Does economic rivalry provide a sufficient explanation of British Imperial Expansion

1880, better known by some historians as the period of rapid European Imperialism, so much so that 90 per cent of Africa became annexed, of which a hundred million African came under European influences and control. The period in which Britain alone managed to increase its hold on the world by a further 5 million sq. miles. The very speed of this 'new imperialism' is extremely concerning and thus studying this epoch may better explain some of the political, economical and military tension that lay so very evidently within Europe.

The aims and objectives of this imperialism, can really be looked at differently by different historians but according to T.O.Lloyd there existed two main priorities, being ' closer relations between Britain and the self governing colonies most of whose inhabitants were of British descendant, and also enthusiasm expansion by the acquisition of new territory' (T.O.Lloyd 209). He argues that imperial expansions were linked to ideas of nationalism.

This however is not sufficient enough to explain expansions within this period, a period where political and economical turmoil is evident within Europe. Economics alone cannot explain the rapid expansion of colonies post 1880, but however neither can social or political motives alone, one thing I have to come to understand and appreciate is that the answer cannot be that economics is the main or only motive behind the expansion but rather that the reasons for expansion vary from simple economics to fear, social Darwinism, political tensions, and strategic justifications.

Many a time also the motives link and justify one another. However economic rivalry does provide a sufficient explanation for imperial expansion. Social and political tensions in Britain and especially in Europe were at its peak.The European population was expanding and overflowing its parameters, thus continental Europeans were immigrating on a large scale to other countries.

There was also a great fear in England that countries like Russia and the USA were increasing their populations yearly at a rapid rate, supplemented by the fact that they had ' boundless territory in which millions could mature into wholesome manhood' (Porter 82). This created a fear for the British that they could be insignificant in comparison to such countries, and is also one of the arguments as to the needed for expansion and colonial settlement. 

Britain was in a state of social and political tensions and turmoil. The industrial revolution had made the conditions of the poor more apparent, with the increase of slums in cities like London. This was also a period of mass demonstrations and riots of frustration with the system. The conditions of the working class was appalling, even with the empire. Charles Booth argued that colonies could minimize the large scale of poverty that affected mainly the working class. The colonial reformers believed that colonies would create employment and increase British industry and influence.

The importance of the Empire was so much so that even Joseph Chamberlain argued that If the Empire was to be lost or to decline then the British people would suffer and starve ' We have suffered much in this country from depression of trade. We know how many of our fellow subjects are at this moment unemployed. Is there any man in his sense that believes that the crowded population of these islands could exist for a single day if we were to cut adrift from the great dependencies which now look to us for protection and which are the natural markets for our trade? ..

If tomorrow it were possible, as some people apparently desire, to reduce by a stroke of the pen the British Empire to the dimensions of our united kingdom, half at least of our population would be starved"(Porter 80). Thus later to be Protectionist and a now key figure in British history stresses on the need to secure and protect the empire.

The threat, which he talks about, so passionately can be seen and probably, is from Europe, especially Russia, France and Germany. Within the 1870's to 80's imperial expansion was also seen by some British figures like James Froude as a responsibility to carry on British traditions, and a case of social Darwinism.

T.O.Lloyd argues that it was most likely the changes in technology, which influences 'energetic' and 'active' men to think that they should progress. This justified to them that they being the stronger race had the rights and responsibilities to occupy and acquire the territory of the weaker people.

It was believed by some that the colonies of settlement would relive the poverty and over crowded conditions within metropolitan England, and that this would generate a 'gigantic free range farm for breeding better Britons, she had ' all she needed to eclipse every rivalry that envied her' (Porter 22). The point made here is important as it reflects the living and health conditions of the Britons. It was feared that rivalry counties like Germany were stronger and healthier, and this set off the many of the changes to schooling, that created a more pro fitness and cleanliness attitude.