In post-colonial and marxist theory one often comes across the word Imperial. What is the meaning of this word? How does it differ from say a monarchy? Are there in fact several kinds of Imperialism? Does classical political theory in the tradition of Locke use this word?

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    An empire typically spans several countries. 'Imperialism' has connotations relating to the way recent real-world empires behaved (so ideas of paternalism, exploitation, aggressive expansion and cultural superiority for a start).
    – dbmag9
    May 28, 2013 at 9:49
  • A Imperialist could also be a synonym for a Naturalist.
    – Neil Meyer
    May 28, 2013 at 15:15
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    @Meyer: in what way? May 28, 2013 at 16:15
  • @NeilMeyer Yea that definitely merits some explanation. Very confusing.
    – Dennis
    May 29, 2013 at 3:36
  • My bad confusing Imperialist with Empiricist.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 19, 2013 at 16:11

2 Answers 2


I can only give a brief overview for the Marxist definition of Imperialism as I don't know enough about the term as used in classical political theory. The Wikipedia entry may be better suited for that.

The classical Marxist analysis of Imperialism (though I don't know if this was Lenin, or Luxembourg, or Marx himself) states that the development of capitalism within one nation state sooner or later reaches a limit. Capitalist systems want to grow and will always need more resources, workers or people buying the stuff.

At this point the state tries to secure overseas resources, markets or workforce for its capitalists. This can happen by subjugating and colonizing another part of the world or by forcing other countries to lower tariffs. This is usually called Imperialism.

Note: Imperialism is often simply used as a derogatory term for policies one does not like, or a state or certain policies are called 'Imperialist' in the same way, without bothering with the question of whether the loose definition given above fits. Sometimes Imperialism is simply used as a synonym for the USA and its allies.

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    this answer could be expanded with links, or even better, a few sentences about the Negris and Hardts 'Empire' concept ... too lazy now.
    – mart
    Jun 18, 2013 at 9:53
  • Does this apply only to modern Empires say since the invention of nation states in Europe; How about Alexanders Empire, The Ottoman Empire or the Mughal Empire? Or even Genghis Khans? Jun 18, 2013 at 12:15
  • this definition would only apply to basically modern, capitalist states.
    – mart
    Jun 18, 2013 at 13:38
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    Does this mean that the former Soviet Union is not considered an Empire? Jun 18, 2013 at 21:04
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    Depends on who you ask! Even within the marxist framework, many consider the SU as a sort of state capitalism and an imperialist power. And from the pserpective of colonies or sattelite states, it may not make a big difference if the strict definition applies ...
    – mart
    Jun 19, 2013 at 6:36

Imperial literally means, the desire to create or maintain an empire. An empire is control or dominion over more than one's own land for the purpose of enriching oneself.. or one's own land. In this sense, any nation that uses force to obtain resources from a foreign land is engaging in imperialism. The most blatent modern example is the US. But The UK is possibly the words most notorious imperialist nation. The connotation when used as a pejorative is usually that imperialist nations are living beyond the means that could be supported were they not subjugating others.

  • First, as a formal note, answers that only state (potentially controversial) things as if they were facts without backing them up with sources are to be considered "mere opinion" here and are not good answers. Secondly, as a political note, even if it are political and economic means used, the most imperialist nation to date in your terms is probably China. And Russia is not really a minor player at that as well.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Aug 18, 2018 at 12:51
  • The appelation "imperialist" is a pejorative term used by internationalists to describe nationalists. To an internationalist.. imperialism is anti humanist. Rome and Britain ostensibly believed they were spreading 'civilisation'. Bringing the peace of civilization. The US talks about democracy. If this is contentious, it rather depends on your point of view.. but this is the correct answer to the question.
    – Richard
    Aug 18, 2018 at 19:49

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