In postcolonial theory Imperialism always refers to the ideology that promotes a worldview in which one group of people or a nation assumes that it is inherently superior to other peoples or nations and hence has the right, or obligation, to bring their civilization message to the so-called “inferior’ or “primitive” cultures. While the term Imperium comes from the Roman system of imperial government, in most postcolonial studies only the 19th and 20th century imperialism is studied, as it coincides with the rise of mercantile and later industrial capitalism.
In so many ways it is this imperial mind-set and ideology that underwrites the Western colonial project in the 19th and 20th century. While some actually believed in this way of thinking the non-West, for most nations and its leaders the “civilizing mission” worked as a legitimizing strategy to justify the occupation of non-Western lands for extracting raw materials. One could say, a la Edward said, that imperialism provided the ideological scaffolding, and still does, for the physical occupation of non-western lands.