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By João Figueiredo

Imperialism refers to the practice of one state, elite group, or dynasty extending its power and dominion over territories outside of its original rule, or to the advocacy of policies leading to this outcome. Clear instances of imperialism occur across time (e.g., classical, medieval, early modern, modern periods), and geographical and cultural areas, often involving the colonization of territories and/or extractivism. Empires can be acquired and maintained through different means (e.g., military conquest, economic dominance, feudal allegiances/marriages, religious conversion) and advocated according to varying rationales (economic motives, geopolitical motives, moral motives). Empires that are mainly driven by economic priorities rely on colonialism (military conquest and occupation) or neo-colonialism (economic and/or political control) to extract wealth from dominated territories. Empires that are mainly driven by geopolitical or security priorities rely on the maintenance of bases, protectorates, buffer states, and zones of influence, either through purely military or combined economic-military means. Empires that are mainly driven by moral priorities (e.g., the spread of a monotheistic religion, abolitionism, the ‘manifest destiny’ of a given populational group) are also backed by military and economic operations, but the extent to which economic and security considerations motivate their elites must by force be disguised by imperialist propaganda. Consequently, ‘moral’ empires often rely on an elaborate mythology that is emotionally appealing, easily disseminated, and often appropriated by colonial or geopolitical empires. In the case of the Third Portuguese Empire, its elites often defended their economically motivated actions with ‘moral’ myths (e.g., tales of heroic conquest, religious piety, and scientific ‘discovery’). These myths still inform contemporary ethnonationalism (see the entry on “Colonialism”). For analytical purposes, political theorists often divide empires as ‘maritime’ (e.g., the British Empire) or ‘land/steppe’ empires (e.g., the Tsarist Russian Empire).

Related References

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Cite this entry as:

Figueiredo, João. 2022. ‘Imperialism’. In Populisms and Emotions Glossary, edited by Cristiano Gianolla and Maíra Magalhães Lopes. Available atário