Imperialism was justified using various beliefs, including Social Darwinism, nationalism, the idea of a "civilizing mission," and the goal of converting indigenous populations to a particular religion. These ideologies were used to legitimize the subjugation of other cultures, races, and religions.
Imperialist countries developed rationales for what they were doing. They gave reasons for building empires by taking control over other places. These rationales were an effect of imperialism, but they also inspired even more expansion, especially as countries such as Germany, France, and Britain competed against each other to build more extensive empires.
As the 1800s went on and Europeans began taking over more territory in Africa and Asia, these rationales became more racist. The publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species had effects beyond biology. Some imperialists adopted ideas called Social Darwinism, a belief system that applies the principles of Darwin's theory of evolution to human society. It suggests that individuals and groups compete for resources. Those who are most strong and most fit will survive and thrive, while the weak and unfit will fail. Social Darwinists argue that this competition is natural and necessary and leads to improving society as a whole. They often use this belief to justify social policies that favor the rich and powerful and that discriminate against the poor and marginalized. This belief system justified imperialism because imperialists told themselves that their conquests were natural. Nations wanted to prove that they were the fittest by taking over other places.
The application of Social Darwinism as a justification for imperialism, racism, eugenics and other forms of discrimination was a perversion of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Social Darwinists believed that certain races and nationalities were inherently superior to others and that their duty was to assert their dominance over other groups. They also argued that this process of "survival of the fittest" would lead to the eventual extinction of those considered inferior, which would lead to the improvement of the human race.
Similarly, another idea that imperialists used to justify their concept was called phrenology. It was a racial 'science' that argued that the racial superiority of certain ethnic groups depended on the size and shape of their skull.
Social Darwinism was a racist rationale for imperialism, but other rationales were more cultural. European and American imperialists sometimes justified their expansion as helping others by spreading Christianity. French imperialists claimed that their conquests were part of a civilizing mission, mission civilisatrice in French. The "civilizing mission" was a belief held by many colonial powers that it was their duty to bring the benefits of Western civilization to "uncivilized" or "primitive" peoples around the world. This idea was used to justify the colonization and subjugation of other cultures and countries. It was often used to legitimize the forced displacement of indigenous populations, the destruction of traditional societies, and the imposition of Western religion, language, and culture.
The civilizing mission was often used to defend exploitative economic policies, such as forced labor, land expropriation, and the extraction of resources. It was also used to justify the suppression of indigenous religions, customs, and political systems and the imposition of Western legal and educational systems.
In practice, the civilizing mission often led to the exploitation, oppression and suppression of the colonized people, their culture, and their resources. The idea that one culture is superior to others and that the superior culture has to civilize the inferior one has been widely criticized as racist, ethnocentric and a justification for colonial domination.
Nationalism, the belief in the importance of one's own nation and the promotion of its culture and values, was used to justify imperialism in several ways. Nationalism was used to justify imperialism by promoting the idea of the superiority of one's own nation, culture and values and portraying the subjugation and domination of other cultures as necessary for their "civilization" and the expansion of one's own nation.
For example, nationalism was used to rally domestic support for imperial expansion by appealing to feelings of national pride and the desire to spread the nation's culture and influence abroad. Nationalist rhetoric emphasized the supposed superiority of the nation's culture, values, and institutions and suggested that it was the nation's duty to spread these to other "less fortunate" people worldwide.
Furthermore, nationalism was used to justify territorial expansion and the acquisition of new colonies. Imperial powers often claimed that they were simply "expanding the nation" and that it was their right to claim territory that "inferior" peoples inhabited. Nationalist ideologies also fueled competition among imperial powers to acquire domains and resources, leading to conflicts and wars.