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The European Justification: Superiority Is a Heavy Burden

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The European Justification: Superiority Is a Heavy Burden

Even as progressives argued for an end to the slave trade and better working conditions in the facto­ries, a huge number of Europeans-not just the industrialists either- supported in the colonization of foreign lands. Most Europeans were very ethnocentric and viewed other cultures as barbarian and uncivilized.

Two ideas contributed to this mindset. First, Social Darwinists applied Charles Darwin's biological theory of natural selection to sociology. In other words, they claimed that dominant races or classes of people rose to the top through a process of "survival of the fittest." This meant that because Britain was the most powerful, it was the most fit, and therefore the British were superior to other races.

Second, many Europeans believed that they were not only superior, but that they had a moral obligation to dominate other people or teach other people how to be more civilized-in other words, how to be more like Europeans. Rudyard Kipling summed it up in his poem "White Man's Burden." As European nations swallowed up the rest of the world in an effort to advance their economies, military strategic positioning, and egos, Kipling characterized these endeavors as a "burden" in which it was the duty of Europeans to conquer each "half-devil and half-child" so that they could be converted to Christianity and civilized in the European fashion. Never mind if the non-Europeans wanted to be "civilized." The Europeans supposedly knew what was best for everyone.

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