Mission Civilisatrice

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french term for "civilizing mission," describing the essence of french colonial policy.

As the primary rationalization for colonialism, the "civilizing mission" signified France's attempt to convert its colonial subjects into French people. Whereas the British tended to reject the notion that an Indian, for example, might become British, the French believed that if properly taught French values and the French language, Algerians and Vietnamese alike would slowly evolve and become French. Hence the term evolué, which was used to refer to those who had adapted to French culture. There was also a moral component to the civilizing mission, in that some French held that it was their duty as a more enlightened race to elevate the ignorant masses of the non-Western world.


Fieldhouse, D. K. Economics and Empire, 18301914. London: Macmillan, 1984.

Hobsbawm, E. J. The Age of Empire, 18751914. New York: Pantheon, 1987.

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