Anti-imperialism, strictly speaking, is a term that may be applied to a movement opposed to any form of colonialism or imperialism. Anti-imperialism includes opposition to wars of conquest, particularly of non-contiguous territory or people with a different language or culture; it also includes people opposing the expansion of a country beyond earlier borders.
The term “Imperialism” was originally introduced into English in its present sense in the late 1870s by opponents of the allegedly aggressive and ostentatious imperial policies of British prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. It was shortly appropriated by supporters of “imperialism” such as Joseph Chamberlain. For some, imperialism designated a policy of idealism and philanthropy; others alleged that it was characterized by political self-interest, and a growing number associated it with capitalist greed. John A. Hobson and Lenin added a more theoretical macroeconomic connotation to the term. Many theoreticians on the left have followed either or both in emphasizing the structural or systemic character of “imperialism.” Such writers have expanded the time period associated with the term so that it now designates neither a policy, nor a short space of decades in the late 19th century, but a global system extending over a period of centuries, often going back to Christopher Columbus and, in some facts, to the Crusades. As the application of the term has expanded, its meaning has shifted along five distinct but often parallel axes: the moral, the economic, the systemic, the cultural, and the temporal. Those changes reflect – among other shifts in sensibility – a growing unease, even squeamishness, with the fact of power, specifically, Western power.
The relationship among capitalism, aristocracy, and imperialism has long been debated among historians and political theorists. Much of the debate was pioneered by such theorists as Hobson, Joseph Schumpeter, Thorstein Veblen, and Norman Angell.While these writers were at their most prolific before World War I, they remained active in the interwar years. Their combined work informed the study of imperialism’s impact on Europe, as well as contributed to reflections on the rise of the military-political complex in the United States from the 1950s. Hobson argued that domestic social reforms could cure the international disease of imperialism by removing its economic foundation. Hobson theorized that state intervention through taxation could boost broader consumption, create wealth, and encourage a peaceful multilateral world order. Conversely, should the state not intervene, rentiers (people who earn income from property or securities) would generate socially negative wealth that fostered imperialism and protectionism.