Cultural Relations and Policies - Expansion and the age of imperialism




Cultural Relations And Policies Expansion And The Age Of Imperialism 4091
Photo by: a4stockphotos

The situation did not change drastically after the Civil War, but there was a greater awareness of different civilizations than there had been earlier. Fundamentally this reflected the technological development of the last decades of the nineteenth century, when steam and electricity, as observers were fond of pointing out, narrowed distances between various parts of the world. One could travel far more easily and speedily than before, and news in one corner of the globe could be transmitted almost overnight to most other regions. Great migrations of people started from Asia to the American continent, and from Europe to Africa and South America. One saw more foreigners in one's lifetime than earlier. The opening of more and more Asian ports to Western trade served to introduce commodities from distant lands into the daily life of average Asians and Westerners. In many areas of the non-Western world, the process of reform and transformation began to remake traditional societies in the image of the modern West. But the very experience of modernization caused some hard rethinking about cultural values. Westernization meant a loss of innocence to many a non-Westerner, while the global character of the modern transformation often suggested to Westerners the dilution of their own identity.

These were extremely interesting phenomena, and most of the crucial questions raised then have persisted to this day. It may be said that toward the end of the nineteenth century, world history entered an age of globalization that had cultural, as well as political and economic, implications. Economically, the phenomenon has been referred to as modernization, a neutral term suggesting that any society with certain endowments may opt for change. Modernized nations would establish global networks of capital, goods, and technology, which in turn would help further modernize their economies and ways of life. Such globalization had obvious implications for international cultural relations. Not only did the more advanced nations become more than ever interdependent economically, but they also came to share a great deal of information and technology. For Americans, this meant a more cosmopolitan outlook, a renewed awareness that they had a great deal in common with Europeans, Canadians, and other "civilized" people. It is not surprising that they took advantage of the new means of transportation and communication to travel, live, and even work in Europe, while the latter also sent its scholars, artists, and musicians to the United States. There was a great deal of cultural exchange across the Atlantic. Against this sort of cosmopolitanism, there were, to be sure, nationalists who insisted on the uniqueness of the American historical experience and worried that modern civilization was making all nations interchangeable. Some even argued that conflict of interest and even war, rather than shared outlooks and ways of life, would preserve the vitality of the nation. This, too, it must be noted, was a cultural question. The often heated debate at the end of the nineteenth century on the character and future direction of the American nation was thus a response to globalization. Cultural relations across the Atlantic were becoming ever closer, as Americans and Europeans came to view themselves as members of the same intellectual, artistic, and technological universe.

In the meantime, Americans joined Europeans in linking other parts of the globe closer together. They were, at one level, helping modernize those regions. Since the capital and technology necessary for modernization were in short supply in almost every non-Western country, Western capital had to be introduced; and this inevitably involved the coming of European and American financiers, engineers, and manufacturers who would employ native labor and middlemen to establish their economic institutions. Americans, even though in the aggregate their country was still a net importer of capital from Europe, were already active. They were instrumental, for instance, in the construction of the first railroad in China, in the 1870s. They invested in coastal shipping in China and Japan, established syndicates for obtaining railway concessions in Asia and the Middle East, and participated in the development of mines in all these regions. This was intercultural relations in a broad sense. Americans were relating themselves to other peoples through the medium of capitalist enterprises.

Although the profit motive was uppermost, an influx of foreign capital and technology invariably had noneconomic as well as economic effects on the targets of Western expansion. Americans in China, for instance, were never in a sufficient number to involve themselves at all levels of mercantile and industrial activities. They needed local personnel as interpreters, clerks, messengers, business assistants, and even associates, and as "compradors" who acted as liaisons between foreigners and officials. Such diverse contacts were bound to affect Chinese manners and ideas. In fact, among the most "Americanized" Chinese were those who lived in the treaty ports and learned modern capitalist practices. Associations such as local chambers of commerce provided a setting where Americans and Chinese met and conducted social affairs as well as business matters.

Politically, the process of globalization was synonymous with what was then called, and has since been called, imperialism. The world was divided into those who established control over distant territories and those who became objects of such control. A handful of imperialist nations appropriated among themselves the vast lands of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Ocean as colonies, semi-colonies, or spheres of influence. This was a military-political process, since control necessitated that a power structure be imposed upon alien peoples. Without such a regime, it was feared that local instability would create a chaotic condition and threaten the interests of a particular imperialist nation or invite the extension of power by its rivals. It seemed impossible and unwise to leave things as they were. Americans, no less than citizens of other advanced countries, were exhorted to reach out to far corners of the globe to join the forces of imperialist expansion.

Imperialism even in such a narrow sense was an important chapter in intercultural relations, for the assertion of power over another people entailed both physical and mental contact. The Spanish-American War, for instance, called forth a fierce debate within the United States on the wisdom of acquiring tropical colonies. Americans had never established territorial control over lands in the tropics, and they had to think hard about the implications of the new action. Since they had not given much thought to Filipinos or Puerto Ricans, they turned to what few books were available on these peoples. They read Andrew Clarke and John Foreman, among others—English authorities on the tropical islands. English colonialism provided an intellectual framework within which Americans discussed the new empire. They turned to Charles Dilke, Joseph Chamberlain, Henry Norman, George Curzon, and others to learn how colonies should be governed. Colonial administration seemed a very different matter from the governing of new territories in the continental United States or of the American Indians. The country would have to establish a new colonial service and train men and women fit for work in the tropics. The numerous magazine articles on these subjects during and immediately after the Spanish-American War attest to the impact of the war upon America's intercultural relations. The American people had to learn from scratch what it meant to be masters over an alien race.

This learning took various forms. At the popular level, war stories and novels were written to familiarize the general reader with conditions in the tropics, and children's adventure books sought to impart a sense of patriotic destiny to the younger generation. Quick reference volumes with revealing titles were also published, such as Thomas C. Copeland's The American Colonial Handbook: A Ready Reference of Facts and Figures, Historical, Geographical, and Commercial, About Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii, and Guam (1899). Adult education programs such as the Chautauqua Society conducted seminars on the history of the Philippines. As a matter of course the academic community was selected to provide the intellectual leadership needed to deal with imperial problems, and it readily obliged. Universities established courses in colonial administration, imperialism, and tropical geography; and professional organizations such as the American Historical Association and the American Economic Association were engaged in turning out data and ideas that would be useful to the government in administering the new empire. The acquisition of overseas territories broadened the horizon for historians, economists, political scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists, who would have to redefine the scope of their respective disciplines to take advantage of the new opportunities. For example, the American Anthropologist noted in December 1898 that students of folklore would find "a rich field awaiting them in our territory." Anthropological studies of the Filipinos provided an intellectual underpinning for the establishment of a colonial regime over the islands.

In all this literature there was a feeling of excitement. Imperialism compelled Americans to encounter, mentally if not physically, a host of alien peoples, whereas earlier their experience had been limited to dealing with Indians and blacks. The result was to reaffirm the sense of America's cultural superiority, which was now much more openly linked to Britain than it had been earlier in the century. It was as if imperialism made the United States akin to Great Britain. The two branches of the Anglo-Saxon race, it appeared, rediscovered their common heritage and vocabulary. They were both expansionists, many writers pointed out, better fitted than any other nation in the world for the administration of less-developed countries. They were to cooperate so that their respective empires would come to stand for enlightenment and efficiency. Elbridge S. Brooks was echoing a widespread sentiment when he told his young readers in Lawton and Roberts: A Boy's Adventure in the Philippines and the Transvaal (1900) that "the Stars and Stripes in the Philippines, and the Union Jack in South Africa, are advancing the interests of humanity and civilization…. [Untrammeled] liberty to the barbarian is as disastrous a gift as are unquestioning concessions to a republic which has been a republic only in name."

The last sentence reflected self-defensiveness about empire that was just beneath the surface optimism characteristic of the age of imperialism. In extending their control over alien races, Americans could look to the British for experience and guidance; but both of them had to confront the fact that as they advanced to far reaches of the globe, they were causing drastic changes in other societies. The non-Western parts of the world that earlier had been seen as decadent, static, or backward now seemed to be undergoing a period of profound crisis and instability as a result of the impact of Western technology, ideas, and institutions. If the expansionist thrust of the West was an inevitable development of history, then the consequent turmoil, confusion, and even anarchy in many regions of the world would have to be coped with. There were even more serious problems. If non-Western peoples should discard traditional values for new ones, what would happen to their indigenous cultures? Would they ever become thoroughly "Westernized"? What if they were transformed only superficially and remained basically uncivilized even though the superstructures of their societies were modernized? Would they become pro-Western or anti-Western?

These were some of the most interesting questions in America's intercultural relations during the age of imperialism. That was why so much was written toward the end of the nineteenth century about the nature of Western relations with other cultures. The future destiny of American civilization seemed bound up with the larger question of the evolving relationship between West and non-West. For example, in June 1897, Benjamin Ide Wheeler, who was soon to become president of the University of California at Berkeley, declared in an article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled "Greece and the Eastern Question" that the real question in the Middle East was "who is to lead, who is to champion, who is to represent Occidentalism in its antithesis between Occidentalism and Orientalism," an idea expressed in earlier decades but that now seemed an urgent question because of the resurgence of the East. Similarly, the naval strategist and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan discussed the "stirring of the East" and posed the question of "whether Eastern or Western civilization is to dominate throughout the earth and to control its physical terms." Observers like Wheeler and Mahan agreed that the West's hope lay in its spiritual superiority to the East; even if the latter should catch up technologically and economically, and even though non-Westerners vastly outnumbered Westerners, the future of Western civilization was bright because of its unique heritage. Nevertheless, the fear was always present that the East might prove to be a formidable threat precisely because it lacked the West's refinement, humanity, and self-restraint. A modern Orient without the Occident's values might prove to be totally unmanageable. The West should therefore brace itself for what was termed by many "the coming conflict of civilizations" in the twentieth century.

The cultural monism of the earlier decades was thus giving way to self-consciousness and defensiveness in the age of imperialism. Such apprehension, to be sure, was limited to a minority of writers. Most Americans would have agreed with the historian John Fiske's optimism, as he expressed it in an article on the new "manifest destiny" in 1885, that "within another century … all the elements of military predominance on the earth, including that of simple numerical superiority, will have been gathered into the hands not merely of Europeans generally, but more specifically into the hands of the offspring of the Teutonic tribes who conquered Britain in the fifth century." Yet this type of complacency, reflecting a unilinear view of human (Western) progress, could not entirely accommodate some concurrent developments that had enormous implications for intercultural relations. Most notable among them were the growing fascination with non-Western civilizations and the influx of Asian immigrants.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

CAPTCHA


Cultural Relations and Policies forum