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The Dynamics and Development of Western Power from Colonization to a Global Regime

By Dohrea Bardell


Colonization was born out of the necessity of the West to enrich and develop their resources, expand their land usage and gain cheap labor. Wars, and taking over other lands, capturing the indigenous people to use as slaves, consuming the captured country’s resources, and burdening the populace with taxes, is not a new cultural phenomena, history has shown a repetition of this occurrence between many warring countries in many parts of the world. But the blueprint for colonization is more insidious: with the attitude of entitlement, born of power and technological advances, the West rules not only the material but also the psychological, and hence the difficulties of the colonized countries to shed the bonds of dependencies and become self-determining (Memmi, 1965,p.ix). In this paper I will discuss how the ruling West has changed strategies over time to hide the principles and motives that governed their need for expansion, and colonization in the past, with the mantra and all-inclusive marketing plan that for any nation to become a part and a member of the global community, the country needs to enter into a “global relationship” to be able to develop and grow, emulate the West, and modernize. Colonization, as a way to profit and harness ruling power has transformed into a “global development project”, not only using (and abusing) the same territories, but also continuing to expand to include more countries, further exploiting land, and cheaply employing people (McMichael, 2008, p. 25).

The Colonization Blueprint

In Development and Social Change (2008), Philip McMichael defines colonialism as “the subjugation by physical and psychological force of one culture by another—a colonizing power—through military conquest of territory and stereotyping the relation between the two cultures” (p.27). The colonial power “reorganizes existing cultures”, manipulates class division, creating strife and discord, which does not allow the colonized community to unite and fight back; extract “labor, cultural treasures, and resources”; and furthermore, develops the “ideologies justifying colonial rule, including notions of racism…” (p. 27). Colonization creates the “Other”, a “primitive” other, needing the rule and administration of the colonizer. The study of colonization and decolonization has become an important discipline and focus for global and literature departments, with authors such as Albert Memmi and Edward W. Said teaching the political, social and psychological blueprint of colonialism, of both colonizer and colonized, the interrelationship and connectedness between them, and how it is continuing on to manifest, albeit in different forms, in today’s world.

In The Colonizer and the Colonized (1957), Memmi discusses the motivation for developing the colonies as economical, but also that “the idea of privilege is at the heart of the colonial relationship—and that privilege is undoubtedly economic” (p. xii). He denounces the moral or cultural “reasons” for colonization and speaks of profits as the primary motive and principle for territorial expansion. His analysis of the colonizer and colonized brings into view the superiority of the colonizer and humiliation of the colonized. Privilege was not only economic but extends into every part of the colonial life, creating a fabric of reality that was believed to be justifiable by the colonizer, and oppressive for the colonized “I was treated as a second-class citizen, deprived of political rights, refused admission to most civil service department…”(p. xiii). But Memmi’s most powerful point is that oppression does not only destroy the colonized, but also “rots the colonizer” as it is the cause of “the greatest calamity of humanity” (p. xvii). McMichael (2008) asserts that the Europeans thought of “non-European native people or colonial subjects were “backwards”, trapped in stifling cultural traditions” and was described as “European cultural superiority” (p. 27). The superiority that Memmi experienced as humiliation.

McMichael points to the Europeans perceiving natives, such as the American Indians and Australian Aborigines, as having no rights to their property since they do not “cultivate the land” (p. 28); devaluing and therefore displacing the inhabitants, utilizing both their military power, and moral superiority as weapons. This practice continues to displace farmers and villagers in the Global South, all in the name of development and profit. The concept of development was rooted in the colonial era as bringing progress to backwards lands and “balancing technological change and class structuring with social intervention—understood idealistically as assisting human social evolution and perhaps realistically managing citizen-subjects experiencing wrenching social transformations” (p. 25). Colonial territories not only helped to boost Europeans careers and job market (Memmi, 1957, pp. 50-51), but also “facilitated European industrialization” (McMichael, 2008, p. 25). It meant that the colonized were forced to adapt to European life: “development was a power relationship” (p. 26).

Development of the Global Regime

Eduard W. Said changed the world of literature discourse with his book Orientalism (1978), illuminating the Western imperial worldview, and in doing so cementing the new Postcolonial Studies with a foundational work on “Western attitudes towards the East” (p.1). In defining Orientalism, Said speaks about the historical ways in which Europe viewed and wrote about “the Orient”, different than what the Americans consider “Far East” (China and Japan), the Orient is “Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies” (p.1), which included China as well as Egypt and parts of the Mid East. The West is analyzed, through writers such as Homer, Nerval, Kipling and Flaubert to show the exotic and romantic attitudes, portraying the “Other” as beautiful, weak and primitive, but also needing to be directed and ruled over (pp. 2-4). Said describes Orientalism as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (p. 3). It is a system created by European and later American thought to “manage—and even produce—the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively…”(p. 3). The colonization period was motivated by profit and aimed towards building a new world; by which the West controls the East, as it is the “superior” force creating life in the colonies and explaining colonial rule as “an accepted grid of filtering through the Orient” (p. 6). Western consciousness was perfected into a framework that benefited the colonizer materialistically and psychologically, preparing the way for globalization and development beyond the territories/colonies, when the revolts for independence and decolonization began to appear as inevitable. The root of thought; the privileged entitlement has had a firm foundation in the Global North for many decades: “the European awareness of the Orient, transformed itself from being textual and contemplative into being administrative, economic, and even military” (p. 210).

McMichael (2008) describes this transformation as colonies being “converted to supply zones of labor and resources” (p. 32). Agriculture was changed to specialized monoculture, destroying the lands; changing the culture of the country by destroying its crafts, leaving many without work or home: The “colonial division of labor developed European capitalist civilization (with food and raw materials) at the same time that it undermined non-European cultures and ecologies” (p. 35). As Europe’s industrialized age progressed and increased in urban population, demand grew for sugar, coffee, tea, cocoa, and tobacco. Factories needed raw materials such as cotton, timber, rubber etc. necessitating the colonizers to tax more, enslave the colonized to work in cash cropping through “indentured labor”, and disperse workers to other colonies to resolve work shortage (p.36). This “division of labor”, the method of growth and development brought about a far-reaching global effect; establishing today’s convoluted, mosaic nature of industry and labor exploitation by Western power states. McMichael therefore calls to question the conventional concept of what development is—the thought that non-European countries are “catching up” to the European, Western countries through inter-connected relationships that promote growth and modernization. The colonial rule had destroyed societies and ecologies, undermining the natural process of development, displacing the colonial worlds, and destroying its potential for equal and healthy relationship with the West; but also preparing the way for the continuation of exactly the pattern that robbed the colonial world centuries ago.

Shifting to Global Power

Did decolonization change the global blueprint of power? As the colonies revolted against the Western power, seeking independence, the colonial power slowly collapsed and ended in the mid-twentieth century. But the network of power still remains the same with the addition of US as a world power after WWII, exporting “capital-intensive industrial farming [as the norm] for agricultural modernization…with global ecological consequences” (McMichael, 2008, p. 42). Now colonized areas could “pursue national economic growth with First World [Western power] assistance”, meaning, that within their independence, they are still dependent on the prescribed interchange of commerce, and the assistance they receive from the First World (p. 44). The shift of power from colonization to decolonization has indeed created independent states, but has not shifted the power of the Western world to control and dictate world trade. McMichael (2008) summarizes the relationship as “the restoration of a capitalist world market to sustain First World wealth, through access to strategic natural resources, and the opportunity for Third world [decolonized] countries to emulate First World civilization and living standards” (p. 45). The development project of the Third World countries is still the blueprint for wealth accumulation for the Western Powers, except that the Third World is also encouraged to “catch up” and modernize. The West has done it though exploitation of the “East”, how then would the developing world accomplish progress?

As Third World countries aim to develop and raise their living standards, industrialization and the promotion of Westernized political, economic and cultural patterns are being adopted as the new modern path. The shift from colonial power to global power is still exercised, however, with the new facade of giving assistance to the “under developed”, helping and investing in their countries, with the unfortunate same results of colonial rule. The question of how would the developed world accomplish development would necessitate the redefinition of what development is; reclassification of what modernization actually accomplishes; investing in education, health care and culturally healthy economical plans. It seems far reaching, yet communities around the globe are rediscovering their roots and culture, their ancient ways of cultivating and farming, and their real power of independence.


McMichael, P. (2008). Development and Social Change. Thousands Oaks: Pine Forge Press.
Memmi, A. (1965). The Colonizer and the Colonized. (H. Greenfeld trans.). Boston: Beacon Press. (Original work published 1957).
Said, W.E. (2003). Orientalism. New York: Penguin Group. (Original work published 1978).

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