Britain and its Empire: Friends with benefits?

Over at Breitbart (I know, don’t feed the trolls) Raheem Kassam is upset about the suggestion that Britain owes India reparations for colonial rule. Apparently, railroads, parliamentary democracy, and quinine (to name a few) prove that colonialism was beneficial for India.

Of course, this is like saying slavery was beneficial for slaves because the masters provided food, shelter, and clothing.

Seriously, though: if Canada invaded the United States and established colonial rule, should we be thankful, since they would obviously bring with them clear benefits for us: Tim Horton’s, poutine, and broader use of $1 and $2 coins? If aliens take over but give us flying cars, does that make it okay?

The piece also un-ironically calls India out for its underdevelopment, which Kassam apparently forgets is itself a product of British colonial rule. Whatever investments Britain made in infrastructure, these were first and foremost in support of first the British East India Company’s and later the Raj’s efforts to extract wealth from the country, be it in the form of raw materials or captive markets. “Development for exploitation,” to borrow a phrase from Juhani Koponen’s work on German colonialism. There’s a reason India’s production plummeted during British rule — because that’s what the British wanted.

But forget about “benefits” and the economic impact of colonialism (and the attendant social and cultural effects — forget those! Don’t think about them! Stop thinking about them!): how do conservatives reconcile their critiques of “big government” with defense of an institution of the British Raj? How do they reconcile vocal support for individual liberties and freedoms with the oppression of colonial rule? I honestly don’t get it.

Just because something wasn’t all bad doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad. I’m not saying I necessarily think reparations are the solution at this point, but denying any wrongdoing is foolhardy.