the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas
… late nineteenth-century imperialism was constituted through and legitimized by a set of complex discourses that exoticized others and positioned European states as better than and often obligated to “assist” those others through political, cultural, and economic interventions.
… World War II, when powers like the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands were looking at the end of their globe-spanning empires, while simultaneously seeing the expansion of imperialism in countries like Japan.
broadly : the extension or imposition of power, authority, or influence
… as the Hollywood movies had already proved, American cultural imperialism was not only too big to fight, it was too seductive to ignore.
: imperial government, power, or authority: an imperial system
Usage of Colonialism and Imperialism
In contexts dealing with the domination of a people or area by a foreign power, colonialism and imperialism are often used together with no real distinction in meaning. Used separately, however, each of these words can take on a slightly different emphasis. Colonialism comes from colony, and tends to be applied in contexts addressing the effects that colonialism has on the lives of those living in colonies. Imperialism is closely related to empire and therefore tends to place more emphasis on the ruling power and its intent to expand its dominion, as well as on the expanded empire itself, with its distinct parts subsumed under the banner of the dominating force.
Linguistic Roots of Imperialism
The original meaning of imperialism was a simple one: “imperial government,” that is, empire in the classical sense (such as existed in ancient Rome, China, and Greece). In more recent times, imperialism has become synonymous with western hegemony in Africa and Asia from the 18th through the 20th centuries and with the spreading cultural influence of the United States. Formerly implying military and governmental dominance, the word today is often invoked in a wider variety of contexts, such as cultural imperialism, media imperialism, and economic imperialism. And while there has been considerable debate about the net effects of western dominance in other parts of the world, in its current use, imperialism often carries a negative connotation.
Examples of Imperialism
The “golden age” of imperialism was the 19th century, during which European nations held empires that covered much of the world. During this period, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Russia, and Great Britain all relied on imperialism to build their wealth.
European countries seized about 9 million square miles of territory in Africa and Asia between 1870 and 1900, a fifth of the world’s landmass. About 150 million people were subjected to imperialism during that time.
The scale of these empires was vast. The Austro-Hungarian Empire included countries in southeastern Europe bordering Russia. Germany’s empire included the former French regions of Alsace and Lorraine, and Germany’s and Italy’s empires included countries in Africa. The Russian Empire included most of eastern Europe, including Serbia. The British Empire—the largest empire in the world at the time—had countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The French Empire had Vietnam and most of northern Africa.
Imperialism has occurred outside this context, though. Although the U.S. doesn’t often think of itself as an imperial power, some historians have drawn this comparison. The Monroe Doctrine asserted in 1823 that the U.S. would defend the Americas against European imperialism, for example, and laid the foundation for ongoing U.S. interference in the Western Hemisphere.
The U.S. fought the Spanish-American War to end Spain’s colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere. In 1898, Spain ended its claims on Cuba, and the U.S. took over rights to Guam and Puerto Rico. It defeated Philippine nationalists a few years later, and claimed the Philippines.The American expansion into the Philippines and Puerto Rico did not include colonization.