonies and justified their access to the world by means of a civilising mission as did modern Europe. Practically the whole non-Western world was under one European power or the other for about four centuries until decolonisation happened after World War II.
Unable to reconcile the ideas of justice and natural law with colonial practice, especially the sovereignty of Europeans over non-Westerners, some political philosophers defended colonialism and imperialism arguing that their action was a civilizing mission. The rationale was that a temporary period of political dependence or tutelage was necessary for “uncivilized” societies to advance to the point where they would be capable of sustaining liberal institutions and self-government. This is captured by the phrase, ‘The Whiteman’s Burden’ in a poem by Rudyard Kipling. However, many Enlightenment thinkers contested the idea of Europe’s civilizing mission and condemned it as a justification for economic exploitation.
In this lesson we discuss the colonisation of South East Asia, Africa and India by European powers.