Colonial Powers

I am of the view that the Britain was the best colonial power. Though all the colonial powers had their plusses and negatives, the brits came nowhere close to the Spanish in terms of brutality and suppression. Spain decimated a whole race and religion in South America and lodged themselves.

The brits, on the other hand, were of the view that the colonies would someday pass onto the natives and have moreover put in place infrastructure for railways, postal system, roads etc that have gone on to be the foundation of the developing countries’ progress wherever the brits ruled. Of course they did not do it out of altruism but nevertheless they set the course for future progress.

The Australian Aborigines and the natives of North America may have something to dispute about the blessings of British colonialism – there, the Brits and their descendants “lodged themselves” and DID displace the native populations, founding “white”-majority nations (Australia, Canada, the USA).

Key difference (1) here being that the Spanish in what is now Latin America and the Brits in North America and Australia WERE there to “take over” and settle, driven by population or economic or political pressures, under the premise that it was “empty” space, occupied only by “savages” to be either converted or displaced. OTOH the Brits in other places were quite clear in that what they were doing was subjugating other nations – nations they may have considered inferior, but nations nonetheless – for profit and strategic advantage, and they were not at all interested in “Britanising” those lands in the cultural or demographic sense. Heck, in many cases they would just find an accommodating tribal chieftain and prop him up, rather than nakedly run the place themselves.

However a physical and civil-service infrastructure in the Brit Empire WAS built up to a degree unmatched by other world empires – but NOT upon the premise of nation-building for the natives, but because that made the colonies more productive and profitable.

This relates to difference (2) being that most of the Spanish Empire was founded in the 50 years after 1492, through a religio-military crusade, under a still mostly mediaeval, transitionally feudalist-to-mercantilist mindset, precisely by the European power most stagnant in the old ways. Within a century of getting an Empire, Spain was already obsolete as an imperial administrator. While most of what was known as the British Empire, even what was settled before, really takes off in and after the 1700’s, with capitalism emergent and the industrial revolution getting under way, in many cases through for-profit ventures (East India Co.), by a progress-committed nation on the leading-edge of capitalism/industrialism.

(Also, Spain lost its Empire kicking and screaming all the way, through war, during the XIX Century; Britain realized it had to give it up and took the steps to do so in an orderly manner in the mid-XX Century. Backwards herself even then, Spain could not have done much “preparing” her colonies for development if she had wanted. But the two colonies they kept into c. 1970 – Western Sahara and Equatorial Guinea – were also badly run and their independence flubbed)

OTOH, what about Belgium? For such a little “peaceful” corner of Europe, their doings in the Congo are spectacularly cringe-worthy (specially when King Leopold ran it as his personal fiefdom, but the transition to independence was a bloody mess too). And France had to be slapped around a bit in Indochina and Algeria to let go – they did wise up and gave the African colonies “independence”, but as French client-satellites (the “French Community”), is that any better? The Netherlands gave up Indonesia after making sure Shell Oil’s interests would be protected, but Surinam did not fare too damn well after independence. OTOH the Netherlands Antilles seem to be doing quite well.

Portugal lost its empire (contemporary to Spain’s) in two different batches: Brazil in the 1800’s (the Royal House split in two and Brazil kept the breakaway branch) and the Afro-Asiatic one int the 1970s (when the dictatorship fell). In the later case, warfare or lousy marxist regimes or both took care of ruining the places. (To add insult to insult, when Mozambique stabilized it went and joined the Commonwealth !)

The USA mostly starts up making a mess of the situation, but then eventually does something to fix it. e.g. Puerto Rico, which for the first 40 years was pretty much ignored and left as miserable as they got it from Spain in 1898… and then got brought into the First World in a single generation. Still, being made “Trustees” of the Marshall Islands and then deciding to exercise that trust by blowing up H-Bombs there must have sounded like really odd logic to the Bikinians.

Then there’s the Danes :smiley: – no, hear me out: it seems Norway and Iceland spun off quite painlessly, I don’t hear much about repression in Greenland, and the Danish Virgin Islands (sold to the US in 1917) were a prosperous trading port and a refuge for political exiles in the Caribbean area. Of course who knows how they may have dealt with any place with a very large, restive population. But they do look very, very, very good in this company!

Oh, and I almost forgot – surely the Irish will say a thing or two about the enlightened ways of British colonial rule :wink:

From my own (semi-limited) knowledge on the subject, the best-run colonies were the pre-WW1 German colonies in East Africa.
Innovative farming techniques, limited on-site fabrication of goods, education for subject peoples in addition to what religious missionaries might choose to teach, trade schools ditto, road building, hospitals, & an on-site scientific research facility to discover new uses for indigenous plants.
Little friction between German colonists & native peoples.

After the Germans lost it in WW1, the place went to hell.

If the British were so keen, why did we tell them to get lost? I am not trying to imply that the good Ol’ USA was the best colonial power, far from it, we wouldn’t even admit we had colonies for a while.
The best colonial power is no colonial power.

Not to excuse Spain at all, but I’d hardly call their settlement of “South America” (actually the Portuguese settled over half of it) a ‘decimation’ and "dislodging’ as quite a few nations: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Paraguay still have Amerindian majorities or pluralities, as does Guatemala.

The Spaniards were not out to kill all the Indians. Diseases which were out of the Spaniard’s control did most of the damage. The Iberians basically sought to replicate the feudal system in the Americas, and as such they sought to maintain the Indian population under their rule. Basically, the Indians and the Mestizos that came along later were to be a new sort of “serf” under the rule of Spanish elites.

You can debate which was less odious, the Iberian way: reducing the colonized to serfdom or the Anglo-Saxon way: largely shunting the colonized aside and displacing them completely.

Also, I believe in Namibia, the Germans were not to pleasant to the Africans there. Someone knows better I’m sure.

cuate-are you kidding me? Ask the Mayan Indians of Guatemala today if the Spaniards were so helpful! No, they weren’t wiped out-they were just pushed off their land and now endure horrible repression and brutality today!

Guin, I am afraid we are going to be on opposite sides on this but before I start can you expand a bit on your views about the Spanish colonization in the Americas? I need something I can grab at and your post gives nothing.


The German colonies were founded by the same armed conquest as every other Imperial venture, which rather qualifies as ‘friction’ between German colonials and the native population.

While it is true that certain German ‘prestige’ ventures were well-run and well-funded, the general colonial venture was brutal. Look up the bloody, even genocidal interventions in Namibia. I would hardly say that the Tanzanian administration ‘went to hell’ with change over to British administration, although one could make an argument the hand-over of Togo to the French did see a decline, although as Togo was ‘model’ showcase venture under the Germans, that may be expected.

As for judging colonial ventures, these exercises usually fairly stink of ahistoricism.

British policies c. 1900 were not the same as British policies c. 1950, for example. Nor was the first wave of colonialism (starting in the 15th century and running to say the 17th century – expansion stagnated in general by the 18th century) really the same phenomena as the second, late 19th century wave. Different actors, different methods, different ideas etc. etc.

Speaking generally for all 19th century Funding of public facilities, etc. were vastly different. Typically discussions of this sort take the post-WWII spurt of colonial development --intended to stem the tide of anti-colonialism-- as a benchmark, when if we take a sort of backwards “net present value” POV we have to count the decades (or centuries) of extractive policy which rarely had much benefit to the poor bastards who were conquered.

In any case, define the time period, define the parameters else we’ll just have yet another poorly informed, unbounded flailing about of half-digested national stereotypes, which whil emotionally satisfying, tells us very little indeed.

(PS see works by William Cohen in re comparative 19th century administrations.)

pterodactyl, welcome to the board. You start with the right foot by starting an interesting thread. I am an admirer of the Brits for many reasons but I find fault with your OP in that I do not think it is reasonably possible to do straight comparisons between such different empires. Even if they existed at the same time and in similar cultures, which is not the case any comparison would involve long discussions as (unless you are a fanatic) no country or regime is absolutely good or absolutely bad. The difficculty is compounded by people’s difficulty in seeing things from a different point of view than their own value system. If we have trouble understanding other cultures today, just imagine how much more difficult it is to understand cultures as they were centuries ago. I am afraid this type of thread just leads to a lot of politically correct Euro-bashing. The problem with western culture is the same as with democracy: with all its faults it was, on the whole, the best there was. Judging yesterday by today’s standards is meaningless and comparing the Spanish empire in 1500 with the British empire 350 years later is also meaningless except in the loosest of ways. We could also compare the Roman empire with the USA today but the question of which one was better would be quite meaningless.

True, but the population of Guatemala is about 55% mestizo, so some Spaniards were friendly, at least…:slight_smile:

The history of Guatamala is pretty horrid, but that has more to do with wealth differences, and the attempt by Mayans to preserve their own cultural identity rather than assimilate, than race, exactly.

Tell that to the Arawak Indians (native Jamaicans), that is if they still existed.

Efrem, can you provide some evidence showing the Arawaks were exterminated on purpose by the Spaniards? I do not know the history but a brief Net search leads me to believe the Arawak population was quite small to begin with and disappeared from a variety of causes, not from direct Spanish massacre. For instance

Everything I read seems to indicate Spanish presence was never large there and they did not defend it much when the British finally took it.

Ummm I wasn’t saying the Spaniards were helpful. They were paternalistic, arrogant, and racist. I said they reduced people to serfdom and bondage. I was mainly disputing the OP’s assertion that the Spaniards totally wiped out or even intended to destroy the Indians, when clearly they are not an “extinct race”.

Also I wouldn’t blame Spaniards for the represive actions of post-colonial governments or people. The Spaniards have ceased to have any control of the Maya for over 170 years now. Unless…you are referring to the descendents of the colonists as “Spaniairds”. In that case, the British are fully to blame for Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, James Earl Ray, and George Wallace.

I know on the Mexican side of the Mayan cultural area in the Yucatan, the Maya remained largely intact under peonage until the bloody “Caste Wars” of the 1840’s to 1870’s…which didn’t happen under the Spaniards’ watch. And a lot of the violence and hate is essentially fratricidal - as the people who oppress the Maya in Guatemala or southern Mexico on a local level (ranchers, police, soldiers) very often have more than a little Maya ancestry themselves.

The British decimated the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. I think that places them on a level ranking with the Spanish.

It seems like “we’ll just have yet another poorly informed, unbounded flailing about of half-digested national stereotypes, which while emotionally satisfying, tells us very little indeed”.

I say the Romans were the best because they built bridges and roads and stuff and they wore short skirts and spoke Latin which is pretty neat. Also it happened so long ago the bad feelings of those they invaded have subsided and nobody is thinking of suing Italy any more.

Well, I think I should rule the world. And the rest of you Dopers can be my army-and WE shall build the Cecilian Empire.

Sorry Guin, I dislike empires. :slight_smile:

Somehow I hardly think the claim “oops” is a relible defence when it comes to exterminating another cluture. With a bit more internet digging you might have been able to find:

lonely planet

Student Papers

Many other various internet sources give out a simular description of their fate. Natives all over America died by European diseases, but it takes that extra step to wipe a tribe completly out. It is my belief that the Spanards knew this was happening and that they were driving it, but didn’t care or wanted it. It is hard not to notice that in 100 short years since discovery of the island you were able to compeltly wipe out the navite population of 100,000.

For all those who want to learn more, here is a website called the Caribbean Amerindian centrelink. It is a great source of information about Caribbean Amerindian

my assertion that the britain was the best colonial power was a bit of an overstatement and i would have set it right had i read through the assertion before posting it.

in any case, i still maintain that the brits were better than many other colonial powers of their age. but the brits have contributed to deep divisions in people wherever they ruled. in fiji, the brits didn’t find the local population hard working enough, they hence brought in large number of workers from india, these were kept apart and denied basic rights, the brits wanted to pass on the country to the fijians after they vacated the colony (as they wanted to pass on palestine to the arabs after WWII) and hence did not want the indians getting anywhere. this as we are seeing today has led to deep mistrust between the native fijians and fijians of indian origin.
someone pointed out that the brits always did not colonise with the intention of passing on the colony to the original inhabitants later on. but you’ve got to agree that australia and north america was very sparsely populated and can almost be considered to be ‘vacant’.
in the list of colonial powers US has fared no better, though they did not massacre people but are clearly responsible for the near extinction of the native hawaiians by bringing in diseases and people from other regions to work their sugar fields etc