Imperialist Powers Essay

1574 words - 7 pages

This racialist vision trickled down to the subordinate societies, which were interiorising their ‘inferiority’. An interesting illustration might be the life of Frantz Fanon, born in 1925 in Martinique. He fought for France in the Second World War and studied medicine and psychiatry in Lyon, wishing ‘only to belong, only to lose himself in Frenchness – in all those aspects he had been taught were superior and beautiful’ (Ehlen cited in Unit 3, p. 96). However, after having faced racism in metropolitan France, being constantly made aware of his difference, he turned against French culture, denouncing in his work Peau noire, masques blancs (Black Skin, White Mask) the coerced discrepancy ...view middle of the document...

French domination was scarcely challenged in Algeria, a mosaic of inward-looking clans and tribes – in fact, nationalism emerged among immigrant workers in Paris, starting to identify themselves as ‘North Africans’ due to their common lot of migrant workers: they founded in 1926 the first nationalist party calling for a social revolution (Unit 20, p. 127). The demand for autonomy was held in contempt by colonial authorities, leading to the eruption of violence perpetrated by the activists of the Algerian Liberation movement (FLN). In his work The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon argues that ‘decolonisation is always a violent event’: in his very words, the colonial world is a ‘Manichaean world’ divided into binaries of coloniser/colonised and the end of the colonial system can only be achieved through violence by ‘demolishing the colonist’s sector’ (Fanon, 2004, pp. 1, 6). For him, violence is a ‘cleansing force’ that precisely ‘rids the colonised of their inferiority complex’, unifying the people, introducing ‘the notion of common cause, national destiny, and collective history into every consciousness’ (Fanon, 2004, pp. 51-52). It must be noted that imperial decline might also be the consequence of the loss of sense of ethnic superiority among dominant nations. With the rise of Marxist discourses in the twentieth century, it became indeed increasingly difficult to justify imperial rule on colonies, leading European powers to concede independence, even facing very limited nationalist rebellion. In the case of Algeria, the FLN internationalised the question, acting ‘abroad to make the Algerian problem a reality for the entire world’ (Primary Source 20.2, p. 2). The French army was able to crush the FLN, but systematic resort to torture was in contradiction with modern norms diminishing French influence abroad (Unit 20, p. 136). Even if military violence was successful, the price – in Hannah Arendt’s words – was ‘not only paid by the vanquished [but…] also paid by the victor in terms of his own power’: France could not keep its colony and be a democracy adhering to the modern norms of equality between ethnicities (Arendt, 1970, p. 53). Similarly, the ‘revolution of the flowers’ (1974) and the democratic transition led Portugal to finally abandon the control of Angola despite its military success against nationalist rebels (Unit 20, pp. 156-159). Changes in international norms were thus detrimental to the ‘naturalness’ of European ethnic superiority and undermined the legitimacy of imperialism: European powers were still able to win the military battle but were doomed to lose the political war.
As illustrated above, many empires relied on and fostered a sense of racial superiority, but was it really a systematic pattern? In fact, the statement must be nuanced considering some specific cases. It must first be noted that differentiation might arise unwillingly between the mother country and its dependencies. In the case of the American colonies,...

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