Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Imperialism Definition:

The absorption of subject states, usually for the purpose of harvesting raw materials, into a federalistic political organization.

A federal-style empire comprised of a home state and several annexed states, the latter sometimes referred to as colonies.

James Gathii, professor of international commercial law at Albany Law School, wrote:

"I define imperialism, like late nineteenth-century theorists, as the spread and expansion of industrial and commercial capitalism....

"... the term imperialism has, over the last century, had many meanings, and its uses in specific historical contexts have been varied. It has referred to the search for investment opportunities and markets for surplus capital and productive capacity, despotic methods of government, empire building, and employing the power of the armed state to secure economic advantages in the world at large.

"It has also referred to the expansion of capitalism through industrialization and commercial development in the periphery of an empire, as opposed to territorial annexations or empire-building.... The central themes ... are the different modes of dominating, restructuring, and having authority over colonial peoples, both by European and other invaders, as well as by these outsiders in conjunction with local ruling elites."

A policy based on the principle of the entitlement to rule over subject-peoples, although some would prefer the word "superintending powers" as distinct from strictly legislative powers as in rule.

In 1884, a British group formed the Imperial Federation League with this purpose:

"... to secure by federation the permanent unity of the Empire."

In his hard-hitting 1935 article, N. Bukharin described imperialism as follows:

"... ifin de siecle monopoly capitalism coupled with considerable survivals of feudal barbarism: savage exploitation of the workers and peasants, land-hunger on the part of the latter, exorbitantly high rents, poverty, and consequently low purchasing power of the masses - all leading to, the paradox of plenty and poverty, overproduction and the quest for new territories.... the expansionist policy of monopoly capitalism."


  • Bukharin, N., Imperialism and Communism, 14 Foreign Aff. 563 (1935-1936)
  • Gathii, James Thuo, Imperialism, Colonialism, and International Law, 54 Buff. L. Rev. 1013 (2006-2007)
  • Snow, Alpheus Henry, Neutralization Versus Imperialism, 2 Am. J. Int'l L. 562 (1908)

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