He has given me the best of all presents for a professor: a serious engagemetn starting from a very different point of view
"One élite elbowing another out of the way? In my view, not so much. If you mourn the fact that after the Battle of Plassey the taxes of Bengal were going not to Siruj ud-Dowla but rather to Robert Clive and his employers—well, I am getting off that streetcar at the next stop…"
But if that makes a huge difference to the people of Bengal? As in, if the taxes of Bengal stayed in the neighbourhood, even if they were extracted by an exploitative elite, does that raise the status, state capacity, and local control of Bengal in such a way as to enable the people of Bengal to benefit more directly from the technological revolutions after 1870? Does it make it easier for local people to advance and challenge the exploitative hierarchy, and for local leadership to be forced to evolve in a more inclusive / less extractive direction? I don't know what the counterfactual is here but if empires had the effect of accelerating progress in the Global North by holding back development of the Global South then surely this is the kind of thing that does matter - not for the sake of Siruj ud-Dowla or Robert Clive but for the future of the people of Bengal.
The other factor that I think is tied in here is that one of the rights that people do insist on (Polanyi-esque if you like) is the right to identify with and project onto their leaders. You want a president that you can have a beer with, the Queen was mourned as the grandmother of a nation, etc. This can get pretty creepy pretty fast but its a real and powerful motivator - definitely one of the things that made it extremely difficult to defend the EU within the UK in 2016 (nobody loves 'faceless bureaucrats'), it's the desire that populists manipulate when they position themselves on the side of the people against the elite.
So all else being equal there is a real distress caused by the locus of power shifting away to people not-like-us for cultural or historical reasons (as opposed to not-like-us for reasons of having a ton more power and being able to eat well). Perhaps this is the kind of distress that we should regard as a barrier to human felicity, but it's deep-rooted and it's no good blithely pretending that it doesn't matter.
Burke: "Wise" but what are the policy implications?
Let's be terribly reductionist, how should the ARA have been different if we were more aware of the role of the Atlantic slave trade had in capital accumulation in the Global North or less impressed by the reduction in absolute poverty pre and post 1870, or had a less warm and fuzzy feeling about social democratic capitalism. or a greater revulsion for imperialism?