"The day of small nations has long passed away. The
day of Empires has come."
In a rational world, the term "imperialism" might have been a carefully defined and useful tool of political and social analysis, part of the study of how empires come into being. But the story of "imperialism" is typical of the decadent intellectual history of our century. The word has hardly ever been carefully defined. That is not surprising, since the word has hardly ever been intended as a serious tool of intellectual analysis. Rather, "imperialism" has been persistently employed by a coterie of alienated intellectuals in what one might call a masquerade of analysis: various purported "explanations" of empire that are in reality mere exercises in easy moral condemnation and savage political polemic. As a result, it is only very recently that any objective attempt has actually been made to understand the true dynamics of the growth of empires.
From the beginning imperialism has been not a term of rational analysis but rather "a slogan of political combat"—what the Germans call a Schlagwort. As with any such political slogan, the meaning of the word has therefore tended to vary widely over time, depending on the political needs of its users.