J. A. Hobson's Imperialism: A Study: A Centennial Retrospective (2002)Edit
Lecture introduced by Robin Winks, Yale University, and Delivered on September 17, 2002 at Yale University. Available online (PDF)
By 1910-14, Hobson had drifted far from the arguments of Imperialism: A Study and was now writing of imperialism as a phase in the extension of a benign, global capitalist network and one that would eventually lead to an economic convergence between the developed and underdeveloped worlds, to world peace and eventually to some form of world government.
In 1938 and at the age og eighty, Hobson decided to republish Imperialism: A Study. By the late 1930s, public opinion was becoming much more critical of empire and imperialism: one prominent imperial historian of the time, W. K. Hancock, wrote that 'to...an increasing proportion of the ordinary public the "imperialist" is a robber and a bully'. Under growing Marxist influence there was also an increasing tendency to offer economic interpretations of imperial expansion and control. Encouraged by these trends and convinced that the looming conflict between Britain and France on the one side, and Germany, Italy and Japan on the other, was basically an attempt to re-divide the imperial spoils, Hobson decided that his ancient text was worth reprinting. But in republishing it, and despite adding a long preface, Hobson gave no indication that he had ever held different views.
However, in that autobiography Hobson did confess that he now thought that the emphasis on economic causation in Imperialism: A Study was overdone and that more emphasis should have been placed on the 'lust for power' with economic gains seen as a means of exercising power rather an end in themselves.
He was also extraordinarily sensitive to the ways that imperialists could cloak essentially materialist concerns in the language of morality, mission and destiny. Yet in the process and on more than one occasion he provided evidence to show that the financiers too were prisoners of imperial ideology, that they were as much wedded to causes like 'the civilising mission', as much mislead by hightened imperial rhetoric, as anyone else.
He came back to England convinced that Rhodes and his fellow mining capitalists had engineered the war in order to removed the leaders of the Boer republics who stood in the way of the rationalisation of the black labour supply in the gold mines."
Yet it must be remembered that the essential theoretical core of the book - the relationship between oversaving, foreign investment and imperialism - appeared in an article written in 1898, before his South African trip.
The Chinese economy would be brutally transformed into the mightiest manufacturing nation based on western capital and on an abundance of cheap, highly submissive labour.
In tropical Africa, on the other hand, Hobson talked of 'lower races' who could only progress under western leadership