Over the last couple of days, there have been many attacks and defences mounted of General Pinochet, the dictatorial ruler of Chile in the seventies and eighties. Pinochet has in recent times been both the object of hatred and the object of laudatory notices. In Britain of course, his defenders hark both to a national moment as well as an international one- the Political Umpire in his recent post on the subject expresses my views on the matter impecably- that any alliance with a dictator is merely an alliance of temporary fortune. To put it in Palmerstonian terms- the interests of democracies are eternal, their dictatorial allies are ephemeral.
There is though a more international defence of Pinochet and his like, amongst whom Salazar, Franco and possibly now Putin or Musharref might be included. The defence which says that though they had murdered and tortured their populations, though they were tyrants that abused and withheld freedom, the outcome of their policies was good for the countries concerned. They kept the lid on unrest by dubious practices and methods of dictatorship- Pinochet stopped Allende if the price was the abolition of democracy, the deaths of thousands of Chileans and the torture of thousands more then it was a price worth paying.
There are two ways of attacking this question. The first comes in a notable argument in the Weekly Standard, which argues that the counterfactual history of disaster is simply untrue. We don't know what Chile would have looked like without Pinochet. We also to be honest should not excuse Pinochet's crimes by saying that there were other criminals around- if I murder your mother it doesn't really deal with my guilt if I tell you that she wasn't very nice really and anyway that there is a serial killer down the road. It doesn't make it any better if I tell you that you are psychologically better off for the murder- the crime remains a crime.
What this ultimately comes down to though is a second more important distinction and that is that if we are democrats, we are democrats first and partisans second. We beleive in democracy before we beleive in our own policy prescriptions. Therefore we would not wish for a coup to bring in with torture and murder, our own preferences- indeed we would count that to be worse than a democratically elected government which we opposed. People have tried to codify this in conventions of human rights, and in fundamental laws since the very early development of constitutional government- and this adherence to a process over an outcome is what is really aimed at. The process we are describing is a process of corporate decision making- democracy is about a choice made by an electorate for or against a government (in most systems that ends up being a choice of who to throw out not who to put in) and the key part, something that Francis Fukuyama in his awful book about the End of History captured, is that it involves a recognition of the autonomy of other individuals to decide things for themselves. Democracy ultimately is about, that horrendous word, respect- respect for the right of others to make their own decisions.
If you go outside the process, like some of Pinochet or Putin's spokesmen seek to do, in search of an outcome, what you actually do is deny the autonomy and the humanity of those that oppose you. (Of course you may be forced to do so if they go outside of the process themselves: but that ultimately is a justification more often abused than rightly used). Pinochet's supporters therefore in search of short term policy goals and even medium term prosperity, undervalue the right of every human being to be respected as an agent that can make its own decisions- the forcing of a society into a particular mould is not in the view of this blogger a sensible or a right way of proceeding with politics. The death of Pinochet should be greeted by all with glee that a tyrant has fallen.