The West and the World: Cultural Crisis and the New Imperialism

The West and the World: Cultural
Crisis and the New Imperialism,
The West
Medicine and Microbes
• Development of germ theory, antiseptic
surgery and anesthesia transformed Western
• Death rates from infectious diseases fell,
and survival rates from surgery increased
• Awareness of germs fostered anxiety and
fueled desires for physical isolation growth of seaside resorts
The Revolution in Physics
• The development of x-ray, quantum physics
and the theory of relativity undermined
conceptions about the absolute nature of
time, space and matter
• Much science became incomprehensible to
lay people
• Unsettling prospect that objective reality
was determined by subjective perception
Social Thought: The Revolt
Against Positivism
• Emergent social sciences emphasized the role of
nonrational forces in human nature
• Development of social theories that criticized the
development of modern nation-states - Gustave
LeBon, Max Weber
• Sigmund Freud proposed that the human
unconscious was far deeper and more significant
than conscious reality
The Triumph of Evolutionary
• Development of evolutionary theories in geology
and biology - Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin
• Challenged Christian cosmology and the biblical
Creation narrative
• Provided scientific framework for explaining and
confirming positivist thought and the European
socio-economic system
Social Darwinism and Racial
• Evolution theory contributed to new social
and racial theories that justified European
patriarchy, hierarchy and imperialism
• Argued that white European males
represented the pinnacle of evolution
• Cultivated fears that evolutionary regression
and the decline of civilization were possible
The Fin-de-Siècle
• A mood of social uneasiness and despair
• Fear of the degradation of Western culture,
fueled by perception of rising crime, and the
reality of increasing drug and alcohol abuse
• Friedrich
overemphasis on rationality had weakened
Western culture and that scientific reality
was an illusion
Tightening Gender
• Efforts to define gender boundaries more
• Condemnation of feminism as physically
and morally dangerous to women
• Criminalization and medical condemnation
of male homosexuality
• Greater efforts to understand and define
“normal” sexuality
The Birth of Modernism
• Challenged accepted standards and truths,
rejected established authorities
• Argued that the arts were autonomous and
rejected the idea of art as a moral and
emotional instrument
• Emphasized
experimentation, and individual emotion
and experience
Popular Religion and
• Religious beliefs remained powerful
• Served to unify immigrant groups, support
national identities and justify imperialism
• Division between Christians who embraced
progress and change, and those who
rejected modern society and science
• Growing sphere of secular entertainment
undermined religious practices
Understanding the New
• European dependence on raw materials
from non-Western sources
• Creation of new, captive markets
• Global investment boom
• Appeal to nationalist and conservative
• National competition - the Scramble Effect
The Imperial Idea
• A belief system that permeated middle-class and
mass culture
• Based on the assumption that Europeans were
morally, technologically and biologically superior
- the imperial destiny of Europe
• Often presented as a heavy burden and a moral
• Critics of empire were a minority
The Scramble for Africa
• Shift in perception of Africa, from an empty desert
to a potential treasure house
• Technological developments enabled Europeans to
penetrate and survive the African interior and
crush resistance
• Forced labor and brutal punishment were common
in European-controlled Africa
• Only Ethiopia successfully resisted European
Asian Encounters
• Spread of European powers into the Pacific
• Emergence of the US, Japan and Russia as
imperial forces in Asia and the Pacific
• Slow erosion of Chinese political and economic
sovereignty, but no formal partition
• Identification of Australia as Western, and white
• Suppression of indigenous peoples and cultures in
the US and Australia
A Glimpse of Things to Come:
The Boer War
• Conflict in South Africa challenged the imperial
• Utilization of terror and concentration camps
against civilian populations
• Aroused fierce opposition inside Britain - support
for imperialism could fall, if the costs were too
• Defeat of the Boers brought only limited victory to
the British
Reshaping the West: Expansion
and Fragmentation
• Cultural, intellectual and geographical boundaries
of the West transformed
• Expansion of the West, in the US and Australia
• Development of social theories proclaiming white
• Emergence of artistic and scientific ideas that
fragmented and challenged Western experiences
and assumptions