Imperialism and “The horror!”

Jules Ferry, a two-time prime minister of France, supported the ideals of Imperialism. In 1884 France, competition amongst Britain, Germany, and the United States sparked a sense of urgency in people like Ferry. Germany conquered nations in Africa, prevailing over Britain and creating pressure in Britain. Ferry notes that this competition, as well as supply and demand and freedom of trade are major problems. In a proud, almost desperate tone, he insists that “the superior races have a right because they have a duty. They have the duty to civilize the inferior races.”1 Ferry implies that men of higher rank need to be on board in order for French colonial expansion to take place, and he speaks to them often in his piece, addressing them as “Gentlemen.” He says, “Gentlemen, we must address them more loudly and more honestly!”2 Ferry writes in a convincing, enthusiastic tone to try to improve support for French Imperialism, which was somewhat lacking upon his writing. With competition in Western Europe and the United States increasing, Ferry notes that the time to act is now; he notes that market success in South America is dwindling because of North American products. A weak French navy needs to be improved in order to face this increasing competition, as it needs “harbors, defenses, [and] supply centers on the high seas.”3 Previously conquered territory such as Vietnam did not suffice, for individuals such as Ferry feared an economic collapse. Clearly an Imperialist, Ferry believed that exporting best served the economy of France, especially with the shrinking of markets in Europe.

Ferry’s contradictory and racist beliefs puzzled me. When I first read this, I was surprised with the “hierarchy of races” that he believed in. Nonetheless, Ferry’s beliefs set the basis of the beginning of the French colonial empire. As I searched more, I found out that Ferry became interested in acquiring the Congo. I immediately thought of the novel Heart of Darkness, a novel that accurately represents the evil ideologies of imperialism and takes place in the Congo. One of the novel’s main characters, Kurtz, conducts raids for ivory, and other immoral acts because of his greed. His lack of compassion and respect for the natives is evident. To not extend into too much further detail, Kurtz’s last words are “The horror! The horror!” These last words resemble his realization of his brutality, and how “the horror” ultimately killed him. I thought the connection between Ferry and this novel worked rather well. Heart of Darkness included such brutal, sickening images, and when reading it I found it difficult to truly believe the fact that European imperialism mirrored the brutalities in Heart of Darkness. This world has such a long history.

Do countries act with immorality in order to achieve their realist goals, or are we shifting away from this in today’s society? How can you compare French and other countries’ Imperialism with Christopher Columbus? Why must states be so competitive; is “world peace” without any imperialism ever possible?

  1. Jules Ferry, On French Colonial Expansion []
  2. Jules Ferry, On French Colonial Expansion []
  3. Jules Ferry, On French Colonial Expansion []

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *