By Chetan: Published in 1902, Imperialism: A Study is an extensive study of imperial movement and its various facets. The book is unique in the sense that it was written at a time when the British Empire was at its peak. In this book, Hobson explicates that imperialism is not just about annexation of territories in Asian and African continents for political and administrative control but also an ideological, scientific and commercial activity to benefit a certain class.
John Atkinson Hobson is a well-known British economist born on July 6, 1858 in Derby. He is worldwide appreciated for his critical commentary on close ties between imperialism and modern capitalism. With the growth of industrial economy in Britain, the capitalist class expanded and gave rise to modern capitalism wherein protection of industrialists’ interests became the top priority of political class. Johnson believes that economic slowdown by the end of second half of the nineteenth century halted industrial growth and necessitated search for new markets to export surplus production from England to colonies. Consequently, the British parliament reshaped its imperial policies to have more untapped markets of Asia and Africa in its control.
Imperialism: A Study is divided into two parts. Titled “The Economics of Imperialism,” part 1 has seven subsections each concerns with specificities of imperial economy. Part II “The Politics of Imperialism” also has seven subsections delve deeply into the politics of imperialism. In the first part, Hobson primarily deals with economic contours of imperialism. How is imperialism crucial for any country’s economy? What are the commercial values of imperialism? How does imperialism affect the outlay of population? What are the financial investments in promoting imperialism.
Hobson argues with the help of statistical data that imperialism gained traction with advancement in weapon technologies and ammunitions. In the second half of nineteenth century, weapons, arms, ammunition were produced for commercial sales to armies and navies fighting against natives in colonies. The expenditure on armament and war escalated at a rapid pace since 1884 with heavy investment in purchase of advanced weapons for army and navy by nearly all the major European imperialist countries. Hobson defines this massive expenditure on arms and weapon “as an insurance premiums for protection of existing colonial markets and current outlays on new markets”
Although the official records furnish proportionally less number of British people migrated to colonies, Hobson criticizes imperial policies that rationalize colonization for alternative land and resources to meet the requirements of burgeoning British population. “Great Britain is one of the most congested areas in the world; her growing population cannot find enough remunerative occupation within these islands: professional and working classes alike find it more and more difficult to earn a decent and secure living every labor market is overstocked, emigration is a prime economic necessity.”
Hobson further argues that new imperialism has not been of much benefit for Britain as a nation since it has done good to certain classes and certain trades. In fact, professional interest of such classes and traders are fed on imperialistic expenditure. Cosmopolitan culture changes the nature of capital investment with several nations tend to make large share of their investments outside the limit of political area.
The second part of the book – “The Politics of Imperialism” – is a close scrutiny of imperialism to understand its political significance particularly in context of justifying the British rule in colonies. An outward justification is colonies incapability of self governance and incivility. The British imperialists propound a message that “England imperial mission was to spread the arts of free government and the examples of Australia and Canada looming big before all eyes suggested that we were doing this”
The political significance of imperialism seems to be a project to initiate a discourse to convince colonized people and cosmopolitans that scientific explorations also validate colonial rule and imperialism. The massive slaughter of natives was justified on the ground that they derecognized the superiority of European races that believed in hegemonic structure. Only the progressive races survive in the battle. In the Eurocentric hegemonic structure the domination of one race by another signifies progress – “human progress requires the maintenance of the race struggle in which the weakest races shall go under while the socially efficient races survive and flourish: we are the socially efficient race.”
These progressive thoughts are ideologically charged and practiced in social, cultural, political and economic spheres. For instance, Englishmen are taught to believe in the fact that their race is superior than others “Englishman believes he is a more excellent type that any other man; he believes that he is better able to assimilate any special virtues others may have; he believes that this character gives him right to rule which no other can possess.” Hence, imperialism is a struggle of nations. Hobson analyzes that imperialism becomes a necessity for European countries, particularly for Britain, following industrialization and improvement in healthcare facilities. On the one hand European nations were competing against each other for colonial expansion and on the other hand, they were struggling against their internal problems. With rising population owing to the improved life expectancy, most of the European nations were struggling against food security and other resources. These concerns gave impetus to imperialism.
Apart from commercial and political facets of imperialism, Hobson looks into the role of religion in dissemination of imperial ideas. Hobson claims that religion instigated Europeans to accept their responsibility of civilizing barbaric and reorient natives towards Christian values. British missionaries and organizations gained strength by spreading these ideologies. There was a close affinity between British missionaries and political groups.
Hence, Imperialism: A Study opens a bundle of opportunities to comprehend imperialism in context of its social, political, cultural, economic and religious compulsions. it gives a critical insight into the reception of imperialism in domestic space of Britain.
Hobson, J. A, Imperialism: A Study, James Pott & Company, New York. 1902
 J. A Hobson, Imperialism: A Study, James Pott & Company, New York. 1902. P 48
 Ibid. P 34
 Ibid. P 77
Ibid P 96
 Ibid. P 98
( Chetan. Assistant Professor English, Bharati College (Delhi University))