Hayek and Pinochet: One more time

Thanks to Bruce Littleboy for pointing me to this complete translation of Hayek’s 1981 interview with the (pro-Pinochet Chilean) newspaper El Mercurio in which he stated

Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic
government lacking liberalism.

As the interview makes clear, Hayek supports the Pinochet dictatorship, on the assumption (correct in the end) that it would eventually give way to a more liberal regime. Of course, many supporters of dictators make this assumption and all dictatorships, like all governments, pass away sooner or later.

Plenty of people have made worse political mistakes than backing Pinochet, most obviously those sections of the left who supported Stalin, Mao and their lesser accomplices. Still, the fact that both the Mont Pelerin society and leaders of the free-market right like Thatcher and Reagan gave their enthusiastic support to this mass murderer should be remembered when they, and their followers, try to claim the moral high ground as against the moderate left.

35 thoughts on “Hayek and Pinochet: One more time

  1. “all dictatorships, like all governments, pass away sooner or later. ”

    The death throes can be agonisingly long. In Chiles’ case, there are still places in the Chilean parliament reserved for the military.

  2. Jesus JQ – almost fell off my chair when I read this – “Plenty of people have made worse political mistakes than backing Pinochet, most obviously those sections of the left who supported Stalin, Mao and their lesser accomplices.”

  3. And let it not be forgotten that Pinochet was a piker compared to Suharto in Indonesia. Yet Suharto’s crimes against the peoples of East Timor, West Papua, and Indonesia itself had various combinations of active support and apologetics from much of the Australian political spectrum, from “mainstream” Labor to the Coalition parties and other political actors further to the Right, and considerable sections of the defence and foreign policy establishments, and the media.

    From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, support for East Timorese independence was carried within Australia by the ALP Left, the Eurocommunist CPA, the left within the churches and aid agencies, etc. This, of course, was an issue where Australian political actors could, and in the long run did, make a considerable difference.

    One of Suharto’s main Australian apologists over East Timor was B. A. Santamaria. Santamaria once justified his youthful support for Franco in the Spanish Civil War on the grounds that the Republican forces had killed Catholics, and he, a a Catholic layperson, “had a rooted objection to the killing of Catholics”. He had no such objection to a much worse slaughter of a Catholic population by the Indonesian armed forces in East Timor.

  4. There were people on the Right who supported East Timorese independent. Not as noisily as their Leftist brethren, but they were there. A lot of the ex-diggers in the RSL remember what the ET did for Australia in WWII, for instance.

  5. Just remember, the reason Australia supported Suharto was because USA supported anyone who declared themselves non or anti communists, such as Suharto. where as the East Timorese rebels first declared themselves as socialists, (consequently communists).So both sides ,ALP & LIBS appeased the USA.

  6. When Pinochet was placed under house arrest in Britain several years ago, his local right-wing supporters came out of the closet. One person I was surprised to find in that crowd was Norman Lamont, Chancellor of the Exchequor under John Major, and not someone who had previously been publicly identified with the extreme right. Like Hayek, these people apparently value abstract principles (in this case libertarian economic principles) more highly than respect for human life, respect for the rule of law, or respect for the constitution.

    But one day either justice or history will get these criminals — Pinochet, Kissinger, et al.

  7. Says Hayek: “…it is possible for a dictator to govern in a liberal way. And it is also possible for a democracy to govern with a total lack of liberalism.”

    He gives examples of the former but none of the latter. I don’t believe it.

  8. It is indeed unfortunate that Hayek made this statement in a context which obviously implicitly gave support to Pinochet because Pinochet was far from liberal. However I cannot see anything to dispute about his statement in the abstract. I suspect leftists who prefer judicial activism to counter repressive majoritarian tendencies would also have similar preferences to myself. At least I am consistent in my preferences (for I have no problems with judicial activism either). I too would prefer a liberal dictator to an illberal democracy – the problem is that liberal dictators tend not to stay liberal for long if they ever were. Why Hayek would have said such a thing is also understandable, to respond to Mike Pepperday above. Hayek came from a society and milieu that was not very democratic (the Austro-Hungarian empire) but one where nonetheless his Jewish mentor Mises obtained the appelation of ‘Von’ (the equivalent of ‘Sir). When he left Europe, the wonders of democracy had brought Hitler into power and his mentor Von Mises had to flee for his life.

  9. Stack up a man who may have been responsible for 3000 murders and returned the nation to democracy and relative prosperity, against some dozens or scores of left-supported regimes responsible for countless millions of deaths plus persisting poverty and squalor in the Third World, and think about it.

    Tragically, because of the worldwide activities of Soviet and Chinese sponsored terrorists and agitators, attempting to undermine the institutions of freedom and democracy in every country in the world, Australia included, the west has felt obliged to support many unsavory regimes as the lesser of evils. That is unfortunate but it is not in the same league with the perfidy of the communists and fellow travellers, and those who abused the people in the Association for Cultural Freedom who founded Quadrant magazine in Australia.

    I don’t think you will find anyone in the Mont Pelerin Society who supported Pinochet in his capacity as a murderer. Who could readily discover the truth in these matters after decades of communist propaganda? I conjecture that they supported the return to democracy and freedom that became an alternative after Allende was prevented from consolidating his illegal zeizure of power. Who do you think they should have backed in that situation, for the benefit of future generations of Chileans? Who would have wanted a re-run of Argentina?

    In my capacity as an idealist I think the same rules should apply to all players, so Pinochet should face a court to answer for crimes that can be reasonably be attributed to him. I hope you guys will agree that the same applies to terrorists and tyrants of the left. Who else among current and recent world leaders would you like to see in the dock?

    Mike, check out F D Rooseveldt, the man who kept the US in depression for the whole of the 30s, with devastating consequences for the people of the US and many other nations.

    PS I am out of town for the weekend, coincidentally spending some time with friends of Mont Pelerin, so don’t expect any replies to correspondence before Monday.

  10. Perhaps Hayek’s view was one for its times and we should be a bit more cautious about retrospective moralising over the generations and their times. An example might be say removal of aboriginal children at risk (‘stolen generations’)although this should not hamper us from realistically debating the benefits and shortcomings of past and present policies. Also difficult choices are sometimes the only options, like amputation to prevent death by gangrene, whereas better foresight might deduce that a dose of penicillin earlier was the optimal one. All very well to be retrospectively sorry, but far better to be diligent about our diagnostic procedures in future.

    A couple of other subtleties are relevant here too. Firstly we need to appreciate that people of good will, or perhaps an understandable blindness due to their own cultural mindset can be had, by another cultural one. In this sense tyrannous regimes can present a different face than democratic ones and fool that mindset. We may have to accept that Communist regimes fooled liberals in the past, just as Saddam fooled conservatives more recently(WMD and the state of Iraqi infrastructure) In this sense both Western liberals and conservatives could be said to share a cultural mindset that was easily exploited by a much more sinister one generally. Secondly there is the broader issue that knowledge of a problem accumulates imperceptaby over time, like the slow buildup of water behind a dam of conventional wisdom, which will eventually burst it and sweep all away with it. Here liberals in the past can have much in common with James Hardie executives. Certain truths are sometimes evolutionary by their very nature and can engulf all types of men of good will generally.

    I guess for me personally, I’m not one to dwell on the mistakes of the past. What I’d call the retrospective sorry mob. For me real sorry means rolling up your sleeves and hoeing in to address the shortcomings of your cockups. The other is an unproductive maudling blame game for losers and tossers.

  11. I might also add the obvious, that it sometimes helps to have invented penicillin to see the answer to a particular dilemma.

  12. I may be getting old Observa, but, for me at least, 1981 is too recent to admit an “other days, other ways” excuse.

  13. ‘…responsible for 3000 murders and returned the nation to democracy.’

    Rafe, against some pretty stiff competition, this is the most idiotic statement I have read on this blog in my two years of participation. You can’t possibly be serious.

  14. By the way, well said, Paul et al., on Suharto, up there with the half dozen great mas murderers of the twentieth century. Whitlam, Hawke and Keating stained themselves and their governments irrepairably by their obsequience to that monster.

  15. Jason, let’s not expend any effort on deciding which we like least out of liberal dictatorship and illiberal democracy (especially since no one can think of any real world examples of the former), and just agree to support liberal democracy.

  16. John – This is clutching at straws. He wasn’t even endorsing Pinochet, but using Chile as a possible case in which dictatorship may be a necessary transitional step to democracy. That’s an argument that can be made by people across the political spectrum for socieities than have become highly disordered and violence-prone.

    The point about liberal dictator v democratic illiberalism is not one a classical liberal today is likely to make, but as I think I have said before in your previous attempts to discredit classical liberalism through old Hayek quotes you need to consider Hayek’s life experience as someone who saw popular support for Nazism and communism. These political forces are totally discredited and have no popular support now, but they were very real for Hayek. In the hypothetical choice between being governed by a democratically elected Hitler and, say, a dictator called Milton Friedman, I’d choose the latter.

    But since these are no longer the choices that we need to worry about, there is no need to formulate propositions in the way Hayek did.

  17. “He wasn’t even endorsing Pinochet, but using Chile as a possible case in which dictatorship may be a necessary transitional step to democracy.”

    Andrew, this is the most striking case of a distinction without a difference I’ve seen in some time.

    I’ll avoid the obvious violation of Godwin’s Law, but if I gave an interview to the People’s Daily in 1970, suggesting that China needed a dictatorship en route to socialist democracy, could I then claim that I hadn’t endorsed Mao’s dictatorship, and was merely speaking hypothetically about dictatorships in general?

  18. This discussion has quickly degenerated into a bizarre inversion of an adolescent changing shed bragging game: “Your dictator is bigger than my dictator.”

    Newsflash folks: Stalin died more than 50 years ago. The people all over the old Soviet bloc rose up and got rid of the scalliwags. Mostly tellingly, even the scalliwags had stopped believing in State Socialism long before they were asked to vacate the premises. They all went very quietly.

    In the meantime, the Old Left in countries like Australia quietly tore up their party cards and stole away into the night.

    What’s left of the Left are some social democrats, some anti-globalising greens, and a largish group of left liberals who get a bit sick of being associated with Marxist-Leninists.

    These left-liberals are a happy, optimistic lot in the main because they witness with some pleasure the religious and the crypto-militarist-survivalist right chasing their phantoms with ever-increasing fervour until they run, lemming-like off a cliff.

    If it weren’t for the fact that lots of innocent people are suffering and dying, I’d be inclined to shout RWDB-style words of support for the Bush Administrations various frolics.

    For, as Napoleon observed: “Never stand in the way of your enemy if he is determined to make a fatal error.”

  19. < >

    You seem to have someohow inadvertently omitted Menzies, Holt, Gorton, McMahon and Fraser from that list. Or maybe it was Whitlam who was in power at the time of the “clean sweep” purges of 1966?

  20. Can someone please tell me why the first couple of lines of my posts sometimes aren’t being posted.

    It makes me look even dumber than usual.

  21. And everyone seems to have omitted Howard, who backed Suharto to the end. There’s plenty of shame to go around on this one.

  22. Why the random Hayek bashing? Hayek makes a very reasonable statement about the strength of his preference for a liberal society and suddenly he is a public advocate of repression and tyranny? Surely there’s a better way to recover the moral high ground for the moderate Left.

  23. “Jason, let’s not expend any effort on deciding which we like least out of liberal dictatorship and illiberal democracy (especially since no one can think of any real world examples of the former), and just agree to support liberal democracy. ”

    James, I agree, but I’m making the point that ther is nothing questionable about Hayek’s statement in the abstract at all. Those like Peter McBurney who claim that this statement of preference reveals Hayek’s preference for ‘abstract principles’ over ‘respect for rule of law, the constitution’ etc are claiming a false dichotomy because by definition a liberal democracy is one which does not suspend the rule of law, the constitution, etc. While Hayek’s application of his normative statement to the case of Chile is arguably highly flawed, the statement itself is unquestionable except to those who mistakenly associate the goods things that come with *liberal* democracy with *democracy* which by itself is nothing more than mob rule which can lead to any outcome.

  24. “I may be getting old Observa, but, for me at least, 1981 is too recent to admit an “other days, other ways� excuse.�

    Presumably you don’t think almost quarter of a century of history is long enough here John? In that case you might prefer to ignore the fact that 1981 was the year Ryan and Reynolds published a couple of books to challenge the history of Australian settlement, and skip straight to the Windschuttle view being touted today? Interesting too that this was the year that the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act was passed to give aboriginals sovereignty over their land. Now didn’t I recall a certain Bob Collins was appointed administrator over the same land last year by the Rann Labor govt? I wonder if Bob has managed to reconcile things up there yet?

    It was of course also in June of that year that the Centre for Disease Control in the US noticed that a peculiar and virulent form of pneumonia was not responding to pentamine. They would connect some medical dots and by Aug 82 would call this new disease AIDS.

    In late 81 the Tasmanian electorate were participating in a referendum to decide which of two dam proposals on the Franklin/Gordon would be built. I wonder which proposal got up?

    Of course by 1981 James Hardie (remember the Hardie Ferodo at Bathurst?) had wisely decided to cease production of any asbestos products for 3 yrs by then. It would take until Dec31 2003 for the rest of Australia via their state and federal govts to catch up to the conventional wisdom of James Hardie and finally ban the use of asbestos brake linings in vehicles. No doubt wise young economists were walking their kids to kindy and school all those years, in order to avoid depositing toxic asbestos brake dust around the kiddies. That is when they had the time off from marching in the streets, demonstrating to their govts about it.

    And what might an economics professor have been engaged in that year as the debate between Keynesians and Monetarists raged all about him? On his way to work smoking in the bus or train with his fellow commuters, he might be eager to join a smoke filled room(a pipe perhaps then John?) with his colleagues, as they busily punched data into a card punch machine, to be read into a massive DEC10 computer, containing the latest whiz bang econometric models of the time, that would predict and solve all our economic woes. Such a professor at the time could be forgiven for not even having heard the word internet or blog. After all pagers were not introduced until 1983, when another resourceful young geek called Bill Gates was also bursting onto the scene. No faxes either, let alone the ubiquitous mobile phone. Interestingly enough the cutting edge Observa would lease a thermal paper fax for his business in 1992. The fax leasing company would send a rep around once a month to read the number of transmissions and receivals and bill this budding entrepreneur a dollar each for the privilege.

    My my, how we do forget the march of history so quickly. Anyone else like to chip in with a few examples of how the good professor’s life, times and outlook may have changed in nearly quarter of a century?

  25. Andrew (post 17): In response to your statement:

    “He wasn’t even endorsing Pinochet, but using Chile as a possible case in which dictatorship may be a necessary transitional step to democracy.”

    But Chile had been a democracy for more than a century when Pinochet overthrew the democratically-elected Government in 1973. I can’t see how a dictatorship could possibly be seen by any reasonable person as a “necessary transitional step to democracy” when Chile was already a democracy, even for someone with Hayek’s personal experiences of totalitarianism.

    It is interesting that the predominant theory of democracy in political science in the 1940s and 1950s was Schumpeter’s “wise elite” model, in which the people were seen as too stupid or too prone to populist persuasion to be entrusted with decision-making; it is thus the duty of politicians to make decisions on behalf of the people, despite what the people themselves may want or say. I see the same arrogant and essentially anti-democratic views in Hayek. That he supported Pinochet is no surprise to me given his earlier polemics. Ditto Milton Friedman. Later generations will wonder how such undemocratic writers were ever published, let alone read and lauded.

  26. Peter McBurney
    sorry to break this to you but most well-functioning liberal democracies including Australia are probably not as democratic (according to your implicit definition) as you think they are and have institutions based on the premise that the majority can get it wrong. Some of the best features of a well-functioning liberal democracy are patently undemocratic – these include an independent central bank and a High Court which upholds constitutional and other constraints on the ability of the majority to oppress a minority, deprive them of property without just compensation, etc. Furthermore the notion of representative democracy (as opposed to the ‘direct democracy’ favoured by some Critical Legal Studies theorists) is based on the premise that specialist legislators have more time and opportunity to make considered decisions and therefore in a sense the voters are delegating their decision-making to them. If democracy were as you implicitly intended it, the White Australia Policy would never have been removed, Aboriginal land rights would never have been granted, capital punishment would still be around today, gays prosecuted, etc, etc. Thus for you to dimiss Hayek on the basis of a normative preference shared by the majority of liberal political theorists through the ages (and even some leftist ones) suggests your knowledge of these areas is not intimate. Incidentally on the latter point Marx, Engels and their ilk were wiser leftists than some contemporary leftists in that they recognised the same limitations I alluded to (hence their coining of terms like the ‘revolutionary vanguard’ which implicitly refers to an elite of leftist leaders who must guide the masses). The most patently unrealistic of the contemporary leftist bunch are the oxymoronic ‘left populists’. The majority of lower middle class and working class people are not leftist in anything but an economic sense (and this because it is in their rational self-interest). They are predominantly anti-cosmopolitan and socially conservative if not reactionary. Ask any blue collar union member not of the apparatchik what he thinks of poofters getting married, illegal immigrants being detained, etc. Those people marching over the Harbour Bridge for Sorry Day were disproportionately North Shore burghers and tertiary educated students. Ironically it is allegedly ‘anti-democratic’ Hayek and Friedman-influenced classical liberals like me who are more likely to share the views of the moderate Left than their ‘chosen people’, and I hate it to break it to you, comrade, but we are in the minority. Hayek’s warning of the dangers of unchecked majoritarianism will therefore, contrary to your hopes, continue to be noticed.

  27. Lots of good comments here all, food for thought for an economics gatechrasher such as myself. But can I ask this- don’t you think that many of you are a bit obsessed about identifying as left or right? If you’re reasonable people, and reasonable thinkers, don’t you think that when you attach your reasonable conclusions to these labels which seem to me caricatures of belief systems- more so in recent times- that you devalue your own statements? Is a forum like this an opportunity to see what views you share and why you differ in those you don’t, or something else? [cue sinister music]

  28. Right on, Mister Lepanto. I, too, am concerned about a drift towards what looks increasingly like a rerun of the 1930s, where politically you had to be either a communist or a fascist – in much of the Europe of those days, there was no middle ground.

  29. Jason Soon, your fluency is great and no doubt your reading in political theory is extensive, but I do not follow you is declaring an equivalence between democracy and mob violence. To do so is to distort ordinary words into the jargon of a limited academic sect. Converse with other devotees in this way if you wish, but not to a user of ordinary English.

  30. Gordon and Mr L, I’m a bit surprised that you choose to make this comment on this particular post, which after all criticised support for dictators of all kinds, left and right. The commentary has been similarly eclectic.

    The general phenomenon you refer to is certainly troubling.

  31. Dear Jason Soon —

    Your attack (post 27) is passionate and articulate, but your aim was awry. I did not say that the majority never get it wrong. What I said, and what I stand by, is that lots of political and economic theorists of the Hayek-Friedman-Schumpeter bent evidence distrust of the opinions of ordinary people. These two statements are not equivalent at all, as a moment’s reflection will show. You will need to look beyond me for a straw man!

    I specifically gave no definition of democracy in my post. You have inferred one in what I wrote, and, as it happens, your inference about my views is incorrect. There are other theories of democracy besides the wise-elite model I mentioned in my post or the various ideas you mention in yours.

  32. Well, Prof. Quiggin, I was commenting on a comment, not the first time this has occurred here. Is there a problem?

    As far as the post is concerned, I find it hard to take seriously any comments (from Hayek or anybody else) on Pinochet which don’t put him in his context of Great Power interference in the affairs of Chile. By himself, Pinochet is just a member of the class of collaborators. Any number of other people could have filled the role as well as he. This doesn’t make him innocent, but it does spread the blame.

  33. Well, Prof. Quiggin, I was commenting on a comment, not the first time this has occurred here. Is there a problem?

    As far as the post is concerned, I find it hard to take seriously any remarks (from Hayek or anybody else) on Pinochet which don’t put him in his context of Great Power interference in the affairs of Chile. By himself, Pinochet is just a member of the class of collaborators. Any number of other people could have filled the role as well as he. This doesn’t make him innocent, but it does spread the blame.

  34. reply to John Quiggin/31

    It’s possible I didn’t quite express myself adequately. It’s not good enough saying “well the right bash the left as well as the left bashing the right here”. To me it seems that references to left and right don’t add to the details and logic of an argument and do a lot to detract from them. I’m influenced by my own observation that identifying with right/left often seems to stem more from life experiences and strong emotional responses than critical reason.

    Maybe it’s unfair to raise this here as in fact the discussion is mature and considered, especially Jason Soon’s (though thanks to gordo for your endorsement, I do agree with that example), but then that means that those participating may be open to what I say. More use than raising it in a Socialist Alliance branch meeting or the Quadrant editorship office anyway.

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