If Franco, Pinochet, and Salazar acted like cads, they were at least not total cads with total power, and that is what spells their difference from Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.
An interesting Wall Street Journal article quoted by Stephen Hand explores the “Pinochet paradox”; that is, the strange fact that the much-vilified General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, widely considered to be guilty of “tyranny” and human rights violations, ultimately became the architect of contemporary, reliably democratic Chile. Pinochet, it says, “proved the truth of Jeane Kirkpatrick’s Cold War distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, with the former far more likely to evolve into freer places.” It goes on to compare the Pinochet government to Castro’s:
“[H]is legacy includes a Chile that is democratic, that truly belongs to the Chilean people; it exists in stark contrast to the nearly five decades of personal (and soon to be fraternal) dictatorship that Fidel Castro is leaving in Cuba. That the international left still gives Castro higher marks is something for democrats everywhere to ponder.”
For more, please read the post. Some brief comments:
The Socialist or Liberal might understandably raise an eyebrow at the apparent attempt to rehabilitate one of the last century’s more renowned villains, and a second eyebrow at the citation of the controversial Kirkpatrick thesis, so often cited during the Reagan years; a less nuanced view might react, “it’s all Fascist to me”; but I think Kirkpatrick, and the article, had a point.
To begin with, we must understand that the difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism is not fundamentally that the former is Rightist and the latter Leftist, as Kirkpatrick herself seemed to think (Nazism is as totalitarian as, and in fact copied from Leninism; and Titoism is as authoritarian as Somoza), though it is relevant as we will see later. Nor is it necessarily the degree of coercion imposed; for as Walter Miller asks in A Canticle for Leibowitz, when murder is answered with murder, does it matter whose axe is bloodier? Rather, I think, the difference lies in the motive for and scope of the coercion, whether it’s for a “conservative” or a “progressive” purpose. Thus:
A government that seeks to effect radical change, either forward to a progressive utopia (e.g., Communism) or backward to a lost golden age (e.g., Nazism), will be driven to use comprehensive coercion against all sectors that oppose the change. Where the change is sought by a small, Bolshevik-type cadre, the process will entail a struggle between the pro-change minority and a majority composed of groups that either oppose the change per se or desire different changes. The minority must endeavor to force these social groups to toe the line, thereby creating a society that is more or less totally controlled by a single social faction. Hence totalitarianism.
On the other hand, a government that seeks to stop change, or to have limited or gradual change, will only need to use limited coercion. For unless most of society is united in desiring change justified by a widespread social myth (e.g., in 1789 France), the various social groups with their several objectives would easily reach equilibrium with a non- or limited-change government; for such a government, because it does not pursue an all-or-nothing agenda, can compromise with most sectors. So this government will generally let the sectors alone, reserving its ire for those with irreconcilable agendas who defy its authority to rules the whole. Hence authoritarianism.
It’s obvious, then, why the latter would more easily transition to democracy, whose very essence lies in the principle of subsidiarity, that individuals and groups should be allowed in reason to make their own choices. Subsidiarity would directly conflict with the radical-totalitarian program, for it would allow groups to opt out of the State-mandated change; and it’s inconsistent with the total social control demanded by radicalism. However, gradual-authoritarian governments would tend to preserve the relative autonomy of social groups if only by default; and it is these groups that tend to lead the fight for democratic structures.
Indeed, it is usually during the gradual-authoritarian phase and because of it that groups become acclimatized to democratic power politics, because they are forced to temper other objects or their means to achieve the authoritarian equilibrium; and this enforced willingness to compromise is the vital requisite of democracy. In 1930’s Spain, for example, the various groups of Left and Right (Trotskyists, socialists, anarcho-syndicalists, the Falange, Carlists) fought for irreconcilable ends with extra-parliamentary means and thus drove the Center (the inaptly named Radicals and the Catholic CEDA) and democracy to the edge. It was Franco who tamed or suborned the most uncompromising sectors (it helped that he never belonged to a faction, and contrary to popular belief, was never a Falangist), making possible the transition to democracy under King Juan Carlos.
Going back to the Right-Left dichotomy, the foregoing also tells us how it’s relevant. Thus, the reason a Rightist dictatorship more easily leads to democratization is that the preservation of social groups (families, faith-communities, etc.) is often a major part of the often vague conservative/moderate stance of Rightist autocrats. This vagueness is another reason, of course, for it means that Rightist autocrats usually have no definite program that they seek to impose on society, often settling for ad hoc solutions that seem vapid compared to the clearly drawn (but sometimes too abstract) blueprints of Leftists. This means that the Right often imposes more limited coercion than the Left with its systematic program, and is thence less totalitarian and more vulnerable to democratization.
I think part of the reason for the demonization of Rightist authoritarian leaders has been their apparent association with or similarity to the Nazi government. This is, however, a taxonomic mistake, for the Nazis were reactionary rather than conservative, and notwithstanding their frequent equation in polemical literature, reaction and conservatism are not the same: Reaction wants a radical change back in time (e.g., to the pure Aryan past), while conservatism wants preservation of present forms. Reaction, then, is closer to revolution and has the same transformative agenda; and indeed, both often use the same restoration and better-tomorrow motifs, as witness Marx’s nostalgia for primitive communism and Hitler’s drive to build a 10,000-year paradise under the Reich.
One therefore shouldn’t disagree too much with Kirkpatrick in light of the facts. This doesn’t mean condoning the tactics of authoritarian leaders or dismissing the claims of desaperecido families, but it does mean a constructive policy that sees differences where they are and adjusts itself to the same, and that doesn’t demonize Right or Left without good evidence. If Franco, Pinochet, and Salazar acted like cads, they were at least not total cads with total power, and that is what spells their difference from Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.
May God bless us all.