Classic imperialism is defined as a policy of extending control or authority over foreign entities or countries as a means of acquisition and maintenance of empires. Usually this applied to the direct territorial conquest of these entities or countries. This form of imperialism describes the Roman and Persian Empires as well as the European Empires of the 19th Century. These empires were essentially the expansionist adventures by stronger nations over weaker ones primarily for the purpose of monetary gain via taxes or enslavement. None of these empires proved stable or enduring although to some extent they did have a residual cultural influence.
The term “Imperialism” was actually coined in the mid-1800’s to reflect the expansionist policies of the European countries – primarily France and England. It was argued by Lenin as well as other anti-capitalists that capitalism induced imperialism because these capitalist countries had to find new markets for their goods and new sources for the needed raw materials. However, this argument rings hollow because no demonstration is offered showing that capitalism is the root cause of expansionist policies. Even if these countries had not been capitalist but instead socialist, communist, or even some other alternative, could they have grown and prospered without looking externally for resources and markets? The historical fact is that the greatest of the Communist Regimes, founded by Lenin was imperialistic and became the USSR, so the logical conclusion is that capitalism is not the driver of imperialism or expansionist policies.
More recently it has been argued by Marxist scholars who are unwilling or incapable of abandoning their view that capitalism is the root of all evil, that capitalistic international trade and banking is the driver of Imperialism. This argument seems to be mounted in order to forgive the USSR its demonstrated imperialism. Unfortunately it seems the USSR fragmented but prospered once it abandoned the Marxist policies of central planning and government control and introduced capitalism. Now it can be argued that it is capitalism that drives political freedom as well as economic vitality. This has been illustrated more recently as the Peoples Republic of China moves increasingly to a capital orientation. In fact the current PRC more closely resembles the old Imperial China than it does the People’s Paradise that the Marxist apologists would have you believe.
Furthermore, if international trade is an indicator of imperialism then the most imperialistic nation on the planet is the PRC. They manufacture and export more goods than they import and they dominate the world markets. This view of international market expansion is true of other nations as well so international trade per se does not seem to be a good indicator of either imperialism or expansionism. So this brings us to the issue of the World Trade Organization and the impact open markets have on the international community. Products are financed by country A, manufactured in country B, and sold in countries C and D, by country A. The implication is that country A is exploiting the workers in country B by paying wages lower than they would have paid in Country A and that by selling their products in countries C and D they are denying work to the people in those countries. Obviously the inference is that had not country A sold their products in these countries someone would have produced the same product locally. Unfortunately this isn’t quite how it works. Work is being generated in all of these countries because people must organize and distribute these products. The focus is on the manufacturing rather than on the selling, distribution, or the law of supply and demand. It is also worth noting that the greatest beneficiary of these trade policies has been the PRC and third world countries whose revenues have increased while the trade deficit of the most capitalist country in the world has increased. And this brings us to the nub of the problem and that is the growing Americanization of the world. Those who feel that America is to blame for the world’s ills, have now coined a new version of imperialism and that is “Cultural Imperialism”
This form of imperialism is associated with America primarily although both Russia and China have not only practiced classic imperialism but have also forced their culture onto other countries who they have occupied. However, even though these countries have received some condemnation for these actions, they have largely been ignored by the international community while the United States is viewed as the epitome of an imperialistic nation. France in particular has adopted strong measures against “Americanization” and much of the Islamic violence is being justified on the basis of resisting the erosion of Islamic values by America’s cultural imperialism.
Clearly the US is not a classic imperialist nation and this is evidenced by the withdrawal of American forces from every country they have had to liberate from invaders and this includes France as well as Haiti and it can be argued that the Haitians would be a great deal better off under American control. Instead this charge against the US rests on the spread of American culture through the internet, Television, Cinema, and of course food, with McDonalds being the visible manifestation of American domination. American English has become the lingua franca of the world. Virtually everyone in the world speaks English and protesters write their signs of protest in English so when their protests are broadcast via satellite television everyone will be able to read them. After all not many people can read Chinese, Swahili, or Urdu, but virtually everyone can read English. Because American television and movies are seen worldwide, American customs and styles are in great demand. Hence you see people in some very remote places wearing sweatshirts and T-shirts carrying the names of American Universities and wearing baseball caps. Usually these products are not manufactured in the United States and may not even be sold by an American company, but they represent America and the desire by others to be “American”, which is actually a state-of-mind”.
Then of course we have McDonalds and Coca Cola who represent the physical imperialism of America. These products are in great demand and the largest McDonalds in the world is in Russia. Obviously the local people want these products or these companies would simply close up shop and leave, but these companies are growing and expanding everywhere. What is not noted is that they also create jobs in the host country and generate revenues via taxes. Since these companies as well as Burger King, Starbucks, Microsoft, and others are in great demand and expanding with demand we can conclude that the people do not view America as either evil or imperialistic, so who does? Certainly the French government sees America as imperialist and is fighting a losing battle against the “Americanization” of the French Language. American English – like America itself is a polyglot – where words from virtually every language in the world are simply adopted and used which has made English the most subtle and expressive language in the world. The French government wants to keep French “pure” but that is impossible because they cannot compete with the sheer volume of new words. But the French are rather silly and don’t really represent any serious threat to the US.
The greatest threat to America comes from Islam and it is the spread of American culture and ideals which drive their violence toward America. America is called the “Great Satan” which is a term generally misunderstood by the West. Satan is the tempter – the evil one who corrupts and leads souls astray and in this context it is easy to see how America can be viewed as the Great Satan. We have freedoms unheard of in other parts of the world and these are viewed and demonstrated in television and movies everyday. We have great wealth and this is demonstrated as well and it is these things that motivate others who covet a better life. Virtually everything – good and bad – is available in America and it is freedom to pursue individual happiness that sets America apart and drives the man-in-the-street to be more “American”. So it isn’t the average citizen who sees America as Imperialistic but rather it is the power elite and the religious leaders who oppose America and who accuse America of being imperialistic. The people want what they see America has and it is this demand that drives the demand for American culture, not some deliberate effort by America to obliterate the local culture. In fact, this resistance to Americanization is simply an example of Cultural Fascism where the local governments are using force both directly and indirectly to thwart the desires of their people.
So while Russia and China practiced forced cultural imperialism, America’s cultural domination is not via any government policy of the United States but is the result of the desires of the local populace to have the freedoms and wealth they see in the US. So is Ronald McDonald an imperialist? It seems a better question is “can imperialism be self-induced”? If people are voluntarily seeking to adopt American products and culture that hardly qualifies as imperialistic while the active resistance of their governments to their desire to be more American is cultural fascism.