RE: Imperialism or Democracy, was WW IV?

From: pchaston (
Date: Fri Feb 15 2002 - 19:50:53 MST


> > Imperialism, as an ideology, did survive the Great War.
> Moreover, one can
> > argue that its ideological underpinnings were strengthened by
> the downfall
> > of the Dual Monarchy, Germany, Russia and the Ottomans.
> Countries during the
> > interwar period who wished to overturn the Versailles treaty settlement
> > viewed the expansion of their power in territorial and
> inperialistic terms:
> > German lebensraum, Italy in Abyssinia, Japan and Manchukuo. Their
> > governmental ideologies incorporated the dynamic of imperialism
> and married
> > it to new racial and national extremes.
>Mike Lorrey
 Let's respond to these assertions step by step.

> Well, no, and yes. WWI was initially a war between empires.

Yes, but it ended as a war that fostered empires as well. Those states who
won expanded their territories. Great Britain's empire was at its peak in
terms of territory following the war as the settlement was structured on
imperial terms. Why? Because self-determination, the major achievement of
Wilsonian diplomacy, which favoured minority (rather than human) rights, was
considered applicable to Europe rather than to the imperial territories by
the existing empires. Their subjects were viewed as racially and culturally
inferior, ie they did not have the requisite qualities of governance that
would allow self-determination to proceed.

> WWII was a
> war between empire builders and democracy builders. The British Empire
> was on the ropes through the 1920's and 30's, as was the French.

Both Empires suffered from 'imperial overstretch' and the economic
dislocations that disfigured this period. But there is no historical
evidence to suggest that the governing classes of either country were
willing to give up territory at this time or were losing control of their
colonies (and this includes the transfer of self-governance to the Old
Commonwealth). If you are referring to the policy of appeasement, then you
must take into account the timescales that Stanley Baldwin and Neville
Chamberlain were juggling with to provide a feasible timescale for

> lost its colonies entirely and AustroHungary was broken up entirely at
> Versailles. The British only kept India through WWII by promising to
> grant independence after the war.

To the contrary, Ghandi rejected the proposals of Sir Stafford Cripps's
mission in 1942 and embarked on the 'Quit India' campaign, a continuation of
nonviolent pressure upon the Raj in order to obtain self-government and
postwar independence. The British, faced with an invasion of the japanese
from Burma, rounded up Ghandi, Nehru and outlawed the Congress Party.
Postwar independence was a political goal of the 1945 Labour government and
this was the open door through which the independence of India was achieved.

 Italy, well, Italy, quitely plainly,
> was a joke as far as imperialists go.

Italy was a pivotal state for european diplomacy from 1932 to 1936 and was
not considered a joke by then. It was also a good example of why territory
does not equal power as much as influence does.

The Ottomans fell after WWI as
> well.

Said this.

> >
> > The British and French empires remained in existence at this time, and
> > remained symbols of national strength for their electorates.
> > Anti-imperialistic arguments in Europe were mainly derived from
> > Marxist-Leninist theory and never gained much credence beyond the Left.
> >
> > Imperialism in Britain eventually lost its ideological grip with the
> > Atlantic Charter.
> >
> > Perhaps imperialism did lose its ideological hold upon the US
> under Wilson
> > but the Versailles Treaty and its principle of self-determination had to
> > battle with the long-standing notions of racial and cultural superiority
> > that justified empire.
> THis is not really that accurate. Wilson's ideas gained quite a wide
> public acceptance throughout Europe after the war, it was really only
> the aristocrats who resented the implications.

This should be viewed on national rather than social criteria. New states in
Europe, whose legitimations were based upon the principle of
self-determination and the rights of nations to create their own countries,
would be attracted to this particular unspoken principle of Wilson's 14
points. Most of his points referred to Europe and where he did argue that
the indigenous people should have their views taken into account in the
adjustment of colonies ("Point V. A free, open-minded, and absolutely
impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance
of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the
interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the
equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined."), he
was ignored.

> >
> > > > > Mike Lorrey wrote
> > > > > Countries would not go to war against each other if one
> side or the
> > > > > other were not lying about their point of view.
> > > >
> > > > If you wish to view a war in terms of the ideologies
> expressed by the
> > > > participants, how do you distinguish between their ideas and
> > > the propaganda
> > > > created in support of their point of view? snip...
> > >
> > > Propaganda, per se, is not always a lie. There are two forms of
> > > propaganda: information and disinformation. One is truth, the other is
> > > falsehood.
> > >
> >
> > Propaganda is always a form of untruth as the authors wish the reader or
> > observer to privelege a particular interpretation. The author
> is hoping that
> > their work is structured in such a way that it will make your
> mind up for
> > you.
> But nothing you say here demonstrates that all interpretations are
> untruths. If even on interpretation is accurate, then propaganda for
> that point of view is not an untruth.

Here, we are probably saying similar things in different ways. A reader
would be able to gauge what may be true within propaganda if he has
sufficient knowledge and critical faculties to maintain a sceptical stance.
However, if an author has structured his work (be it a book, an article or a
film) to persuade the reader that a particular political goal is worthwhile,
then surely that work can no longer be considered objective as it is a tool
to promote a particular worldview.

> >
> > Studies of British propaganda during WWII found that it was not
> possible to
> > modify deeply held attitudes but that you could reinforce and exacerbate
> > preexisting attitudes.
> On the contrary, stunning defeats are quite effective at making people
> reevaluate their assumptions.

Just to clarify here, these studies were looking at Home Front propaganda.
Leaflets over Axis countries had little effect and, as you quite rightly
say, defeat and unconditional surrender destroyed the legitimacy of the
fascist and Nazi regimes. It does show that propaganda has limited affects
at the end of the day and demonstrates that governments have limited
abilities to re-engineer the cultural sensibilities of their citizens.

> > >
> > > Yes. However, nationalism being wrong and false does not mean that
> > > everything it involves is automatically false (just as a KKK
> member can
> > > still tell the truth when he says the sky is blue).
> Objectively ranking
> > > one form of polity as objectively better than another is significantly
> > > different from having blind faith in one's nation, right or wrong.
> >
> > The terms 'false' and 'wrong' are only applicable if you wish to view
> > history as a conflict between rationalism and irrationalism (which would
> > include your definition of faith). However, it is not possible for a
> > nationalist to set down objective criteria in order to assess
> nations, as
> > s/he develops an exaggerated sense of belonging to their own
> nation through
> > sentiment and/or loyalty. This is not a statement saying that
> the objective
> > ranking of polities is impossible but that one has to reflect
> on these views
> > and discount them before attempting suvh an assessment.
> On the contrary, the individual should decide first what sort of country
> they think, according to facts of human nature, would be the best to
> live and prosper in, then see what countries match up best to those
> criteria.

Can this work in practice? My suburban south-east englishness is engrained
and, even after discounting its contribution to my conscious sense of
identity, it remains the mould for my habits and sentiments. I will always
be biased to a certain region, my own locality, through habit and
familiarity. You offer a tabula rasa that requires a reinvention of identity
most individuals are unable to achieve - an unattainable level of

Philip Chaston

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