In 1877, a young man wrote an impassioned treatise to his colleagues at Oxford.“I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race,” wrote Cecil Rhodes, only 24 years old at the time. “Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings” he mused, “what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence.” Like many other Britons of his day, Rhodes was a staunch imperialist. The document cited, his famous “Confession of Faith,” was an unbridled expression of his belief in British racial superiority.
In this essay we'll examine the practice of imperialism throughout modern history. Specifically, the philosophies and doctrines that provided justification of its offenses. We'll allow the life of Cecil Rhodes to serve as an entry point for this topic. This is ideal, first because Rhode's ideas and doctrines provide an illustration of imperial doctrine as a whole. Secondly, because Rhode's life is a microcosm of historic imperialism, as we shall see.
Rhodes' was not alone in this views on the superiority of the British race. Indeed, with the establishment of Darwin's theory of evolution, countless intellectuals had scrambled to establish evolutionary biology as the basis for European racial supremacy. Over the years, Rhodes' charismatic dogma would draw him to the center of the imperialist movement. It was a fitting place for him, as in many ways Rhodes life was demonstration of imperialism at large. On the one hand, Rhodes represented a class of wealthy European business men who had grown obscenely rich through their shameless plunder of the colonized world. Throughout the 1870s and '80s Rhodes invested heavily in diamond mines, eventually forming the De Beers Mining Company.
De Beers emulated the brutal labor practices of other capitalist enterprises of the time. A company town was formed in Kimberley, modern day South Africa to house the workers of the mines. Within the town were closed barracks, known as compounds, where black workers were stored and only allowed to leave to go to work. The compounds were predictably squalid, overcrowded, and unsanitary. While Rhodes must have longed to put white mine workers in compounds as well, the task proved politically impossible. After all, how could the “finest race” be housed alongside the “most despicable” race, as Rhodes had so eloquently argued in years prior. Thus, De Beers pioneered two practices that would help to define apartheid South Africa: the segregation of white and black labor, and the housing of black migrant laborers in compounds.
But there was another manner in which Rhodes represented imperialism as a whole. Through the growing connections afforded to him by his diamond cartel, Rhodes claimed political office, eventually becoming the Prime Minister of Cape Colony (modern day South Africa). From here, Rhodes was...