What Is the Difference Between Colonialism and Neocolonialism?

Colonialism is the subjugation of the people of one country by those of another through either direct military occupation or political force while neocolonialism exerts its influence through less direct means such as economic control or cultural dominance. Colonialism reached its peak in the 1800s as several European nations extended their influence and developed colonies throughout Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. The two world wars of the 20th century ended the major colonial empires of the previous century, but the influence of neocolonialism, sometimes referred to as neo-imperialism or hegemony, still persists in many developing nations.

The institutionalized practice of colonialism, or "empire-building," began to come under criticism as early as the 1700s by writers and thinkers such as Denis Diderot and Immanuel Kant. Although the degree of technological and societal progress in colonized areas was often recognized, the overall subjugation of one group of people by another was increasingly viewed as unjust. The "mission to civilize" was perceived by its critics as little more than a pretext for the acquisition of foreign resources and the enforced development of trade markets.

Colonialism largely disappeared by the end of World War II, but some former colonial powers managed to maintain a degree of indirect control over their previous colonies through the economic and cultural influence of multinational corporations. Neo-colonialism, a term believed to have been coined by Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah in 1963, soon came to be used to describe the post-war system by which developed nations can exert an influence over the affairs of newly-developing nations.