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Imperialism, Nationalism, Chauvinism

  • Hannah Arendt

“Expansion is everything,” said Cecil Rhodes and fell into despair; for he saw every night overhead “vast worlds which we can never reach,” part of the universe to which he could not expand. He had discovered the moving principle of the new, the imperialist era; and yet, at the same moment, he recognized in a flash of wisdom its inherent insanity and contradiction of human conditions. Naturally, neither insight nor sadness prevented him from expanding. He had no use for his flash of wisdom that had led him far beyond his normal capacities which were those of an ambitious businessman with a marked tendency towards megalomania.

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1 Millin, S. Gertrude, Rhodes. (London, 1933), p. 138. The whole quotation reads as follows: “These stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach! I would annex the planets if I could. I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far away.”

2 Hasse, Ernst, Deutsche Weltpolitik. 1897. In: Alldeutsche Flugschriften. no. 5, p. 1.

3 Within the British Empire, we have to distinguish between the Maritime and Military Stations such as the Cape of Good Hope during the nineteenth century, the Settlements or Plantations such as Australia and the other dominions and the colonial Empire proper such as it was acquired after 1884, when the era of expansion began. Not only were, during the following decades, vast stretches of new territories and many millions of people added to the older colonial possessions that had been acquired through “fits of absentmindedness” or through “incidents of trade”; but these possessions themselves, such as British India, received a new political significance and a new kind of government.

4 Millin, , op. cit., p. 175.

5 Cf. George, Lloyd, David, , Memoirs of the Peace Conference (Yale, 1939), I, 362ff. “M. Clemenceau seemed in his speech to demand an unlimited right of levying black troops to assist in the defence of French territory in Europe if France were attacked in the future by Germany. … M. Clemenceau said that if he could raise troops, that was all he wanted.”

6 Barker, Ernest, Ideas and Ideals of the British Empire. (Cambridge, 1941). p. 69.

7 Barker, Ernest, op. cit., p. 4. Cf. Also the very good introductory remarks on the foundations of the Empire, French in: The French Colonial Empire. Information Department Papers No. 25, publ. by The Royal Institute of International Affairs. (London, 1941), pp. 9ff. “The aim is to assimilate colonial peoples to the French people, or, where this is not possible in more primitive communities, to “associate” them, so that more and more the difference between la France metropole and la France d'outremer shall be a geographical difference and not a fundamental one.”

8 see: Crozier, W. P., “France and her ‘Black Empire’,” New Republic, 01 23, 1924.

A similar attempt at brutal exploitation of overseas possessions for the sake of the nation had been made by the Netherlands in the Dutch East Indies after the defeat of Napoleon had restored the Dutch colonies to the much impoverished mother country. By means of compulsory cultivation, the natives were reduced to slavery for the benefit of the Government in Holland. Multatuli's ‘Max Havelaar’, first published in the sixties of the last century, was aimed at the Government at home and not at the services abroad. (See: Angelino, De Kat, Colonial Policy, Vol. II. The Dutch East Indies, (Chicago, 1931)). This system was quickly abandoned and Netherland Indies, in a sense, has become “the admiration of all colonizing nations.” (See: SirBell, Hesketh, Foreign Colonial Administration in the Far East. (1928). Part I). The Dutch system has many similarities with the French brand of imperialism: the grant of European status to deserving natives, introduction of a European school system, etc., and has achieved the same though less violent result: a strong national movement among the subject people.

In the present article we shall ignore both Dutch and Belgian imperialism. The first is a curious and changing mixture of French and English methods; in our context it is atypical because the Netherlands did not expand during the eighties, but only consolidated and modernized its old possessions. Belgium, on the other hand, would offer too unfair an example. Her expansion was first of all the expansion of her King personally, unchecked by any government or other control. The story of the Belgian Congo is sufficiently well known, but in its unequalled atrocity likewise atyptical for the initial stages of imperialism.

9 Chesterton, Gilbert K., The Crimes of England (1915), pp. 57ff.

10 As Lord Salisbury put it, rejoicing over the defeat of Gladstone's first HomeRule Bill. During the following twenty years of Conservative—and that was at that time Imperialist—policy (1885–1905), the English-Irish conflict was not only not solved but became much more acute.

11 For the historian, it still is a riddle why in the initial stages of national development the Tudors did not succeed in incorporating Ireland into England as the Valois had succeeded in incorporating Brittany and Burgundy into France. It may be, however, that this process was brutally interrupted through the Cromwellian Government that treated the country as one great piece of booty to be divided among its servants. After the Cromwellian revolution, at any rate, which for the formation of the English nation was as crucial as the French Revolution became for the French, the United Kingdom had already lost the power of assimilation and integration which the body politic of the nation has only in its initial stages but loses gradually with its maturing. What then follows is, indeed, one long sad story of “coercion (that) was not imposed that the people might live quietly but that people might die quietly” (Chesterton, , op. cit., p. 60.).

For a historical survey of the Irish question that includes the latest developments, compare the excellent unbiased study of Nicholas Mansergh, Britain and Ireland. In: Longman's Pamphlets on the British Commonwealth. (London, 1942).

12 Selwyn, James, South of the Congo. (New York, 1943), p. 326.

13 These boyhood-ideals play a considerable role in the attitude of British administrators and officials when serving abroad. If they are taken seriously, they prepare for such tragedies as the life of Lawrence of Arabia. How they are developed and cultivated is very well described in Rudyard Kipling's Stalky and Company.

14 Barker, Ernest, op. cit., p. 150.

15 Cromer, Lord, “The Government of Subject Races.” In: Edinburgh Review, 01, 1908.

16 Lord Cromer, op. cit.

17 The origin of this misnomer is quite clear in the history of British rule in South Africa. It is well known how—to take the most famous instance—local administrators, Cecil Rhodes and Jameson, involved the Imperial Government in the war against the Boers, much against its intentions. The situation was that “the Imperial Government retained, indeed, nominal control. … In fact Rhodes, or rather Jameson, was absolute ruler of a territory three times the size of England, which could be administered ‘without waiting for the grudging assent or polite censure of the High Commissioner’.” (See: Lovell, , Ivan, Reginal, The Straggle for South Africa, 1875–1899, (New York, 1934), p. 198). And what happens in territories in which the British Government has resigned its jurisdiction to the local European population that lacks all traditional and constitutional restraint of national States can best be seen in the tragic story of the South African Union since its independence, that is, since the time when the Imperial Parliament had no longer any right to interfere.

18 Cf. for instance the discussion in the House of Commons in May, 1908, between Charles Dilke and the Colonial Secretary. Dilke warned against giving self-government to the Crown colonies because this would result in a rule of the white planter over the colored worker. Whereupon he is answered that the natives, too, had a representation which is the English House of Commons. See: G. Zoepfl, “Kolonien und Kolonialpolitik.” In: Handwoerterbuch der Staatsmissenschaften. 3. Auflage.

19 Zetland, Lawrence J., Lord Cromer (1932), p. 224.

20 Carthill, A., The Lost Dominion. 1924, pp. 4142, 93.

21 Compare the great article on “France, Britain and the Arabs” which T. E. Lawrence wrote on this occasion in The Observer (August 8, 1920); “… There is a preliminary Arab success, the British reinforcements go out as a punitive force. They fight their way … to their objective, which is meanwhile bombarded by artillery, aeroplanes, or gunboats. Finally perhaps a village is burnt and the district pacified. It is odd that we don't use poison gas on these occasions. Bombing the houses is a patchy way of getting the women and children. … By gas attacks the whole population of offending districts could be wiped out neatly; and as a method of government it would be no more immoral than the present system.” (Quoted from: Lawrence, T. E., Letters, edited by Garnett, David (New York, 1939), pp. 311 ff.)

22 The same conflict between national representatives and colonial administrators in Africa runs through the history of German imperialism. In 1897, Carl Peters was removed from his post and had to resign from the Government service because of atrocities against the natives. The same thing happened to Governor Zimmerer. And in 1905, the tribal chiefs addressed their complaints for the first time to the Reichstag, with the result that the colonial administrators threw them into jail and the German Government intervened. See: Leutwein, P., (President of “Der Koloniale Volksbund”), Kaempfe um Afrika. (Luebeck, 1936).

23 For this and the following compare J. A. Hobson, Imperialism, who already in 1905 gave a masterly analysis of the driving economic motives and of many of its political implications. When, in 1938, his early study was republished, Hobson was perfectly right in stating in his introduction to an unchanged text that this book is a real proof “that the chief perils and disturbances … of today … were all latent and discernible in the world of a generation ago …” (p. v). Cf. Barker, op. cit., who in 1941 still calls the colonial Empire proper—not the dominions—“an exportation of English money.”

24 For France compare Lachapelle, George, Les Finances de la Troiseme République, (Paris, 1937) and Brogan, D. W., The Development of Modern France, (New York, 1940). For Germany, compare the interesting contemporary testimonies, such as Wirth, Max, Geschichte der Handehkrisen, (1873), Chapter XV, and Schaeffle, A., “Der ‘grosse Boersenkrach’ des Jahres 1873.” In: Zeitschrift fuer die gesamte Staatsuissenschaft, (1874), 30 Band.

25 Hobson, J. A., “Capitalism and Imperialism in South Africa.” In: Contemporary Review, (London), 1900.

26 This has been conclusively demonstrated by Tocqueville with respect to the French aristocracy before the Revolution. The more the aristocracy lost its real power of government and administration, the more its privileges were hated by the people that no longer understood its very existence. See L'Ançien Régime et la Révolution. Livre II, chapitre I.

27 These motives are especially prominent in German imperialism. Among the first activities of the “Alldeutsche Verband”—founded in 1891—were efforts to prevent German emigrants from changing their citizenship, and the first imperialist speech of Wilhelm II, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the Reich, contained the following typical passage: “Aus dem Deutschen Reiche ist ein Weltreich geworden. Ueberall in fernen Teilen der Erde wohnen Tausende unserer Landsleute. … An Sie, meine Herren, tritt die ernste Pflicht heran, mir zu helfen, dieses groessere deutsche Reich auch fest an unser heimisches zu gliedern.”

28 See the masterly study of De Kiewiet, C. W., A History of South Africa. Social and economic, (Oxford, 1941), p. 113.

29 Damce, E. H., The Victorian Illusion, (London, 1928), p. 164. “Africa, which had been included neither in the itinerary of Saxondom nor in the professional philosophers of imperial history, became the culture-bed of British imperialism.”

30 See: Lovell, Reginald Ivan, The Struggle for South Africa, 1875–1899. A study in economic imperialism, (New York, 1934). On the Uitlanders, p. 403.

31 See: James, Selwyn, South of the Congo, (New York, 1943), pp. 333 ff.

32 See De Kiewiet, op. cit. Chapter VII.

33 The instances are too numerous to be quoted. Interesting in our context, furthermore, are only those in which the honesty of the persons involved is beyond doubt. Such for instance is the famous case of Gladstone who as the leader of the Liberal Parly had promised to evacuate Egypt; when, however, his party came into power, the liberal government did not evacuate.

34 Hobson, J. A., op. cit., p. 61.

35 The slogan “above the parties” has been repeated again and again in the course of the German imperialist movement. All Leagues, societies and groups propagating overseas expansion pretended to direct their appeals to “men of all parties,” to “stand far removed from the strife of parlies and represent only a national purpose”—as the President of the Kolonialverem Hohenlohe-Langenburg put it in 1884. (See: Townsend, Mary E., Origin of Modern Colonialism. (New York)). Likewise the official historian of the Pan-German League insists on its being “above the parties; this was and is a vital condition (for the League).” (See: Bonhard, Otto, Gcschichte des alldeutschen Verbandes. (1920)). The first party to claim to be “above the parties” as a “Reichspartei” was the national-liberal party under the leadership of Ernst Bassermann. (See: Frymann, Daniel (ps. for Heinrich Class), Wenn ich der Kaiser ivaer'—Polilische Wahrheiten und Nolrvendigkeilen. (1st ed. 1912.)

The situation in England is far more complicated, although the disinterest of imperialist politicians in domestic politics is very marked and well known. (See for instance: Nicolson, Harold, Curzon: The Last Phase. 1919–1925, (Boston-New York, 1934), p. 7). More important than this, more important even than such beyond-parties foundations as the Primrose League is the disturbing influence of imperialism upon the two-party system, which finally has led to the Front-Benches system. The “diminution of the power of opposition” in Parliament and the increasing “power of the Cabinet as against the House of Commons” as “chiefly attributable to Imperialism” have been noted already by Hobson, (op. cit., pp. 146 ff.). The working of this system has been described Belloc, Hilaire and Chesterton, Cecil, The Parly System. (London, 1911).

36 As Lord Curzon put it at the unveiling of Lord Cromer's memorial tablet. See: Zetland, Lawrence J., Lord Cromer, (1932), p. 362.

37 In the words of Sir Hesketh Bell, former governor of Uganda, Northern Nigeria etc. See: Foreign Colonial Administration in the Far East, (1928), Part I, p. 300.

The same sentiments prevailed in the Dutch colonial services. “The highest task, the task without precedent is that which awaits the East Indian Civil Service official … it should be considered as the highest honor to serve in its ranks … the select body which fulfills the mission of Holland overseas.” See: Angelino, De Kat, Colonial Policy (Chicago, 1931), Vol II, p. 129.

38 For a magnificent example of this attitude, See Kipling's, Rudyard tale “The Tomb of His Ancestors,” The Day's Work. (New York. 1898).

39 Very typical are, in this respect, the recent remarks of Adolf Hitler on the subject: “God the Almighty has made our nation. By defending its very existence we are defending His work.” Speech of January 30, 1945. Quoted from New York Times, January 31, 1945.

40 “If Rhodes did not realize the advantage of being English in blood and bone before he arrived in Kimberly, he learnt to appreciate it there … it seemed a rare and lovely virtue.” Millin, S. Gertrude, op. cit., p. 15.

41 “Ich hatte es satt unter die Parias gerechnet zu werden, und wollte einem Herrenvolk angehoeren.” Quoted after: Ritter, Paul, Kolonien im deulschen Schrifttum. (1936).

42 Rosenberg, Alfred, Der Mythos des zwanzigslen Jahrhunderts, p. 22.

43 Millin, . op. cit., p. 346.

44 Peters, Carl, “Deutschtum als Rasse.” In: Deutsche Monatsschrift, ed. Lohmeyer, Bd. VII, 04, 1905.

45 Up to the times of Nazi-imperialism, history has known only one clear-cut case of domination in which the “personal element” was allowed complete freedom from control. This was the well-known case of the King of Belgium's business enterprise in the Belgian Congo which reduced the native population from between 20 and 40 millions in 1890 to 8,500,000 in 1911. (Cf. James, Selwyn, op. cit., p. 305.)

An early insight into the importance of the personal element in imperialist politics can be found in Lord Cromer's letters with respect to the situation in Egypt. “… the working of the whole machine depends, not on any written instrument, or, indeed, on anything which is tangible, but on the personal influence which the English Consul General can exert on the Khedive …” (Letter to Lord Roseberry in 1886). One year earlier in a letter to Lord Granville (a Liberal) he was still dubious “whether it would be advisable to continue the present system of government in Egypt” precisely because “its working depends very greatly on the judgment and ability of a few individuals.” Quoted from Zetland, , op. cit., pp. 134, 219.

46 Hobson, , op. cit., pp. 150151.

47 The Czechs are the exception that prove the rule. They were lucky to find and deserve praise to have listened to men who, like Masaryk, consciously stressed common history, common language and common spiritual achievements in order to achieve the transformation of their people into a nation in the genuine sense of the word.

48 It is a well-established fact that the pan-German aspirations of the German minority in Austria-Hungary were much more radical than those of the corresponding groups in Germany proper. The “Alldeutschc Verband” complains frequently about their aggressiveness, and the “exaggerations” of the Austrian movement. (Cf. Bonhard, Otto, Geschichte des alldeutschen Verbandes, (1920), pp. 58 ff.) In 1913, the Alldeutsche Verein fuer die Ostmark published a program whose clear-cut aggressive aims at that time were almost unequaled; its main point was the “Aufrichtung eines …deutschen Mitteleuropa umf assenden einheitsstaates auf arischer Grundlage … der den Mittelpunkt des gesamten deutschen Lebens des Erdballs bildet und der mit allen Germanen-Staaten verbuendet ist.” Pichl, Eduard (alias Herwig), Georg Schoenerer, (1938), 6 Bde. Bd. VI, 375).

Russian pan-Slavists recognized very early in 1870 that the destruction of Austria-Hungary would be the best possible starting point of a pan-Slav federation or a pan-Slav Empire. (Cf. Slaehlin, K., Geschichte Russlands von den Anfaengen bis zur Gegenwart. 19231939. 5 Bde. Bd. IV/1, p. 282.)

49 “Das deutsche Volk (in Oesterreich) sezt seine Hoffnung nur noch auf das deutsche Reich,” said a delegate in Austria's Parliament in 1888 (See Pichl, , op. cit., V, pp. 60 ff.). It is in the same vein that quite recently the Bulgarian Metropolitan of Sofia called upon “the Russian people (to) remember their messianic mission.” (From a radio broadcast on October 17, 1944, quoted from Politics, January, 1945).

50 Enthusiasm and admiration for Bismarck were unbounded among pan-German Austrians; and Slav peoples—they already at the time of the Crimean war, had been called the only reliable allies of the Czar (See: Staehlin, , op. cit., V, p. 35)—were only too willing to help that 'die Oberhoheit des grossrussischen Stammes ueber die ganze slawische Welt zur unanfechtbaren Tatsache werde,” (as Dostoyevsky once put it, (Ibid.), p. 281.)

51 This is especially true for the German brand. “Nicht gleichberechtigt,” said Schoenerer, , “wollen wir werden mit jedem Juden, Bosniaker und Zigeuner. Wir wollenuns das Recht der Erstgeburt nicht rauben lassen.” Pichl, , op. cit., VI, pp. 355–56.

52 It was upon this situation that during the last war French politicians based their hopes of defeating German domination in Europe. “Ce qu'il faut opposer à la Confederation germanique, c'est la Confédération slave, autrement dit le Panslavisme organisé.” And: “II nous faut une revanche absolue de la race slave contre le germanisme.” See: Leger, L., Le Panslavisme et l'intérét français. (1917) It is obvious that we today witness an attempted revival of this policy with, however, much better chances of success. Whether this actually is in support of French interests or whether France does not rather put herself between the devil and the deep sea—remains to be seen.

53 Adolf Hitler has frankly recognized his indebtedness to the Austrian Pan-Germans. There is little reason to doubt his words when he says: “Ich erhielt (in Wien) die Grundlage fuer meine Weltanschauung im Grossen und erne pohtische Betrachtungsweise im Kleinen, die ich spaeter nur noch im Einzelnen zu ergaenzen brauchte, die mich aber me mehr verliess.” Mein Kampf, p. 137.

54 For the early conception of colonial possessions on the continent see Ernst Hasse, Deutsche Poilitik. Especially Heft 3: Deutsche Grenzpolitik, pp. 167 ff. and Heft 4: Die Zukunft des deutschen Volkstums, pp. 132 ff. (1907). The same subject was even more systematically dealt with by Reismann-Grosse, . “Ueberseepolitik oder Festlandspolitik? 1905.” In: Alldeuische Fluoschriften. No. 22.

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