John A. Hobson

Imperialism, A Study


This study of modern Imperialism is designed to give more precision to a term which is on everybody’s lips and which is used to denote the most powerful movement in the current politics of the Western world. Though Imperialism has been adopted as a more or less conscious policy by several European States and threatens to break down the political isolation of the United States, Great Britain has travelled so much faster and farther along this road as to furnish in her recent career the most profitable guidance or warning.

While an attempt is made to discover and discuss the general principles which underlie imperialist policy, the illustration of that policy is mainly derived from the progress of British Imperialism during the last generation, and proceeds rather by diagnosis than by historical description.

In Part I the economic origins of Imperialism are traced, with such statistical measurements of its methods and results as are available.

Part II investigates the theory and the practice of Imperialism regarded as a “mission of civilisation,” in its effects upon “lower” or alien peoples, and its political and moral reactions upon the conduct and character of the Western nations engaging in it.

The book is addressed to the intelligence of the minority who are content neither to float along the tide of political opportunism nor to submit to the shove of some blind “destiny,” but who desire to understand political forces in order that they may direct them.

Those readers who hold that a well-balanced judgment consists in always finding as much in favour of any political course as against it will be discontented with the treatment given here. For the study is distinctively one of social pathology, and no endeavour is made to disguise the malignity of the disease.

The statistics given in Part I are derived, when the source is not stated, from the Statistical Abstracts published by the Government, reinforced, in some instances, by figures derived from the Statesman’s Yearbook.

I am indebted to the editor of the Financial Reform Almanac for permission to reproduce the valuable diagram illustrative of British expenditure from 1870, and to the editors of the Speaker, the Contemporary Review, the Political Science Quarterly, and the British Friend for permission to embody in chapters of this volume articles printed in these magazines.

I desire also to express my gratitude to my friends Mr. Gilbert Murray and Mr. Herbert Rix for their assistance in reading most of the proof-sheets and for many valuable suggestions and corrections.


John A. Hobson
August 1902

Last updated on 12.11.2006