A Critique of Imperialism


John Hobson argued that the capitalist market drove the imperialistic trend of the late 1800s, as opposed to nationalism. ((John Hobson, Imperialism, 1901)) Much like colonialism, imperialism is a policy that allows for one country to take control over another, generally by military force. Hobson was writing Imperialism in London just after the Long Depression, one of the worst recessions in history. The depression affected economies worldwide; however, England took the hardest hit. Being in the midst of all the economic failure around him must have prompted Hobson to criticize imperialism. Although many people were literate in England at this time, Hobson was most likely writing for Parliamentary members because they had the most political influence. 

Hobson argued that nationalism was a term being used too loosely; he inferred that imperialism couldn’t be considered a nationalist policy because it involved people in the empire who were not geographically, culturally, or linguistically bound. ((John Hobson, Imperialism, 1901)) He called out the British government for not focusing on their political and economic problems instead spreading their power to other parts of the world that were not asking to be controlled. ((John Hobson, Imperialism, 1901)) Hobson’s intent with this piece was essentially to tell the British government to get their act together and deal with their issues rather than create more problems in other parts of the world.

ACLAIM – Imperialism

Author: The author is John Hobson, a classically educated English economist. Throughout his life, Hobson became known as a critic of Imperialism, to a point where people began to frown upon how open his criticisms were.

Context: This piece was written in 1902, at a time where the British economic system was experiencing a stark downturn. They were no longer the clear superpower in the world, with countries such as the United States and Germany steadily gaining economic and military strength.

Language: The language used is very complex in structure and in tense – the reader can tell that it was composed by an educated author. His writing mentions economics on a wide scale, but it still easy enough to read if you don’t posses an economic back ground.

Audience: The intended audience is that of a rich, educated populace – people who know what they are reading and have the ability to do something with their newly acquired knowledge.

Intent: To show how imperialism has destroyed the economic system of England. He explains how it has caused overproduction and underconsumption, therefore leading to a inefficient method of production. He wants to educate people on how a good economic system works – it isn’t necessarily all about cheap goods, there has to be a sustainable demand for those goods as well.

Message: Nationalism should take over as the prevailing foreign policy of the nation. If the country is more inward based, it would spur on national production and make for a more autonomous (and productive) people.

ACLAIM: Hobson, Imperialism 1902

Author: John A. Hobson; English economist and critic of imperialism. Born into upper-middle class family. Hobson was highly educated and associated with several different political groups after moving to London in 1887. He had rather extreme views concerning imperialism and was ultimately outed by the academic community for the overly forward nature of his writing.
Context: 1902; English production begins to be rivaled by Germany, the United States, and Belgium. These states encroach on international markets previously monopolized by Great Britain. The rate of production outmatched the rate of consumption and England needed to find other markets for the surplus of goods. Hobson emphasized his theory of underconsumption.
Language: Intellectual language; not meant for average working class, however also not filled with economic jargon.
Audience: Educated middle and upper-classes; clearly not written to be understood by a borderline illiterate working class.
Intent: To analyze and critique the causes and effects of imperialism. Hobson considered the state of international economics, especially international markets previously dominated by the UK. Hobson critiqued the underconsumption that results in surpluses. Lower demand, higher supply, lower prices, lower profit margins.
Message: Imperialism is the result of production outpacing consumption. Imperialism would not be necessary if domestic consumption increased to match the rate of production. “So long as England held a virtual monopoly of the world markets for certain important classes of manufactured goods, Imperialism was unnecessary.”

ACLAIM – Hobson

Author: John Hobson, English economist and English diplomat in southern Africa.

Context: During the middle of an economic depression in England which he attributed to the unsustainability in imperialist expansion.

Language: Language is very direct and highly critical. He was very well educated and the language in the document is not for an uneducated audience.

Audience: For the middle and upper classes mainly, ones who would understand simple to complex economics. Also for all modern economists at the time, especially in England.

Intent: To change economic policies in england from an unsustainable imperialist system to a system which abandons destructive expansionism for a more reliable, inwardly shifted national focus.

Message: Imperialism must be destroyed through the means of understanding its economic downfalls. Imperialism destroys public relations through infiltration and aggression, and due to its unsustainable nature in which the original national boundaries are left to wither, ends up creating more problems. To help come out of this depression, we need to stop imperialism which will allow England to build itself back up and stimulate foreign trade markets.


Imperialism – Hobson


A. John Hobson (1902)

  • English economist
  • Critic of imperialism
  • Wealthy family and well educated


  • One of the most famous critiques of the economic bases of imperialism
  • Middle of 2nd IR
  • Britain had lost its monopoly on the world market


  • Intelligent, enlightened, somewhat complex


  • Britain’s leaders


  • Inform Britain not only that imperialism is unnecessary, but it wastes Britain’s resources on peoples that can never become part of Britain instead of fixing internal problems


  • Meaning of the word imperialism shifts through manipulation
  • Nationalism has had both unifying and dividing effects
  • Nationalism set the momentum for expansionàimperialism
  • Imperialism was unnecessary until Britain lost its monopoly of the world market
  • As other nations such as Germany, Belgium, and the US encroached upon Britain’s markets, Britain had to find new markets
  • Must be undeveloped
  • Safest means of developing these new markets is establishing protectorates
  •  Imperialism is not inevitable like many people think
  • If Great Britain focused on bettering itself, they wouldn’t need to seek our undeveloped markets to exploit
  • Neglecting agriculture
  • Overpopulation
  • Poor education system
  • New markets they are seeking cannot be assimilated to Britain
  • Imperialism driven by class interest
  • Must cut imperialism at its economic roots to be effective