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The Theories Of Colonialism History Essay

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Different theories have been propounded by different European thinkers to legitimize the act of colonialism. It has been a serious concern for both the moral and political philosophers in the Western tradition. Political theorists have tried to figure out the relationship between the concepts of justice and natural law, and the practice of European domination over the non-Western people. The goal of this essay is to address the question of how European thinkers justified, legitimized and criticized political domination of foreign territories by the European colonists. It would also try to analyse the relationship between Western political theory and the project of colonialism.

However, it would be worthwhile to start by defining the concept ''Colonialism'' and give a little insight into what it entails. Colonialism is defined as ''the policy and practice of a powerful country in extending control over weaker people or areas'' {Collins English Dictionary}. It was also defined as the process of European settlement and political control over the rest of the world including the America, Australia and parts of Africa. {Stanford Encyclopaedia of philosophy, 2006.}. Furthermore, it can also be defined as the effort by one country to establish settlement and to impose its political, economic and cultural principles on such territory. From these various definitions, it can be inferred that colonialism is achieved through physical domination on a new territory. Although colonialism and imperialism are treated as synonyms, they are actually different. Similar to colonialism, imperialism also involves political and economic control over a dependent territory; but, it requires less physical domination. It is an indirect way of governing a colony by the colonial power or colonist. Thus, we can say Imperialism is the concept of colonialism; while the act or practice of imperialism is Colonialism. Also, another concept associated with colonialism is the concept of Neo-colonialism. Neo-colonialism is the use of economic, military, political and cultural pressures to influence other countries especially former colonies. Example of neo-colonialism where direct military control is used is in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya etc. and examples of countries where indirect control is utilized is Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa{through Commonwealth, United Nations, World Bank etc.}. Additionally, we have four main forms of colonialism which are the: settler colonialism, exploitation colonialism, surrogate colonialism and internal colonialism.

With the above integral concepts fully explained, we can start by discussing the Natural Law and Age of Discovery theory. This theory attempts to legitimize Spanish colonial activities in the Americas. It is also known as the ''civilising mission theory'' which was the acclaimed basis for Spanish invasion and conquest of the America's. This conquest brought about a theological, political and ethical debate about the use of military force to acquire foreign lands. The Spanish colonist's, persistently justified their actions in the Americas, by claiming to bring Christianity to the native people. Although, initially the Crusades were framed as defensive wars to regain Christian lands which were conquered by non-Christians and this action gave rise to the development of a legal doctrine called the ''Petrine Mandate'' which rationalized the conquest and possession of infidel lands. Nonetheless, the conversion of these native people did not provide an unproblematic justification for the overseas conquest. It should be noted however that, this conquest took place in a period when natural law theory of theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas was beginning to influence the scholars within the church. Due to this influence, the Pope: Innocent IV concluded that force became legitimate anytime infidels violated the natural law. This meant that, non-believers had governance over themselves and property, but this control was rescinded if they proved incapable of governing themselves according to principles that is recognized by every reasonable person. As expected, the Spanish concluded that the habits of the Native Americans, which included: nakedness, alleged cannibalism among others clearly demonstrated their inability to recognize and adhere to natural law and therefore insisted that colonialism was the only way to teach them civilization and Christianity.

All these actions by the Spanish colonist did not go scot-free without severe criticisms. Surprisingly, the main critics, namely Bartolome de Las Casas and Franciscus de Victoria, were Spanish missionaries sent to the conquered lands. These missionaries noticed the brutal exploitation of slave labour and the total absence of any religious commitment. In fact, it was almost a genocidal mission; because for example, the indigenous population of Hispaniola reduced from 250,000 to 15,000 in twenty years. All these evil acts took place under the umbrella of '' Spanish Civilization''. Franciscus de Victoria argued that all human beings possess the ability to think rationally and have natural rights that evolves from such ability. He also argued that, neither the Pope nor the Spaniards had the right to punish violators of natural law such as fornicators and adulterers. He went even further by stressing that the Pope and Christian rulers had no right to enforce Christian laws on the unbelievers outside the domain of the Papal authority.

However, it should be noted that despite the criticisms which the Spanish mode of conquest faced, Victoria concluded that the use of force in the conquered lands was legitimate, when the Indian communities violated the Law of Nations. The Law of Nations according to Victoria is a set of principles which was derived from reason and therefore became universally binding. This might sound really contradicting because the concept in the Law of Nations was derived from the principle of Natural law. Nonetheless, Victoria explained that the Law of Nations was binding because its principles were for the common good of everybody. He believed that violations of the Law of Nations, which included: prohibitions on peaceful trade and travel, granted legitimate right for the use of force. Conclusively, in the long run, Victoria defended the practice of Spanish colonialism.

Another important colonisation theory is the Liberalism and Empire theory also known as the ''development theory''. A number of Enlightenment thinkers including Kant, Smith and Diderot were totally against the barbarity of colonialism. They questioned and challenged the idea that Europeans had the duty to ''civilize'' the rest of the world. They also argued that the legitimacy of colonialism was in total contrast with the Basic Enlightenment Principle. This principle stated that every individual is capable of reason and self-government. These Enlightenment thinkers reasoned that ''Native difference'', which the colonialist also claimed to be motive for colonialism, was a violation of natural law and therefore became a justification for exploitation. Eventually, these reasoning gave rise to the anti-colonial political theory. According to Diderot, he opposed the view that indigenous people benefited from European civilization. He even went further by declaring the European colonists as the uncivilized ones. Diderot was also against Victoria's conclusion in the Spanish colonisation which stated that indigenous people could not resist peaceful trades and missionaries without violating the Law of Nations. Moreover, it should be noted here that a concept known as the Universalistic Concept, which claimed that all individuals are equally worthy of dignity and respect, was not a sufficient basis for anti-imperialist thought. In a solution to that problem, Diderot concluded that culture rather rationality is the Universal Human Capacity.

An integral doctrine of liberalism is that all individuals share a capacity of reason and self-government; however, the theory of Developmental Theory, postulates that this doctrine of liberalism only emerged at a certain state of civilization. According to John Stuart Mill, civilised societies such as Great Britain were acting in the interest of less developed countries by governing them. Thus, Imperialism exports ''civilization'' for example: modernisation.

In conclusion from the two theories, it can be inferred that the proponents of these theories tried to justify their actions in one way or the other. Moreover, despite the criticisms of these theories, the critics were not totally against the domineering of other people by Europeans; they still always wriggled out a way to legitimize colonialism through the formation of new concepts.


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