European imperialism began sometime around 1870 or 1880, and by 1900, nearly the entire globe belonged to somewhere around 10 of the great powers of the era, divided into colonies, protectorates, or spheres of influence. Behind this avid aggressiveness of the European powers were many justifications, all highly debatable. The European way of life, for example, was such that the entire world had to be ‘European’ in its ways and customs. Religion, as in ancient times, was now a driving force for European imperialism. Catholics and Protestants alike sent missionaries into the remote jungles of Africa and Asia to construct missionaries. The missionaries quite often got too involved in local politics, and sometimes killed for their interference, prompting public outcries for political or military actions against the ‘savages’. The age also called for scientific expeditions into the remote areas of the world. Geography, botany, zoology, astronomy, and meteorology all made progress due to these expeditions, as did mining. Wealthy people traveled more, and they needed European style resorts to feel secure from the outside world in.
Economically, Europe was in dire need of products that only the tropics could supply. Tea, coffee, cotton (after the American Civil War), rubber and petroleum were all demanded by Europe from its possessions worldwide. India supplied jute for burlap, twine, baggage, and carpets. Coconut trees found many uses in the common market. One of the many justifications for imperialism was the search for new markets to which European goods would be sold. After a price drop in 1873, more products had to be sold to make the same amount of profit. This meant that competition was fiercer amongst the powers of the world. Tariffs were raised, and nations searched for ‘sheltered markets’, which were wholly dependant upon the mother country, which was dependant upon the colony for raw materials. This relationship was called neomercantilism.
For the most part, investments in ‘non-civilized’ countries had a higher return than the more developed countries. Some reasons for this were the cheaper labor in those undeveloped countries than in Europe, and the demand for non-European products. Surplus capital, once invested into the development of industry within Europe, was now being invested in other countries, or loaned to the rulers of those countries. The desire of turning a profit thereby promoted imperialism.
Migration, was yet another argument in favor of imperialism, although by far the weakest and most trivial. It was said that the surplus population of Europe needed somewhere to move to without entirely leaving their “native” lands. No matter how logical this argument seemed, it was never proven true, seeing how after 1870, no European country acquired any colony to which the common person of Europe would wish to move. Therefore the influx of European immigrants into the U.S. only increased over the years.
The Balance of Power theory also attributed to Imperialism. The security of each European country determined just as much on its European borders as it did on its non-European borders. European countries therefore annexed territory just to prevent another country from doing so. It became a symbol of power and prestige to have colonies. Britain and France had colonies for centuries, therefore the new powers of the world, Japan, Germany, and in some ways the United States, had to have colonies as well.
Social Darwinism also played a large role in imperialism. The ideal that the European race, basically Caucasian, was superior to other races meant that the inferior races were in need of European guidance and guardianship.