“Ideological Colonization”: An Apt Description of Modern Imperialism

An Englishwoman in a sedan chair, date unknown
An Englishwoman in a sedan chair, date unknown (photo: Register Files)

Pope Francis has frequently mentioned the problem of “ideological colonization.” In many ways it is a masterful phrase which turns the tables on many of the Western Liberal Democracies.

For indeed, in America and in many European countries there is an often self-congratulatory narrative  that we have shaken off our colonial era where we often ruthlessly suppressed native or indigenous peoples in the Americas, India, Africa and as far as the South Pacific. The usual notion is that our ancestors were bad people for doing this and acted unjustly and oppressively. We on the other hand have been enlightened and no longer do this terrible stuff. The sun now does set on the British Empire and India and other far flung colonies in Africa are now free. Colonialism is a thing of the “unenlightened past.”

I do not here wish to enter an opinion on that era, merely to note the usual narrative of what some in the U.S. call “White Guilt.” As with most perspectives that mix history and politics, there is a lot of simplification that goes on. No era is free of human sinfulness or human progress for that matter. We limp along and good and evil are alike to us.

But is the “Colonial” era over? Hmm…

In speaking to the problem of “ideological colonization” I would argue that Pope Francis and many bishops through the world think not. Rather, to many it seems the decaying “West” still engages in oppressive colonization through financial and political pressure to comply with abortion on demand, contraception, sterilization, the normalization of same-sex attraction and same-sex “marriage.”

President Obama recent scolded the Kenyan President and people for their unenlightened views on homosexuality [*]. More perniciously, many critical projects related to food, clean water for the world’s poor are tied to the social policies listed above that are inimical to African, and other non-Western cultures that, frankly have not gone out of their minds.

But in the Church too there exists some of this attempt at ideological colonization. In particular comments from certain German bishops indicated a disdain for the views of the Africans Bishops, who Cardinal Kasper said “should tell us too much what to do.” To quote John Allen regarding this issue in the Church:

Liberals are supposed to be all in favor of empowering the “Third World” and hearing their voices, but that tends to end when those voices say things liberals don’t want to hear, especially on sex and the family….Conservatives cheer African Catholics who line up with them on the culture wars, but they often fidget when the conversation turns to other matters. On American foreign policy, for instance, or the ethical failures of free-market capitalism, or immigrant rights….[2]

So “ideological colonization” is an apt phrase and points to an attempt of the Western Liberal Democracies to insinuate many of their social and sexual policies in many of the same areas they once physically and economically colonized. They do this through economic pressure and as the “price of admission” to be taken seriously in world bodies like the United Nations.

A phrase like “Ideological colonization” calls out the truth that many who like to credit themselves with being tolerant and being against the abuses of the colonial period are in fact not so different than the ancestors they condemn.

  1. They are just as patronizing as their forebears who did not think the indigenous peoples should be taken seriously, or their cultures respected.
  2. They are just as myopic as their ancestors by thinking that mere economic or military superiority makes them superior in everything and gives the right to pressure others into conformity.
  3. They call themselves tolerant but appear to be the intolerant ones.
  4. They say they respect diversity, but seem more interested in turning other cultures into clones of their own, like the colonizers of old. 
  5. They, like their colonizing ancestors use pressure to accomplish their goals rather than preaching or proposing.
  6. They like the colonizers before them do not seem to appreciate the harm they can cause to the cultures they colonize ideologically.

Yes, “ideological colonization” captures the problematic reality well. It also shows the hypocrisy of many self-congratulatory people and leaders in Western cultures.

Never mind that Western Culture shows itself to be in the dying process with plummeting birthrates, decaying families, rampant divorce, horrific abortion rates, and low attendance at Church. Never mind all that. Many people who are in the dying process go through a period of denial, and seems to true of cultures as well. Frankly, we are dying and being slowly replaced. Meanwhile we issue edicts from our deathbed, like some ancient potentate who does not find humility, even in dying. 

Ideological Colonization? You bet. The definition fits all too well. Further, it puts to the lie that we are better than our ancestors whose colonial policies most colonizers today disdain. To all the so many self-congratulatory ideologues of today comes the invitation to look in the mirror and behold a colonizer. They should ask, Are the conquistadores, or Columbus really so dead and gone? Is “British Rule” or are the French Colonies really long gone? Does American Imperialism emanate only from the Pentagon? Before deciding, have a good long look in the mirror.