The 19th century saw a dramatic expansion of European empires around the world. It was driven by numerous factors, including economic interests, internal politics, international rivalries, and ideological considerations such as spreading Western civilization. Although this expansion was supported by broad swathes of the population in colonizer nations, it still encountered criticism from some parts of society that viewed it as unjust to natives (Lugard 381). Colonial administrators such as Sir Frederick Lugard sought to answer such charges by providing justifications for the imperial project. In this endeavor, they combined economic analysis with appeals to nationalism.
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In his defense of British policy in the Scramble for Africa, Lugard offers two types of arguments. Firstly, the imperial apologist points out Britain’s interest in territorial expansion. He cites the opinions of British chambers of commerce, which support expansion to create new markets (Lugard 379). This insistence is motivated by the protectionist policies that other countries enacted at the time, forcing British trade to seek new avenues. Lugard also points out that the expansion is needed to provide Britain’s population with new employment and immigration opportunities (Lugard 381). Secondly, Lugard argues that colonization serves the natives’ interests by setting them free from tyrannical local rulers and giving them better government (Lugard 382). Naturally, such arguments could also be applied to imperial expansion in other parts of the world.
Lugard’s arguments interface with the ubiquitous nationalism of the 19th century in several distinct ways. In advocating expansion in Africa to create jobs, markets, and immigration opportunities for British people, he embraces economic nationalism. He endorses the views of British capitalists that regard expansion as necessary to maintain Britain’s signature policy of free trade (Lugard 379). National pride is evident in Lugard’s characterization of British colonialism as embracing “rule through and by the natives” (Lugard 382). In contrast, the supposedly more rigid rule of Britain’s rivals regularly provokes disruptive revolts. Thus, Lugard’s economic and nationalist arguments support or overlap with each other.
Although the rapid expansion of European-controlled territories in the Age of Imperialism was broadly popular, it still faced enough criticism to require special justification. Lugard’s writings offer an example of such justifications, combining appeals to national economic self-interest with assertions of British superiority. His confidence in British policies like free trade or involving natives in colonial government complemented his desire to secure new outlets for British commerce and industry through territorial expansion.
Lugard, F. D. The Rise of Our East African Empire. Vol. 1, William Blackwood and Sons, 1893.