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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6032/general-augusto-pinochet-is-dead/

General Augusto Pinochet Is Dead

December 16, 2006 by

On Sunday, December 10, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile died, at the age of 91. General Pinochet deserves to be remembered for having rescued his country from becoming the second Soviet satellite in the Western hemisphere, after Castro’s Cuba, and, like the Soviet Union, and Cuba under Castro, a totalitarian dictatorship.

The General is denounced again and again for the death or disappearance of over 3,000 Chilean citizens and the alleged torture of thousands more. It may well be that some substantial number of innocent Chilean citizens did die or disappear or otherwise suffered brutal treatment as the result of his actions. But in a struggle to avoid the establishment of a Communist dictatorship, it is undoubtedly true that many or most of those who died or suffered were preparing to inflict a far greater number of deaths and a vastly larger scale of suffering on their fellow citizens.

Their deaths and suffering should certainly not be mourned, any more than the deaths of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, and their helpers should be mourned. Had there been a General Pinochet in Russia in 1918 or Germany in 1933, the people of those countries and of the rest of the world would have been incomparably better off, precisely by virtue of the death, disappearance, and attendant suffering of vast numbers of Communists and Nazis. Life and liberty are positively helped by the death and disappearance of such mortal enemies. Their absence from the scene means the absence of such things as concentration camps, and is thus ardently to be desired.

As for the innocent victims in Chile, their fate should overwhelmingly be laid at the door of the Communist plotters of totalitarian dictatorship. People have an absolute right to rise up and defend their lives, liberty, and property against a Communist takeover. In the process, they cannot be expected to make the distinctions present in a judicial process. They must act quickly and decisively to remove what threatens them. That is the nature of war. The fate of innocent bystanders, largely those who cannot be readily distinguished from the enemy, is the responsibility of the Communists. Had they not attempted to impose their totalitarian dictatorship, there would not have been any need to use force and violence to prevent them, and thus the innocent would not have suffered.

Contrary to the attitude of so many of today’s intellectuals, Communists do not have a right to murder tens of millions of innocent people and then to complain when their intended victims prevent their takeover and in the process kill some of them.

General Pinochet was undoubtedly no angel. No soldier can be. But he certainly was also no devil. In fact, if any comparison applies, it may well be one drawn from antiquity, namely, that of Cincinnatus, who saved the Roman Republic by temporarily becoming its dictator. Like Cincinnatus, General Pinochet voluntarily relinquished his dictatorship. He did so after both preventing a Communist takeover and imposing major pro-free-market reforms, inspired largely by Milton Friedman (who in large part was himself inspired by Ludwig von Mises). The effect of these reforms was to make Chile’s the most prosperous and rapidly progressing economy in Latin America, Thereafter, in the words of his New York Times’—largely hostile—obituary, he used his remaining power to “set limits, for example, on economic policy debates with frequent warnings that he would not tolerate a return to statist measures.”

General Pinochet was thus one of the most extraordinary dictators in history, a dictator who stood for major limits on the power of the state, who imposed such limits, and who sought to maintain such limits after voluntarily giving up his dictatorship.

When General Pinochet stepped down, he did so with a guarantee of immunity from prosecution for his actions while in power. However, the present and previous regime in Chile violated this agreement and sought to ensnare the General in a web of legal actions and law suits, making the last years of his life a period of turmoil. This was a clear violation of contract, comparable to the seizure of property in violation of contract. Not surprisingly the regimes in question were avowedly socialist. As a result of their breach, it is now considerably less likely that the world will soon see any other dictator voluntarily relinquish his power. The Chilean socialists will have taught him that to be secure, he must remain in power until he dies.


Dictatorship, like war, is always an evil. Like war, it can be justified only when it is necessary to prevent a far greater evil, namely, as in this case, the imposition of the far more comprehensive and severe, permanent totalitarian dictatorship of the Communists.

Despite the fact that General Pinochet was able to use his powers as dictator to enact major pro-free-market reforms, dictatorship should never be seen as justified merely as a means of instituting such reforms, however necessary and desirable they may be. Dictatorship is the most dangerous of political institutions and easily produces catastrophic results. This is because a dictator is not restrained by any need for public discussion and debate and thus can easily leap headlong into disasters that would have been avoided had there been the freedom to criticize his proposed actions and to oppose them. And even when his policies may be right, the fact that they are imposed in defiance of public opinion operates greatly to add to their unpopularity and thus to make permanent change all the more difficult.

On the basis of such considerations, when asked many years ago what he would do if he were appointed dictator, von Mises replied, “I would resign.”

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.


Person December 16, 2006 at 7:20 pm


+1 Informative
-1 Flamebait
-1 Troll

Dan Mahoney December 16, 2006 at 7:24 pm

Prof. Reisman,

Great points, excellent post. Kudos.


I am not sure, but I think you are an idiot.
Actually, I’m pretty sure about that from your
IP posts, but I guess your post here is
sufficiently oblique to render a bit of doubt.

RogerM December 16, 2006 at 7:54 pm

Very interesting perspective. I wonder if there are any Chileans reading who would like to comment?

Mencius December 16, 2006 at 8:34 pm

The global intellectual caste will never forgive Pinochet for showing that the only cause of Chile’s problems was the political system they still uphold as a divinely inspired ideal: democracy.

Pinochet’s Chile was a little piece of the 19th century that broke off and stuck in the 20th century’s craw. It proved that the sine qua non of civilized society is simply the rule of law. If Iraq had been invaded by Pinochet’s army rather than Bush’s, it would be well on the way to being Dubai north by now.

Pinochet’s actions in the coup were certainly far more murderous than necessary. And considering his foreign bank accounts there is a solid case to be made for his personal criminality. But this fact only heightens the irony of his success. It shows that a government can be judged by its results, not – as Calvinist doctrine would have it – by its moral purity. If Pinochet was a criminal, as I believe he was, his crimes are peccadillos by the standards of 20th century government, and how the people who showered the likes of Arafat, Ortega and Mugabe with sloppy kisses can set up Pinochet as the great demon of his age is rather beyond me.

How should history react to the fact that Chile achieved peace and prosperity by murdering and expelling its entire intellectual class? Certainly, the fact that this same class has driven every murderous revolutionary movement since the Jacobins is too obvious to miss. But it’s also the class that I am from, along with probably most of the people reading this, and I don’t think any of us would have felt very safe or free in the early Pinochet era. Maybe it’s just that war – including civil war – is hell.

Mark Brabson December 16, 2006 at 8:34 pm

General Pinochet was somewhat brutal. But you know what. Chile isn’t a friggin s***hole like Cuba, Nicaraqua, Bolivia and everywhere else where the Marxist’s ran rampant. I don’t think the left hates Pinochet because of the people killed at all. They really hate him because he put a stop to Marxism in Chile. That is why the left will never forgive him. Should we excuse him for his violence. No. Should we thank him for saving his country from a Marxist fate. Yes.

BTW, for all the handwringers, try balancing Pinochet’s roughly 3000 victims versus Stalin’s 20 Million, Mao’s Millions, Castro and Che’s thousands and etc., etc. Maybe Pinochet wasn’t all that bad after all.

jeffrey December 16, 2006 at 8:42 pm

This post does raise a number of troubling issues for the true liberal, e.g. are there cases when the centralization of power should be seen as a regrettable necessity in order to prevent a greater evil? It’s not a problem that we like to think about, especially since every would-be dictator claims to be averting a worse threat. It was probably true in the case of some dictators in the age of communism. But in most other cases, this is used as a cover/excuse. There is also the problem of how to prevent that accumulated power from quickly turning to an immediate disaster.

I know that in the case of Mises, he sometimes judged authoritarian power as terrible but not as bad as the most immediate alternative of mass death and destruction. There is still a further problem: would-be dictators can become the secret allies of worse threats in order to find a pretext for power.

One answer here is to defend the right of revolution against any and all rulers, as a means of making sure that all power is vulnerable to being overthrown. In any case, this was the founders answer to the problem of the abuse of power. They imagined that impeachment would be used often and be a constant threat. Jefferson himself argued that periodic revolutions were all to the good.

xavier December 16, 2006 at 9:39 pm

Great post!

Context is always critical in judging a person or event. In the case of Pinochet it is particularly important. The deaths that followed his actions are material and terrifying to ponder. However, when one looks at the alternatives presented at the time it becomes difficult to easily judge the man too harshly. What really happened? What were all these people doing? To assert they are innocents who were just randomly brutalized is just not logical. In some ways we are fortunate not to have to judge Pinochet given his death. The people of Chile are excused from the difficult task of determining what really happened as well as assessing the alternatives that could have arisen if Pinochet had not acted.

I will say that many so called “liberals” will argue that there is no question to the wrong committed by Pinochet. I am not so certain given that Allende and the communists had a clear agenda and were actively working against the agreements that they willingly entered to establish their rule. None of these “liberals” question Fidel or the current madmen running governments across the Middle East.

In summary, I am inclined to view the tragedy with a heavy heart. We in Chile carry the stain of brutalizing one another. Many perished in the struggle and we will never know the details with clarity. Chile’s communists (and socialists) do not have the courage to come clean with facts. They attack Pinochet for his alleged wrong doings but refuse to speak of their actions that brought Chile to the state where Pinochet was forced to act. We are thus left in Chile with the stain that goes uncleansed, because it goes unaddressed. The real process of healing will only begin when the communists and socialists step forward and admit to the violence they perpetuated against Chile.

Sam December 16, 2006 at 10:03 pm

Have Libertarians found a cause for which war is good? That killing, torture and violence against Socialist/Communist ideologists is to exalted for the all the lives that are presumed to saved?

Mark Brabson December 16, 2006 at 10:15 pm



But this was not war. This was the internal affairs of a single country Chile. It was an uprising against a Marxist dictator, Salvador Allende, who if he had been allowed to continue in power, would likely have slain tens of thousands and left Chile an economic disaster, such as Cuba is today.

And I don’t think anybody ever “exalted” his killings. But I can tell you one thing. 3000 dead is far less than what Castro and Che implemented. And these were not random murders. These “victims” were not virtuous citizens plucked off the street. They were vicious communist thugs who were planning to overthrow the government of Chile and establish a Marxist dictatorship.

BTW. Pinochet held an election and voluntarily gave up power. I don’t think Castro ever had the courage to try an election, other than the overt sham soviet style “elections”.

I have just too tired of for years watching morons fet over Che and Castro to have one bit of sympathy for Pinochet handwringers. When they start calling the leftist dictators in on their bloodshed, then, maybe, I will give a damn about the rightist dictator bloodshed.

Robert Brazil December 16, 2006 at 10:30 pm

I can sympathize with the view that Pinochet was not UNUSUALLY cruel for a head of state, particularly during a time of (real or perceived) emergency/crisis.

For comparison, Abraham Lincoln’s regime killed far more than 3,000 Americans, and yet Lincoln is regarded by the establishment as a hero. The same goes for our other “Great Presidents” (aka warmongers and tyrants).

Certainly, Pinochet’s leftist critics, who have supported and defended far worse criminality than that committed by Pinochet, are hypocrites.

Still, I can’t bring myself to share Professor Reisman’s apparent moral certainty that the deaths and suffering of (at least many of) Pinochet’s victims should “not be mourned” but rather “ardently desired.”

I don’t know for certain what would have happened if Pinochet didn’t seize power in Chile. Does anyone?

Even granting the nightmare scenario envisioned by Professor Reisman to be true, the supporters of the evil philosophy (socialism/communism) behind that scenario might not all have been evil themselves.

Who among us has never changed his mind about anything? Were we all born as libertarians? Even decent people can be wrong sometimes, and I think we can mourn them if their foolishness lands them dead.

Self defense is moral and just. But I can’t accept that torture and cold-blooded murder are ever acceptable, or things to be desired. In this respect, Pinochet’s regime was no different from the socialists and communists in its belief that the ends justify the means.

For Christians, these words might be relevant: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight …”

xavier December 16, 2006 at 10:59 pm


I must concur with your sentiments. We cannot be certain regarding our sentiments. I for one, do not have the moral certainty that we can simply excuse Pinochet’s regime brutality. The number of deaths is staggering. This does not mean that I can blindly condemn him either. The question we have is larger than Pinochet, it is about Chile. Our only hope for understanding rests with those from both sides speaking out about what happened. This means not just former military leaders but also leftists. To date we have only heard from the military. I find it appalling that the communists/socialists have been unwilling to speak the truth about what they were doing. I hope we will hear a dialog before all those who participated in this blood orgy pass away.

David J. Heinrich December 16, 2006 at 11:21 pm

I don’t have much sympathy with the communists killed. After all, it is intellectual socialists who are really, ultimately, responsible for the mass-murder the comes about when communism rises.

But, does anyone here think Pinochet didn’t kill any innocents?

Although I understand Reisman’s economic point about no dictator ever stepping down voluntarily, his legal analysis is absurd. You don’t have the “right” to make a contract with anyone that exempts you from prosecution from the murder of innocents. Also, it’s not only the communists objecting to Pinochet’s murders.

It may be true that the communists certainly have responsibility for every death caused by Pinochet. That doesn’t mean he isn’t responsible as well. I highly doubt that if Prof. Reisman had a close (non-commmunist) friend or family-member who was murdered in Pinochet’s regime, he would so easily excuse Pinochet and lay all of the blame on the communists. Pinochet may have been one of the best dictators of the past century; but that’s hardly setting a high standard of comparison.

Also, despite being dead, and actually having contributed some things to the cause of freedom, we have no need to make Milton Friedman a saint. To say that he was inspired by Mises seems to ignore his repeated slanders against Mises and the Austrian School.

kurtbattais December 17, 2006 at 6:33 am

Why does the MSM keep quiet on this dictator? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6171429.stm Surely being convicted for 2,000 deaths seems “more” atrocious than being suspected of killing 3,000 people, or does the MSM think Chilean people are “worth” more than Ethiopians

Bill, What about rights. December 17, 2006 at 7:19 am

I can not believe that someone from the Mises Inst. posted this article. What about the rights of those “Commie Martyrs” (for lack of a better term) to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Did they want to be tortured or killed at the hands of Pinochet. Pinochet flushed those rights down the crapper.

The Mises Inst. believes in the aforementioned natural rights and that the only legitimate function of government is to secure these rights. The most important of these is the right to Life.

Granted our experience with Communism has been that the Communists have flushed the natural right to life of citizens down the crapper in total numbers that are several orders of magnitude greater than Pinochet. That just means both the Communists and Pinochet are immoral scumbags who government illegitimately by the use of violent force.

Pete Canning December 17, 2006 at 9:20 am

Do communists have rights? Do thieves and murderers have the right to property or life? The Mises Institute has an official position on the role of government?

Is Pinochet more of a “scumbag” than George Bush?

kurtbattais December 17, 2006 at 9:54 am

Reisman is an Objectivist, and I don’t mind the LVMI posting his articles. It is good to know what non-natural rights libertarians are up to or are otherwise thinking.

David J. Heinrich December 17, 2006 at 10:11 am

correction, you don’t have the right to make a contract with anyone except the victims that exempts you from prosecution for your crimes (and possibly the victim’s families, if your crime is murder).

Skye Stewart December 17, 2006 at 10:18 am

The Institute featured many articles on Bush’s SS ‘privatization’ proposal that I enjoyed reading. Let’s not forget Pinochet’s similar fascist economic proposals. As well his ‘war on terror’:

Have conservatives taken America in the direction of the Pinochet regime that they hailed and celebrated for so long? How can anyone doubt it? Torture; indefinite detentions; murders; sex abuse; “renditions”; indefinite detentions; military tribunals; and denial of habeas corpus, due process of law, trial by jury, and judicial supremacy. And just as they did during the Pinochet regime, U.S. conservatives are looking the other way while all this is going on — even claiming it’s necessary, all the while hailing and celebrating Bush’s “free-enterprise” policies.

President Bush is claiming the same power that Pinochet claimed — the power to arrest, torture, and kill “terrorists,” not just inside the country, but all over the world. It was, in fact, Pinochet, not Bush, who first developed the concept that the entire world was a battlefield in the “war on terrorism.” This is what motivated Pinochet to send DINA agents (one of whom perceived himself to be a James Bond) to Europe and the United States to assassinate “terrorists.”

– Jacob Hornberger, Augusto Pinochet and the Conservative Threat to America, http://www.fff.org/comment/com0501d.asp

Rockwell wrote,

“The American right today has managed to be solidly anti-leftist while adopting an ideology — even without knowing it or being entirely conscious of the change — that is also frighteningly anti-liberty. This reality turns out to be very difficult for libertarians to understand or accept. For a long time, we’ve tended to see the primary threat to liberty as coming from the left, from the socialists who sought to control the economy from the center. But we must also remember that the sweep of history shows that there are two main dangers to liberty, one that comes from the left and the other that comes from the right. Europe and Latin America have long faced the latter threat, but its reality is only now hitting us fully.

What is the most pressing and urgent threat to freedom that we face in our time? It is not from the left. If anything, the left has been solid on civil liberties and has been crucial in drawing attention to the lies and abuses of the Bush administration. No, today, the clear and present danger to freedom comes from the right side of the ideological spectrum, those people who are pleased to preserve most of free enterprise but favor top-down management of society, culture, family, and school, and seek to use a messianic and belligerent nationalism to impose their vision of politics on the world.

– The Reality of Red-State Fascism, http://www.lewrockwell.com/rockwell/red-state-fascism.html

In 2000, a little over 50% of the population elected long time marxist opponent of pinochet, Ricardo Lago. Suggesting, Pinochet and his government failed to either educate them, or leave a good enough impression. If the population reverts back to a former kind of tyranny, one could not have done that great of a job. Perhaps the canidates and polls were rigged to some effect.

David C December 17, 2006 at 1:32 pm

I think there are some lessons to be learned here:

1. Individual freedom and liberty are the ends in themselves, and not democracy or any other system.

2. The good tree bears good fruit.

3. Economic liberties and political liberties are deeply and intimately linked.

4. Even a sincere dictator is incapable of creating a perfect freedom.

5. Statists never forgive and move on, they are always hypocrites, and always want revenge at the expense of or more than results.

6. Non freedom in society is never a natural or inherent part of a social culture.

7. Most intellectuals are rather stupid when it comes to results.

8. The best way to avoid corruption (Chile has some of the lowest) is to avoid unjust laws.

9. Free societies tend to have peaceful transitions, while non free ones tend to have violent ones.

10. Once established, freedom tends to take a life on its own while statisim tends to require constant fresh batches of murder.

Pinochet was certainly not perfect, but he taught us a lot.

mikey December 17, 2006 at 2:14 pm

Can anyone spell out what Allende’s plans for Chile were? Was he planning on forcing farmers onto collective farms? Nationalising all businesses?

tarran December 17, 2006 at 2:48 pm

Actually, he planned something straight out of a science fiction book: a centrally planned economy controlled by a giant computer.


Vanmind December 17, 2006 at 3:36 pm

One could almost conclude that some socialist dictators are more equal than others.

jeffrey December 17, 2006 at 3:52 pm

Bk Marcus puts his finger on the issue that bugs me about this. Did Pinochet really just pioneer an effective justification for right-wing dictatorship by drawing attention to the very real threat from the left? And in doing so, was he merely foreshadowing what later became the primary threat to liberty in our time, namely the “right wing” variety along Bush lines that insists on cracking down on political dissent for fear of a threat that is either mythical or manufactured in order to provide a foil? It strikes me that the only way to guard against being taken in by this type of tactic is to oppose any and all power whether from the right or left, now and forever. After all, Bush’s most effective tactic of bolstering his power by continued emphasis on the evil of the left and the Islamic extremists.

Black Bloke December 17, 2006 at 7:08 pm
Mark Brabson December 17, 2006 at 9:18 pm


Allende’s state goal was the transformation of Chile into a Marxist state. During his presidency, he was conducting a massive program of forced nationalization and socialisation of land. He was restricting speech and civil liberties to a severe extent. In fact, in 1971 Castro visited and actively assisted in Allende’s efforts. Allende was running roughshod over Chile’s legislature and ignored its courts. General Pinochet finally had no recourse but to overthrow Allende to save Chile from Marxist doom.

In an ironic and fitting sidenote, Allende committed suicide with a machine gun given to him by Fidel Castro, just before Pinochet’s troops overran the presidential palace.

Nick Bradley December 18, 2006 at 8:06 am

looking back that the 20th Century, I can say this about dictatorships: right-wing dictatorships eventually flower into liberal societies, while left-wing dictatorships go nowhere; Even China has veered dramatically to the Right since Deng Xiaoping.

Chile (Pinochet), Taiwan (Chiang), South Korea (Park), Singapore (Lee, and still authoritarian), Thailand (still authoritarian) etc. were all, no doubt, dictators. But look at their societies now. You can even look at successful Middle Eastern regimes as examples of right-wing dictatorships; look at the UAE, for example (the UAE is not a true monarchy because the 7 individual monarchs elect a leader).

In right-wing dictatorships that the US abandoned, such as the Shah’s Iran and Indonesia’s Suharto, those countries have been absolutely abysmal since they left office. The Shah’s Iran was a rapidly modernizing society that fell backwards 100 years in on fell swoop. Indonesia was booming in the later years of the Suharto regime, but the economy collapsed after sanctions were emplaced after East Timor.

Does anybody have an A Priori explanation for why right-wing dictatorships evolve into liberal societies, while left-wing ones do not? Is it solely economic, or is it also cultural?

Matt December 18, 2006 at 8:32 am

You have revived the debate that took place leading up to 1776. Imagine a Chilean in 1985 wondering if democracy will destroy his freedom. This is where the rubber meets the road, as they say, and where intellectual discussions of liberty meet the harsh reality of policy implementation. Would you prefer to live in a democracy that has wide limited protections of life, liberty, property, or a dictatorship with wide strong protections of said rights, but limited absolution of those rights if one opposed the regime? Imagine if you moved to Singapore or Dubai, would you be blasting the regime or too busy living your life to complain?

Albert Esplugas December 18, 2006 at 9:23 am

I agree with David Heinrich and yes, BK Marcus puts it rightly. Also, I think that this the one of El Mercurio (in Spanish). El Mercurio is a leading right-wing Chilean newspaper.

Finally, this article of the Weekley Standard has a point about Pinochet:

His embrace of economic reform seems unlikely to have sprung from a commitment to freedom, given the overarching contempt for liberty that characterized the rest of his government. Rather, in order to insulate himself from the consequences of his murderous seizure of power, Pinochet sought out political allies, and his free market reforms helped him to garner support domestically on the right, and also among members of the international community. One must be careful not to fall into Pinochet’s trap–accepting his brutal seizure of power and tyrannical rule as a natural accompaniment of free market reforms. Propagandists on the left lost no time in seeking to discredit economic freedom by associating it with Pinochet. To this day, we hear from Moscow that it takes a Pinochet to implement economic reforms successfully; Vladimir Putin seems all too willing to have Pinochet’s uniform taken in a few sizes so he can try it on.

Pinochet and his apologists argue thus: “Castro and the far left are worse than Pinochet, they kill more people and deliver fewer benefits than did the military government of Chile.” Are we to admire Pinochet because his murderous regime was more efficient than tyrants on the left at producing higher GDP? Without the torture, rape, and killing, would economic and political freedom have been impossible in Chile? Hardly! But this is the argument insinuated by Pinochet. He successfully appropriated the utilitarian fallacy to which many on the left fall prey: that murder and torture are acceptable if they hasten the advent of the utopia implied by one’s ideological model. That fallacy probably killed more people during the 20th century than typhus, and it stands to do so again in this century if we do not inoculate ourselves against it.

Sione Vatu December 18, 2006 at 12:19 pm


This is an “ethics of emergency” situation. What does one do in an emergency?

An example emergency situation. Say you were lost in the Australian outback, thirsty and in dire risk of not surviving. You come across a small house. You can see through the kitchen window that there is food, potable water and a telephone in the house. The house is locked. It has a sign warning trespassers not to enter. The house and its contents are not yours. They belong to someone else. You are going to die today or possibly tonight unless you can get shelter, water, food and medical attention right away. Do you break a window to get in there and save yourself? Should you break in, what is the correct action afterwards?

Of course one should never use an emergency situation as the starting point to derive a philosophic system (as certain modern philosophers have a habit of doing). But emergencies do occur and must be dealt with rationally.

That brings us to the topic of the General. I know little of him. It would appear he was a senior figure in the military at a time when a group of socialists attained power in Chile (make no mistake about them, all socialists are evil- evil in theory and evil in practice). The socialists intended to and were preparing to embark on an orgy of theft, rape, torture and mass murder (which is pretty much what socialists always attempt to do, given the opportunity). This was going to be enabled as they had attained control of the institution of government and all its powers. Is such a situation an emergency? If so, what is the correct way to deal with it? Is it reasonable to kill the socialists before they start killing everyone else?

Note: After a time in power socialists start to kill each other. It could be concluded that many of those killed by the General’s men would probably have wound up dead at the hands of their own comerades anyway.

Pinochet may well have been a bad man. Many of the people who worked for him or were allied with him may have been flawed as well. The root question remains, what is the proper action when dealing with a socialist takeover, knowing what inevitably follows such an event?



PS in an emergency, is it right to recognise the claim of individual rights from those who recognise no such concept?

Ozzie December 18, 2006 at 11:20 pm

If one isn’t effusive in ones condemnation of Pinochet while discussing this subject, one can find oneself awash in moral indignation.

I myself had been pretty neutral on this one until I started asking a few questions. The more facts that come out the less it looks like Pinochet was anywhere near the nasty end of the dictatorship spectrum.

After the initial weeks of what amounted to a civil war started by communists…. After that period there were only 401 official killings sheeted of to the dictator over 17 years.

With this sort of subject it can be a good thing to get really nasty and abusive with eachother.

And thats what we’ve been doing over here:


We had started arguing about him even before the old man died. And since I didn’t know anything about it at that stage I’d been pretty meek. But by this stage I was ready to try and force a good case out of the leftists.

Make it to the end of this thread and you’ll think the Proffessors commentary was really quite mild.

Mark Humphrey December 19, 2006 at 6:41 pm

Kurtbattais wrote a brief comment to the effect that Dr. Reisman, as an Objectivist, is a “non-natural rights libertarian”. However, Mr. Battais is in error.

Objectivism is the philosophy developed by Ayn Rand that set out to explain the nature of existence, of knowlege, and of moral values and natural rights, among other issues. As such, Professor Reisman is squarely inside the camp of libertarians who think natural rights exist. In fact, as a disciple of von Mises and a follower of Rand, Dr. Reisman integrates insights from both thinkers in his magnum ophus, “Capitalism”.

Mises and Hayek believed natural rights could not be proven to exist, because they thought such inquiry lay outside the realm of “science”. In light of Mr. Buttais’ comment, it is a little ironic that Rand’s thinking and writing was directly responsible for the resurgence of contemporary interest in the concept of natural rights among libertarians.

(Two of the most enlightening works on the subject of natural rights, that I’ve read, are: “The Virtue of Liberty”, by Tibor Machan, and “Individuals and their Rights” by the same author. The first is a great primer; the second is more thorough and complete. Professor Machan can be described as a broadly Randian thinker.)

Ozzie December 20, 2006 at 12:42 am

“Does anybody have an A Priori explanation for why right-wing dictatorships evolve into liberal societies, while left-wing ones do not? Is it solely economic, or is it also cultural?”

The distinction is between dictatorship and Escahtological Utopian dictatorship.

In the first case the regime wants power, wealth and to not have to pay for their crimes. In the second case added to this is an evil ideology like Naziism and other Marxist forms, or Islamic utopianism.

So in the initial example if its out of the question that the dictator start a royal family (not necessarily the worst thing) and you can convince him to step down you can have some evolution to a more open society.

But in the case of Utopian Eschatology the regime goals are unlimited and their crimes are too extensive to just walk away from. They cannot be reasoned with.

They have to be cut off from any diplomatic recognition, not aided in any way. watched closely, and assumed to be guilty until proved innocent.

The normal rules don’t apply to militants of the utopian eschatological variety. This is why I agree with the early phase of the incredibly sharp and harsh measures that Pinochet took.

Because the same rules just don’t apply to these people. And in a long skinny country like Chile, with all those mountains, had Pinochet not stopped the civil war the marxists started COLD………then the place could have wound up as nasty as Iraq has been or worse.

I know that goes against your average humane libertarians sensibilities. But these movements really are different.

js December 20, 2006 at 3:00 am

It could have been worse, around the same time, the north Vietnamese lost upwards of 2 million fighting for their utopia and all they got for it was 25 years of abject poverty. The Cambodians killed a third of their population trying to create paradise and they got even more grinding poverty.

I don’t think democracy is an end in itself. I think the proof is in the pudding. No matter what the government, people have to live under it. A lot of people say, why don’t they try non-violence? Well they’re not the ones that gOt run over by a tank in Tinamen square.

If you really want to see a movie that transmits the reality of life during a communist takeover I would recommend seeing “Burnt by the sun”. It’s about a bourgeois family in Russia during the 30s who are spared the ravages of the revolution, they are trying to mind their own business and ignore and deny the manifestations of totalitarianism around them. They are in denial as their close friends betray them and still can’t believe the reality of their situation, even as they are being hauled away in the secret police’s wagons to be executed.

Ozzie December 21, 2006 at 3:41 am

Terrible terrible choices such a destabilized and geographically vulnerable country faces in such a situation.

Check out Niall Fergusan over at BookTV.

He’s talking about 20th century slaughter and trying to simplify things down and draw out the metrics that are condusive to that sort of twentieth-century slaughter…..

He may not be the greatest historian ever but I think one day he’ll get to be a top flight one.

He’s only 42.

But he consistently comes in from a different angle then you are used to.

One of his four categories for conditions leading to mass slaughter were monetary instability.

And if you do a mental backtest of how things would have run if Allende and his thugs had inherited a 100% backed metals currency….. How things would have gone then???????


To where we have a bloke like Pinochet (And I’ll reserve judgement about the later part of his tenure just because I don’t know enough)….

It never would have gone that far that a bloke would have to launch a crackdown on that level as a flat-out duty to save his country.

I’ve seen hints here and there on the connection between monetary debauch and domestic and international violence.

Its there with Fergusan but even more strikingly with David Hackett Fischer.

We need one of the Misean Phd students to tie it up I think. To show that there is indeed a link and that even if we can, in the first world, where things are stable, get by with growth-deflation-fiat…. I think we need a misean phd to make the case that this would be an irresponsible example to set. And only full 100% metals backing can stop another tragedy like Chile and the twentieth-century slaughters from happening again.

labyrus December 21, 2006 at 12:13 pm

Justifying brutal crimes based on a hypothetical isn’t reasonable, and it isn’t rational. We can’t know what Chile would’ve looked like under Allende because he was murdered. Arguments based on historical inevitability should be left to Marxists.

Sione December 22, 2006 at 11:52 am


Here is an emergency situation.

A group of gang members arrive at your house. They come in the door. You did not invite them. They start by settling in the lounge while one of their number goes to the kitchen to start emptying out the refigerator. They are rowdy and rough. Already some of the furniture in the lounge has been damaged. They are talking about preparing the rest for the fire they are about to light (to keep them warm).

On previous occasions when these guys have turned up at someone’s house they have raped people, stolen property, destroyed what they didn’t steal, tortured people and gone on to murder them as well. You are lucky in that you happened to read the newspaper and so you know the form. You are doubly lucky in that you know about this gang from what your neighbours and work colleagues previously mentioned to you. You are triply lucky in that you have a loaded automatic rifle and a machete. So, what would you do?

Now the essential point here is that these guys have form and you KNOW about it. You know their nature already. Surely that would be an important element in your decision to act (or not as the case may be)?

So is this a matter of “historical inevitability” or is it a matter of understanding the nature (the attributes) of that which you are dealing with?


greendinjin December 23, 2006 at 9:47 pm

Regardless of Pinochet’s beneficial policies towards economic freedom, his regime still murdered people. Dr. Reisman, are you here implying that Chilean socialists, due to their misguided (and, yes, dangerous) beliefs in regards to economic policy, deserved their fate? You seem to be taking a utilitarian tack with the statement that the benefits of the avoidance of socialism in Chile justified mass-murder.

Abhi May 18, 2008 at 3:33 pm

I personally think Mises would be turning in his grave if he read this article. You cannot defend murder and totalitarianism(facism in this case) in any form, it is even more sickening to try and defend it, regardless of the peculiarly tinged sympathies of “the left.”

I wonder if the author would heap similiar praises on China’s regime, now that it has turned captalist. I respect this institute, and what I have learned of it so far, but I think the author has dangerously overstepped the mark here.

Similiarly, I’m against big government, but I don’t think this warrants a blind rejection of science, as seems to be the case with global warming.

Daniel Torluemke July 6, 2008 at 1:01 am

Yep, Pinochet was a “great man.” He overthrew a democraticlly elected President. He tortutred and murdered thouands, implemented a “free market” economic system that created thousands more poor in his nation. The rich got super rich, the middle class went away, and the poor got poorer.

Funny thing, much of what went on in Milton Friedman’s lab down in Chilie, are now coming to roost in the USA.

Pinochet, and Friedman, were corporate fasscists.

newson July 6, 2008 at 8:32 pm

to daniel torluemke:
obviously you’ve never been to chile. yes, the rich got richer, no the poor didn’t get poorer, and no the middle class did not shrink (and were firmly behind pinochet at the time of the coup). murders, torture, yes, but not increasing poverty. do your history!

monsieurb54 October 3, 2008 at 2:09 am

Good points, but I strongly contest Reisman’s statement that dictatorship “can be justified only when it is necessary to prevent a great evil” as completely erroneous. The mindset behind this is what gives our president the power to declare “martial law” (essentially a dictatorship) to prevent a “greater evil” (those crazy “Islamofascists”). Dictatorship is NEVER permissible. Let the terrorists come here and let the CITIZENS acquire and use their own guns to fight the enemy.

vaguelyhumanoid March 13, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Horrifying. Tell me, isn’t executing people for their political ideas rather authoritarian? Isn’t handwaving the deaths of innocents under a repressive pseudo-free market dictatorship somewhat irrational? Isn’t calling a system with central banking, artificial land scarcity, intellectual monopoly and extreme suppression of labor organizing “free market” or anything close to it a little doublespeak-ish? Isn’t writing this article a bit reprehensible?

ICM July 3, 2011 at 10:02 am

It’s a mighty shame when dictators receive praise from people who would call themselves lovers of freedom. It’s the same reasoning as Plato’s: dictatorship is bad only when the dictators are not wise. I’m sorry, but that is just not true because there is no such thing as objective wisdom, nor is there such a thing as a “good dictatorship” to a libertarian. Dictatorships necessarily create conditions where the lack of freedom is several orders of magnitude more than it is in a democracy, the minimally restrictive non-free political system. By definition and from its nature, a dictatorship of any sort is a less free environment than a democracy, therefore a libertarian must show greater support for any sort of democracy than for any sort of dictatorship.

What’s next? The fascists and the Nazi party had a pretty strong anti-communist agenda back in the 1920s, should we judge their dictatorships to have been a “lesser evil”? Is McCarthyism and the Red Scare a prudent response to Marxist-Leninist barbarity? You known what? Stalin freed the Russian people from the autocracy of the Orthodox Church, that old lump sure did a great job there! If we start making excuses for dictators, all of them have at least one positive result in their names. Does that mean that freedom-loving people ought to start making excuses for dictators?

At least Allende was democratically elected, unlike any other Marxist thug in history up to that point. Similarly, free elections were held in Russia after the “October Revolution,” and the result was a defeat for the Bolsheviks. Their reasoning in starting a horrifying civil war by clinging to their power was that they were doing the Russian people a service by ignoring the electoral results and establishing their dictatorship because the results represented the corrupt bourgeoisie. This is the way enemies of freedom think; it is a libertarian’s obligation not to think like that. And when enemies of freedom die, be they Marxists like Che Guevara or vassal caudillos of the “Christian right” like Pinochet, libertarians ought to feel relief in that these people will not have the chance to go into politics again.

It is indeed horrifying to see articles defending dictatorships in mises.org. I would suggest that Mr. Reisman read Ryan McMaken’s article entitled “Socialism, Dictatorship, and Liberalism” for an example of a principled libertarian stance towards dictators of any hue.

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