I'm confused about this whole Pinochet thing. There seems to be no question that he was a vicious bastard, but was he, on the realpolitikal whole, better for Chile than the alternative? Christopher Hitchens, brilliant writer but erratic thinker that he is, has no doubts, as he writes in a Slate article:
His overthrow of civilian democracy, in the South American country in which it was most historically implanted, will always be remembered as one of the more shocking crimes of the 20th century.
Waiiiit a minute, Chris...that's a pretty tall order. In a century rife with genocides, wars causing the deaths of millions, amoral megalomaniacs like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and the Kims of North Korea playing god with the fates of their nations, who's Pinochet to rate so highly?
On the other hand, James Whelan thinks that in the final tally, Pinochet did more good than evil.
Six months before Salvador Allende was overthrown on September 11, 1973, Volodia Teitelboim told an interviewer for the Communist Party daily newspaper in Santiago that if civil war were to come, then 500,000 to one million Chileans would die.
Teitelboim knew whereof he spoke. He was then the No.2 man in the Chilean Communist Party, the third largest in the Western world (after France and Italy), and a senior partner in Allende's Marxist-Leninist government.
The Communists were then planning to seize total power in the country, though they were not in as much a hurry to do so as the Socialists, the principal party in the Allende coalition and one passionately committed to revolutionary violence. So the Communists and the Socialists shared the same goal - ending once and for all the bourgeois democratic state - but differed on methods. Allende, a Socialist, was somewhere in between, wavering between his own bourgeois tastes and the totalitarian temptation.
Allende had come to power in September 1970 with not enough votes to win outright election - only 40,000 more than the conservative runner-up - and so had to be voted in by Congress in exchange for a statute of guarantees drawn up by the Christian Democrat majority. A few months later, Allende told fellow leftist Regis Debray that he never actually intended to abide by those commitments but signed just to finally become president, having failed in three previous runs for the office.
In those first 2 1/2 years, Allende had plunged Chile into hell-on-earth chaos. Former president Eduardo Frei Montalva - the man more responsible than any other for Allende's ascent to the presidency - called it "this carnival of madness". Violence, strikes, shortages and lawlessness stalked the land.
The Supreme Court declared Allende outside the law. So, too, did the Chamber of Deputies in August 1973 in a resolution that all but demanded the armed forces seize power to rescue Chile from the inferno.
So, when the armed forces finally did act on September 3, they did so in response to the clamour of an overwhelming majority of Chileans and not as the jackboot power bandits of typical Latin American revolts. News stories about what happened on that Tuesday in September routinely speak of the bloody coup. It was no such thing. About 200 people died in the shooting on September 13 and a little more than 1000 in the first three months of virtual civil war.
But not the civil war the Communists were perfectly prepared to accept as their price for power: 500,000 to one million. Indeed, in all 17 years of military rule, the total of dead and missing - according to the only serious study - was 2279. The Chilean Revolution thus was, by far, the least bloody of any significant Latin American revolution of the 20th century, though you would never guess that from reading or watching news reports.
The Chilean revolution was different from other Latin American revolutions in another respect: it left the country far better off than the one it found. Indeed, Chile is the envy of the entire region for its spectacular economic progress and for the solidity of the institutions the military government created. Consider: Inflation was slashed from 600per cent to 6per cent; infant mortality rates came down from 66per 1000 to 13 per 1000; urban access to drinking water increased from 67 per cent to 98per cent; and living standards more than doubled.
Among others featured in an NRO Symposium on Pinochet (overwhelmingly favorable), my ideel Theodore Dalrymple, here under his real name of Anthony Daniels, uses his skills as a prison shrink to get to the real reasons that the strong man of Chile is so vilified.
The reason Augusto Pinochet was universally hated by leftists and many academics worldwide was not because he was so brutal or killed so many people (he hardly figured among the 20th century’s most prolific political killers, admittedly a difficult company to get into) but because he was so successful. There is no doubt that there was indeed much brutality and hardship in the wake of his coup, but unlike the much less reviled military dictators of Argentina and Uruguay, he actually achieved something worthwhile, namely the prosperity of his country.
Worse still, he did so by adopting the very reverse of the policies for so long advocated by third worldists and academic development economists, who were certain that the cause of the third world’s poverty was the first world’s wealth, and that everything would have to change before anything could change. His demonstration that a country could draw itself up by its bootstraps, by embracing trade, was most unwelcome. It forced a change of world outlook, never welcome to those who live by ideas.
That a hick general from a humble background should so obviously have done much more for his country than a suave, educated, aristocratic Marxist was a terrible blow to the self-esteem of the Left in every Western country. As for holding a referendum on own his rule and abiding by the result when he lost, that was quite unforgivable, setting as it did a shocking precedent for left-wing dictators.
I am pleased to admit that I found Daniel's comment after I had already commented on Hitchen's point of view.
It seems that for both left and right, Pinochet is an embarrassment. For the left, his example shows that making omelets "for the good of the people" is a lie. Pinochet actually did what Lenin and Stalin were claiming to do, as the USSR fell farther and farther behind the west. To raise the standards of living and create a better society, Pinochet was more than willing to be brutal to some. On the other hand, for those who champion market reforms and criticize socialists who overlook Castro's police state, Pinochet proves that Chicago Boys style economics doesn't always go together with democracy and rule of law. The "Yes, they have little freedom, but look at the infant mortality rate" argument can cut both ways.
Niall Ferguson reminds us not to forget global politics. In a world where there are going to be sonsofbitches no matter what we do, we might as well make sure that a few of them are ours. Ferguson marks the passing of another 70s-80s icon, Reagan's ambassador to the U.N., Jeane Kirkpatrick, to make this point.
Kirkpatrick did not claim that these men were good. She simply argued that they were preferable to the alternatives, just as Chiang Kai-shek had been preferable to Mao in China, and Fulgencio Batista had been preferable to Fidel Castro in Cuba. South Korea was no democracy in the 1970s, but it was better than North Korea. Taiwan was still a one-party state, but one that was much preferable to the People's Republic of China, to say nothing of Pol Pot's Cambodia.
The reason our sonsofbitches were better than theirs, she argued, was that while conservative dictatorships undeniably preserved "existing allocations of wealth, power [and] status", they also "worshipped traditional gods and observed traditional taboos". Communist regimes, by contrast, tended to "create refugees by the millions" because their ideological demands "so violated internalised values and habits that inhabitants fled".
Moreover, conservative dictatorships were much more likely than Communist ones to make the transition to democracy, because they permitted "limited contestation and participation".
Very Burkean, that part about traditional gods and taboos.
Pinochet also brings to light another uncomfortable point for both left and right. If we say that his strong arm tactics were necessary to prevent chaos and the deaths of far more people, then can we conclude that Saddam Hussein, a sonofabitch's sunofabitch, should have been left in power? I would say no on several counts. First, he wasn't our SOB--at least for the last fifteen years or so. Second, Pinochet's Chile was more prosperous than oil-rich Iraq. Third, millions of lives were lost anyways in his futile war against Iran.
But how strange it is to encounter the argument that Iraq was better off with Saddam in the same political neighborhood as that which holds the Pinochet condemners. Give Hitchens credit in that he is consistent in his argument against both.