I heard the term ‘imperialism’ applied to a period in Arabia after WWI. On brief reflection I realized that ‘imperialism’ is a hollow meaningless term, much like ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’, terms that come from the same Karl Marx and the failed Lefty ideology.
So what really happened in the world from 1500 to today? Hint: today we call it ‘nation building’.
What changed in 1500 was that the long historic patterns of trade, widely known from the Hanseatic ports and the Phoenicians, was expanded. Small successful tribal clusters that already called themselves ‘states’ saw the advantages of trade. The model used was to create unique trading ports as many trading nations observed in the North Sea and Baltic.
The first ‘state’ seeking trade on a large oceanic basis was Portugal. Portugal created fortified trading stations: West Africa (Goree in Senegal), India (Goa), China (Macau) and even on a Western Island of Japan (Dejima).
Trade was done to export goods and services from the home state in order to create local employment. The trading states would accept anything in trade that could be used in their home market.
In order to find tribes to sell to and buy from, the early trading states came upon the idea of promoting religion (Roman Catholic) as the mechanism to unify tribes into larger units. The Spaniards and Portuguese used this approach in Central and South America, to modest success.
The Dutch used the old trading model in New Amsterdam and a dozen locations including Java.
The Brits pioneered a newer nation building model. With effective ground troops they conquered entire swaths of land and put the local tribes under the British mandate. India, Pakistan and most of tribal Arabia (after the fall of Turkey in WWI) came under their sway. In Australia the local tribes were weak and Britain took the whole continent. In New Zealand the local tribes, Maori, were strong and had to be accommodated. The Chinese were much too strong a cluster of tribes and yielded only Hong Kong to the Brits. Japan was never conquered nor was China.
This model of trade expansion, really many different models, has been going on for 6 centuries. It has been put under one ideological rubric, ‘imperialism’ which is a hollow meaningless term.