Why isn't imperialism evil?

Wars and such for land increases were never condemned by any popes to my knowledge, but in fact the popes promoted it.

Here’s part of Inter Caetera (1493) catholic-forum.com/saints/pope0214a.htm which divided up the Americas. Part of it reads

“should any of said islands have been found by your envoys and captains, give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages”

So was imperialism (simply acquiring land to expand one’s territory) acceptable back then?

There’s nothing wrong with immigration and colonization, seeking new resources, etc. provided those coming in and those already there treat each other justly. Governments can also place restrictions on such things if the common good requires. The whole world was established ultimately for all men.

Popes did condemn the mistreatment of native populations by colonists. See here for an example from the 1500s:


Forcing people to migrate from their lands has also been rejected. That’s why Catholic lands in the new world saw a more organic mixing of natives and Europeans (thus the large Mestizo populations).

Also note, being a true believer of Jesus Christ renders you a sort of spiritual imperialist. If you believe God is who He says He is, you will have a burning desire to go out and spread His name to all on earth, to convert as many souls as possible to the ways of Jesus Christ. Christ was an imperialist, for he said “Go forth and make disciples of all the nations.”

This is why the Catholic Church played an active role during colonialism. She herself did not colonize any lands, but She was wise enough to realize that if the european people were going to do it anyways, She might as well send with them thousands of missionaries to convert the natives to Catholicism, which She succeeded in doing.

But what about the part “give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages”? Is it “given” to rule, or for purely religious purposes?

I think both.

Understand, I’m a bit of an oddball in our modern society. But I was taught too, just like everyone else in the West, that colonialism and the medieval Catholic Church were rotten to the core. I have since crown a spine, did my own independent study of the era, and have drawn my own conclusions.

If you can manage to hold in the contents of your stomach, I will tell you that any nation who does not know the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, IS indeed a nation of savages and barbarians. Not knowing Jesus is the essence of savage and primitive. And I believe (though do not know for sure) that this was the attitude of the time, actually throughout all of Church history up until the modern era (And by the way it was the correct attitude. The one we have replaced it with is the one that deviates from the truth). The natives of the America’s, being unbaptized and ignorant of Christ, were essentially without legitimate governing authority. Would you prefer to have had Spain simply send a bunch of missionaries over there, and then brought all those missionaries back, allowing the natives to possibly revert back to their ways of human sacrifice and canabalism? Yes, the lands were given to the Christian nations to rule, absolutely. As Christian Kings, they had the authority of God behind them, they literally had a duty to be leaders of those people. But do not fear, Pope Alexander VI himself even stated in that bull that the main motivation behind this entire endeavor MUST be the saving of the souls of the natives, not trade. Their motives were entirely just.

If one does not believe that the Christian Kings had a duty to rule the natives, why would the Kings even have a duty to rule their own people? Was that not the foremost goal of a King, to protect his people, to save his people? Dispel what you have learned in our modern, secular/protestant society, it was a good thing for Kings to extend these graces over to the New World.

In the situation at hand, the Spanish and Portuguese were both planning on setting up colonies in the New World and to prevent conflict, they enlisted the Pope as an independent arbiter. The line he drew established where Spain could colonize and where Portugal could, so they weren’t fighting over the same space and resources.

Colonial imperialism is perfectly acceptable to some Americans who then forget their own revolution. I’m Irish I hate colonial occupation

Who forgot what?

It isn’t always a bad thing. Louisiana, for example, was a French colony when the U.S. bought it from France. So, one could say the entire Louisiana Territory was and remains a “colony”. Ireland, we are told, was once occupied by Iberians until the Celts came and colonized it. Later, so did Normans (all the “Fitz” people and my own Irish ancestors who had a Norman name) who colonized and then “became more Irish than the Irish”. Then the Brits, of course. Irish people only object to that last one, it appears.

And, of course, Spain, France, Italy and Romania owe their language to having been colonies. It’s not always bad.

The catholic religion and its adherents were persecuted with such extended ferocity by the British in Ireland. The Normans aim was to wipe out the Anglo Saxon and the Celt I think in general it’s quite bad. The European expansion in North and South America and Australia didn’t in my opinion allow the indigenous people to flourish. And the 19th century European ‘scramble for Africa’ was positively genocidal. The annexation of the Middle East the artificially created borders and the installation of puppet monarchs was an imposition of colonialism that still has very real repercussions now.

First of all, it is sheer disrespect to propose the assumption that all non-Christian nations are all barbarians with little civilization back in the 14th century, as mentioned in one of the previous replies. There are certainly natives on the Earth who lack systematic governance and their culture is more backward than the others, but their rights to live safely and peacefully on their homelands without interference from stronger European powers or even neighboring tribes should never be negated, however primitive they are. This is based on the spirit of love as taught by Our Lord. No one wants his land to be annexed, his family parted or his relatives enslaved, so colonist activities such as covetous snatch of natural resources or racial discrimination like the Apartheid in South Africa should be banned. (Of course, the exception is religious activities or cultural exchange.)

Moreover, there are a few great civilizations on the planet which do not belong to the Christendom, but have once demonstrated brilliancy in particular areas, such as art and literature, despite their decline in military and economic power in the past two centuries. Indian and Chinese traditions are just two prominent examples, not to mention Japanese culture.

Looking back to the Age of Discovery when there were practical difficulties in trans-national communication, it was understandable that the Church, propelled by Catholic evangelism and the misconceived idea of the White Man Burden, officially endorsed colonist activities in the Americas and all parts of the world with little knowledge about the savagery of some colonists, whose main concerns were profit and power. This I think is not a guilt inflicted upon the Church; it is at most only a misjudgement out of ignorance.

Colonialism is, however, not evil to its root. It does stir up hatred, global conflicts and various troubles which still influence our world heavily in this 21st century, but, viewing from a more objective perspective, we should not deny the legacy of missionaries as well as colonial governments simply on the grounds of nationalism. Rule of law, democracy, liberty, advanced technological development, to name a few of the unexpected contributions. The truth of History should not be covered up.

It’s difficult to be certain that converting a thoroughly savage society into a half-savage society is all that bad a thing. What did “flourish” mean to the Aztecs who sacrificed thousands of people per year? Sacrificing millions? Not all “indigenous” developments turn out well.

And when were there NOT despotisms in the Middle East? Can anyone really claim credibly that brief European rule there was any worse than the rule of the Turks that preceded it? European failure to disestablish tribalism in the region does not mean the attempt was necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Church labored mightily to break up tribalism in Europe for centuries and largely succeeded until exaggerated forms of nationalism re-established it.

And the Norman Irish became Irish. It was not the other way around. And the Norman Irish resisted Brit imperialism just as determinedly as the “Celtic” Irish (if the Irish can truly be called “Celtic”, so mixed are they) did.

And the Normans in England did not stamp out the Anglo-Saxon culture (which were colonists themselves). Remember that the English legal system was an agreement between the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons that they would be ruled by the laws in existence on the day when “King Edward was both alive and dead.” The entire legal system of the Anglosphere is based on that.

Turkish imperialism is no better. The Normans stamped out Anglo Saxon culture as did the Vikings. I can’t thing of ANYONE catholic who think the British ‘presence’ in Ireland was helpful in any way

Can you give me a reference for “Pope Alexander VI himself even stated in that bull that the main motivation behind this entire endeavor MUST be the saving of the souls of the natives, not trade.”

Reminding again, that I’m half Irish and grew up hearing all the stories and believing every single one, I would differ a little with your statement that the Brit presence was not helpful in any way.

First of all, there were some Brits in Ireland who fled England during the Protestant ascendency there. Some of my Irish ancestors were of Norman derivation, but some were of English derivation. Both became fully Irish, but while some of them were in County Mayo which, even during the Famine was largely Gaelic-speaking, some were from the Pale (County Leix and County Offaly) and were English-speaking when and well before they fled Ireland to come here.

They brought a lot with them, both did, and as between the two, the ones from the Pale adapted more quickly. They were not only English-speaking, they were masters of the language, as most Irish now are. Nothing found here escaped their understanding and their comprehension. They even knew how the laws of England (which America adopted) worked. The fact that they realized the (English-derived) law here was more even-handed was one of the things they appreciated here.

They understood a lot about English technology because they saw it over there and worked with it. For goodness sake, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Irish-founded Catholic churches in the U.S. that are essentially English architecture.

And they famously understood English-derived politics the moment they set foot on this shore.

And all of that’s true with the Irish throughout the Anglosphere where, interestingly, they chose to largely emigrate to; not to Argentina, Brazil or the Philippines.

Yes, I know all about the Orange Order and the Black and Tans and the Lambeg Drum and “taking the soup” and the Famine and the grain ships that stood in the harbor at Dublin and Waterford. And I know, and don’t for a moment doubt the English reign was hard and cruel.

But it’s wrong to say the Irish did not benefit in any way whatever.

Of possibly passing interest, do you know the name of the only Hungarian classic opera in existence? It’s easy enough to google, (Hunyadi Lazlo) but not one person in a million in this world knows about it. Not in ten million. And while the music is beautiful, nobody understands the lyrics. I recall the complaint of Hungarian writers that nobody ever reads their works, no matter how good they might be. And why is that? It’s because virtually nobody outside Hungary knows Magyarul or cares to know. And if one knows only Magyarul, he can’t read Shakespeare or Chaucer or Swift or Johnson or even Tom Wolfe. And he would have no comprehension of the cultural background from which any of it arose. Irish do.

You forgot the ethnic cleansing and shipping Irish people to the New World in chains.

I’m from Mayo. You have mentioned the Famine in passing but really an examination of the British occupation of Ireland merits consideration of the famine and the landlord ism and the other reasons your family had to emigrate. And you seem to imagine that Ireland was ok for Catholics to live in unmolested? Have I understood that?

And Spain and Portugal were the Great powers of the day. The Pope’s intervention prevented a massive amount of bloodshed and misery for people of all races and averted what would have been the first world-wide war.

Of course it wasn’t possible for Catholics to freely exercise their faith. Did you notice that I mentioned “taking the soup”? Fortunately, none of my forbears did, though today it seems too many in Ireland abandon their faith and don’t even get soup for it. I did forget to mention the hedgerow parishes, though, didn’t I?

Did I say the British occupation was a good thing on balance? No I didn’t. What I did say was that there were benefits too. Remember that thing about God bringing good out of evil? Do you think He neglected to do that in the case of the Irish only?

I’ve been told since I was little that the British schoolteachers in Ireland when it was a colony of England would beat the children if they spoke Gaelic. I’ve never looked into whether that is a true statement, but it is true that Gaelic is barely spoken at all in Ireland anymore.

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