What Is Colonialism?

Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the people, and distorts, disfigures and destroys it.

- Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how a dominant power can exert a cultural influence on its empire. An empire rests on many things: powerful armies, good administration and strong leadership, but perhaps its greatest weapon lies in the domain of culture. Culture governs every aspect of our lives: our dress sense and manners, our art and architecture, our education, law and philosophy. To govern culture, it seems, is to govern the world. But what is cultural imperialism? Can it be distinguished from cultural influence? Does it really change the way we think and should we try to prevent it even if it does?

Listen to the In Our Time podcast on Cultural Imperialism

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Perhaps the easiest way to understand why colonialism was so horrific is to imagine it happening in your own country now. It is invaded, conquered, and occupied by a foreign power. Existing governing institutions are dismantled and replaced by absolute rule of the colonizers. A strict hierarchy separates the colonized and the colonizer; you are treated as an inconvenient subhuman who can be abused at will. The colonists commit crimes with impunity against your people. Efforts at resistance are met with brutal reprisal, sometimes massacre. The more vividly and accurately you manage to conjure what this scenario would actually look like, the more horrified you will be by the very idea of colonialism...

Continue reading Nathan J. Robinson's article: A Quick Reminder of Why Colonialism Was Bad

Further Reading

The legitimacy of colonialism has been a longstanding concern for political and moral philosophers in the Western tradition. At least since the Crusades and the conquest of the Americas, political theorists have struggled with the difficulty of reconciling ideas about justice and natural law with the practice of European sovereignty over non-Western peoples. In the nineteenth century, the tension between liberal thought and colonial practice became particularly acute, as dominion of Europe over the rest of the world reached its zenith. Ironically, in the same period when most political philosophers began to defend the principles of universalism and equality, the same individuals still defended the legitimacy of colonialism and imperialism. One way of reconciling those apparently opposed principles was the argument known as the “civilizing mission,” which suggested that a temporary period of political dependence or tutelage was necessary in order for “uncivilized” societies to advance to the point where they were capable of sustaining liberal institutions and self-government...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Colonialism by Margaret Kohn and Kavita Reddy

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