The Spanish Inquisition is the one event or institution of 16th-Century Europe that everyone today knows of even if they know of nothing else of that era. Most people believe that we remember the Spanish Inquisition 400 years later because it represented a particularly brutal event in world history.
Most people are wrong.
Prior to circa 1800, every culture or society used torture as both a means of investigation and punishment for all types of crimes, whether civil, political or religious. As a rule, however, only members of the powerless and poor classes actually got tortured. Most cultures held the idea of torturing members of the upper classes to be almost unthinkable. The Spanish Inquisition broke this rule. The Spanish Inquisition had next to nothing to do with religion. Its true purpose was to destroy the political enemies of the Spanish crown and to confiscate or extort wealth. To that end, it tortured the noble and the wealthy and thereby shocked the conscious of Europe. Had the Spanish Inquisition stuck to torturing the poor and common like the Inquisition in other regions, we would not remember it today.
The Spanish Inquisition burned itself into the collective conscious of the world not due to its use of torture but due to the value that the culture of the day placed on the class of the people tortured. Even though most religions believed all human life to be of the same value, few put that belief into practice. Most people viscerally believed that some groups of people were morally exempt from facing torture. Elitism ruled the cultures of the time.
So what does it say about our culture today that some of us place a much higher value on the lives of some groups of people than they do on others?
One can hardly find an individual more passionately hated by the Left than the recently deceased Augusto Pinochet of Chile. Leftists say that they justifiably single out Pinochet for special opprobrium due to the uniquely vile nature of his actions. After all, he overthrew a democratically elected government, killed 3,000 people and tortured thousands more.
Yet, this explanation rings false. When you see an angry mob take after a petty thief while ignoring the blood soaked serial killer standing next to him, you know immediately that something other than outrage at the degree of the crime drives the mob. Pinochet was a minor villain by any measure. Why then did the mob hound him until his death while ignoring others with far more blood on their hands?
Pinochet did kill and torture but not to such a degree as to earn a special place in history. Sad to say, but by any objective measure Pinochet ranks far down on the list of murderous 3rd-world leaders of the post-WWII era. He wouldn’t even make it into the top 100 killers. Across the border, in Argentina, the military junta killed over 20,000 in the same era and the generals in Brazil 2 or 3 times that many, but few people today remember them at all. Even more damning, the same people who condemn Pinochet actively applaud people far more brutal. Castro murdered 13,000 Cubans, tens of thousands of Africans and nearly triggered a nuclear war, yet leftists still literally give him standing ovations in forums all around the world. Yassir Arafat’s war crimes were very, very public and very unambiguous yet no one threatened to arrest him when he traveled to Europe for medical care.
Looking back with 30 years’ hindsight we can perhaps forgive the leftists of the time for buying into the myth of Allende’s regime. Uncritical adulation of socialist states was part of the zeitgeist of the era. The degree of bloodshed in other, similar countries wasn’t yet widely known, so Pinochet might have stood out at the time. But that doesn’t explain why Pinochet still today occupies a special place of hatred in the minds of many leftists.
I think Pinochet stands out in the history of the 20th Century for the same reason that the Spanish Inquisition stood out in 16th: Pinochet killed those perceived to belong to a protected class. Unlike other right-wing dictators (and their opposites on the Left), Pinochet didn’t kill people largely at random or by quota just to spread terror. He targeted those believed to be part of the extreme-leftist leadership. He cut the head off the snake. Unfortunately for his place in history, that group included several hundred foreigners, mostly from western Europe.
Many Marxists from around the world flocked to Allende’s Chile so they could play at being revolutionaries. They tended to be the most politically radical. They didn’t want to muck about with bourgeois baggage like democracy and the rule of law. They gravitated towards those factions within Allende’s coalition which advocated immediate, violent revolution. When Pinochet decided to wipe out the radical leadership, foreigners were disproportionately represented in the body count.
Until that time, 1st-world Marxist intellectuals expected to be able to travel anywhere and do or say anything and be able to skate away scot-free. They thought of themselves not only as intellectually superior human beings but also as individuals endowed with a moral authority that made their persons inviolable. Most 3rd-world governments of all political persuasions just shipped off troublesome 1st-world foreigners, regardless of their complicity in any violence or subversion. Pinochet broke that rule.
Leftists reacted with outrage. Pinochet had not murdered nameless members of the “masses.” He had killed members of the new nobility, people just like the leftist intellectuals of Europe, and in many cases people they knew personally. To this day, virtually every news story on Pinochet contains a first-hand account from some 1st-world citizen who was either imprisoned himself or lost someone close to him. Like the upper classes of 16th-Century Europe, who saw themselves in the victims of the Spanish Inquisition, modern leftist intellectuals saw themselves in Pinochet’s victims. 1st-world leftists single Pinochet out for special venom because they believe he attacked them personally. It doesn’t matter that other rulers of other political persuasions killed far more; Pinochet killed members of the protected class.
In the end, Pinochet becomes a mirror that reflects the Left’s own dark heart. Leftists always portray themselves as altruistic, only concerned with the fates of the least powerful among us. Pinochet revealed their narcissism to the world. While he showed them to be no worse than the rest of us, he also showed them to be no better.
Perhaps on some level they understand that and hate him even more.
17 thoughts on “Hating Pinochet”
The logic of the left is predicated on a gross overestimation of human power in general and organized political power in particular. To the left, every outcome is thus reducible to a common denominator of power. In their worldview, power is utterly deterministic, and this is why the three concepts they just can’t get their heads around are “it’s over,” “you lost,” and “get over it.” This in turn makes taking power from the left not merely an unforgivable sin, but an unspeakable one. Ergo Pinochet. And Bush, for that matter.
“Leftists say that they justifiably single out Pinochet for special opprobrium due to the uniquely vile nature of his actions. After all, he overthrew a democratically elected government, killed 3,000 people and tortured thousands more.”
That’s quite a straw man, and you do a very nice job of picking it apart so you can reach the utterly unsuprising conclusion that Leftists are the real villian here. “Leftists say that they justifiably single out Pinochet for special opprobrium due to the uniquely vile nature of his actions. After all, he overthrew a democratically elected government, killed 3,000 people and tortured thousands more.”
That’s quite a straw man, and you do a very nice job of picking it apart so you can reach the utterly unsurprising conclusion that Leftists are the real villain. Why not address an argument that I see Leftists make far more often: Augusto Pinochet is not any worse than a lot of dictators, but he is worth far more of our outrage because it is our country that had so much to do with his rise.
Perhaps it is some conception of civic responsibility. There may be a lot of bad in the world, but we as a sovereign people ought not contribute to it. When we do contribute to it, we have a very real and very public discussion about that with entirely appropriate levels of moral outrage. We talk about our nation’s past with race relations with such moral chagrin not because it was the most evil thing ever to happen in human history, but because we as a nation own it. Similarly, the Trail of Tears was not the greatest moral wrong, but it is our moral wrong. Much of the special condemnation for Pinochet, therefore, is less about him and more about us. Castro may very well have spilled more blood, but Pinochet spattered more of it back in our direction.
No doubt, a lot of dumb pseudo-revolutionary college kids had a hard-on for Allende back in the day. Most got over it. Clearly Allende was nothing but a destructive destabilizing force for Chile. However, he was also democratically elected. Gen. Rene Schneider had precisely the right idea at the time. He may have disagreed vehemently with Allende and everything he stood for, but that did not make it right to supplant the Chilean constitution and the democratic rule of law with rule by force and fear. Schneider was killed by the coup’s supporters. His death and the death of everyone else that resulted from the coup end up partially on America’s moral ledger. Many Americans who you would probably refer to as “Leftists” are very protective of their moral ledger and make it their business to see that nothing so outrageous is ever again added to it. That is called taking responsibility.
I hate to have to write subequents post explaining some part of the previous one, and I do apologize for it. I started typing my comment in the box before deciding it was going to be long enough that I should type it in Word first, and then forgot to delete my original first couple of lines when I moved over the finished product. Ergo, for maximum readibility, I suggest beginning with the second “Leftists say that they…” in the middle of the second “paragraph” above.
“he is worth far more of our outrage because it is our country that had so much to do with his rise.”
Schochu John… The left does like to name-drop the CIA whenever they mention pinochet, but the CIA gave little more than moral support to Pinochet’s actions. Even if they had done more, so what? Shouldn’t one side look for outside support when their opponent is getting so much of it? If the CIA gave pinochet money and weapons – which they didn’t – why would it matter? The soviets/cubans gave Allende and the socialist/communist parties weapons and money. If Pinochet looked outside Chile’s borders for similar assistance what should it matter? This is whole line of thought, as so many elements of the Allende Myth, a canard.
As far as the anti-american sentiment latent in justifying disproportionate “outrage because it is our country that had so much to do with his rise”, Shannon has written some excellent posts on the blame america first crowd that might better address this question.
From SJ: “Clearly Allende was nothing but a destructive destabilizing force for Chile. However, he was also democratically elected. ”
Forgive the dreaded and ubiquitous analogy, but so was Hitler.
Allende was paving the way for a communist revolution as had, by the 1970’s, already occured so many times throughout the world and when this became clear, no one in Chile wanted any part of it.
Yes, he took the office of the presidency through democratic election, but he never got more than 40% of the vote and by the point of the coup both congress and the supreme court declared that the executive was “not merely responsible for isolated violations of the law and the constitution; it has made them into a permanent system of conduct” and both were asking for intervention.
The fact that a leader was at one point elected by constitutional means is largely irrelevant when he becomes a tyrant and woefully tramples on the same constitution which gives him his powers.
Great post Shannon. Glad you are back from your garage.
“The left does like to name-drop the CIA whenever they mention pinochet, but the CIA gave little more than moral support to Pinochet’s actions.”
Moral support, indeed. “Thousands of once-classified U.S. documents released in recent years showed that the Nixon administration, through the CIA and other means, worked secretly to undermine Allende’s elected government.”
And to quote that rabid leftist Colin Powell, then secretary of state, “With respect to your earlier comments about Chile in the 1970s and what happened with Mr. Allende, it is not a part of American history that we’re proud of.”
We may disagree about Pinochet, but let us not pretend his coming to power had nothing to do with us.
Perhaps I am odd, but I personally feel morally responsible for my own conduct. By extension, as we are all citizens of the U.S. who control its actions by our aggregate will, we are all responsible for its conduct. I would like the actions of this country to reflect the highest ethical standards. When they do not, it reflects poorly on me, and it reflects poorly on all the rest of my fellow citizens. While you may feel content to sweep ugly parts of history under the rug and emphasize how much worse other people do, I do not think we should excuse our own bad behavior. I think we should take responsibility for it. Similarly, I would hope that all people hold themselves and their governments up to a proper rigorous scrutiny. As you have already broken ground on the Nazi talk, there are no greater critics of the Nazi era that modern Germans, and rightly so. By contrast, in Japan, there is a great deal of whitewashing and ignoring the subject of their own behavior in the first half of the last century. I certainly wish they would confront the issue more forthrightly, but I also know that it is not my responsibility. What is my responsibility is what I do and what my country does.
If you wish to discuss the relative merits of the Pinochet coup when compared to the Allende status quo at the time, we can move on to discuss that, but simply recognize that it is a topic change. So far, the issue I have been speaking to is why people in this country may appropriately be more outraged at the actions of a Pinochet than other dictators on a similar brutality level. Feeling morally responsible for what one’s elected government does is not some sort of Leftist mental disease.
“The fact that a leader was at one point elected by constitutional means is largely irrelevant when he becomes a tyrant and woefully tramples on the same constitution which gives him his powers.”
Exactly. You’ve cited his election with a minority of the popular vote and the Supreme Court’s condemnation of his rule. How, in the light of this condemnation, does this justify Pinochet’s destruction of law and order for his own aims?
For me, the thing about Chile is that–like contemporary Czechoslovakia, or neighbouring Argentina–its was a society quite recognizable to anyone in the First World: urbanized, literate, economically developed, with a mass culture and the works. The suspension of democracy and law in Chile under Pinochet, who went on to install a technocratic dictatorship girded by economic philosophies imported by the Chicago Boys, could be taken as presaging like events elsewhere. Certainly Thatcher’s praise could be fit into that context with not too much work.
Besides, how many right-wing dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s didn’t end in tears? Guatemala flirted with genocide; Argentina engaged in mass slaughter and lost a war with Britain; Paraguay remained, under Stroessner, a country apart from the rest of the planet. Dictatorships of the right–as well as dictatorships of the left–aren’t good things for anyone to praise, even if they do manage to do some good things (good GDP growth! high literacy rates!).
“does this justify Pinochet’s destruction of law and order for his own aims?”
That’s right Randy. Pinochet took a country where rights, the rule of law and the constitution were all held in high regard. Then, for nothing but his own evil ideological aims, he trampled the constitution and imposed an evil dictatorship where he did horrible things like chase out foreign revolutionaries and privatise social security.
If only he would have stayed out of the way, the nice socialists in Allende’s government would have made Chile into such a paradise and nobody would have had to be killed in the process.
Shochu John, I have a lot of respect for this blog, so I really don’t want to clutter it up arguing, so I’ll try to keep this short.
I said the CIA didn’t do much of anything for Pinochet. That is the truth. What you are talking about are cases where the CIA was giving money to the opposition parties. That isn’t helping Pinochet. We didn’t enable the coup in any way other than moral support. That’s what I said and that is the reality.
I actually like the quote you provide, because it only supports my argument that leftists love to attribute the fall of Allende to the CIA, rather than to Chileans who didn’t want to become Soviet vassals.
To characterise it as “undermining the Allende government” is insincere at best. Thousands of other unclassified documents revealed after the fall of the Soviet union also reveal that Allende was getting not just money, but guns and arms from the soviets. This was conveniently left out of the article. (Hmmm…. I wonder why?)
Any CIA efforts to fund opposition parties could be seen in this light as trying to create a fair playing field where parties on both sides could have their voices heard. Yet to the left it’s always the evil CIA, the evil CIA.
Allende fell because he was a tyrant. The left can’t and will never admit to that.
If you really want to understand what happened I’d recommend you do more than read Pinochet’s eulogies in US press. In fact, another ChicagoBoyz post would be a good place to start:
“Allende fell because he was a tyrant. The left can’t and will never admit to that.”
I consider myself most days a member of the left, and I think him to be, if not a tyrant, someone who very stupidly decided to push through a radical agenda without acquiring the consent of a majority of the population.
Pinochet did the exact same thing, save that he killed many, many more people than Allende ever did. This makes him better because … ?
What’s with the whole “watch it” thing? It’s even funnier because what you say you admit to, isn’t what I say the left can’t admit to. Try reading it again.
“What’s with the whole “watch it” thing?”
“Allende fell because he was a tyrant. The left can’t and will never admit to that.”
I agreed, yet I’m on the left.
Sloppy categorizations serve no one’s interests. Unless, of course, you think that I should feel free to say things like “Pinochet was a tyrant. The right can’t and will never admit to that.” and expect people on the right to give me a free pass.
No, you didn’t agree, at least not in your post. Read what I wrote, then what you wrote and it should be quite clear. I, personally, think it’s funny, because in my opinion leftists have a real hard time with logic, so the fact that you don’t grasp the meaning in a basic sentence is, to me, amusing. (If, of course, English is your second language, then I’d understand and retract my amusement.)
I believe your article is astoundingly brave and provocative. I would like add a few comments here.
“Prior to circa 1800, every culture or society used torture as both a means of investigation and punishment for all types of crimes, whether civil, political or religious. As a rule, however, only members of the powerless and poor classes actually got tortured. Most cultures held the idea of torturing members of the upper classes to be almost unthinkable. The Spanish Inquisition broke this rule. The Spanish Inquisition had next to nothing to do with religion. Its true purpose was to destroy the political enemies of the Spanish crown and to confiscate or extort wealth. To that end, it tortured the noble and the wealthy and thereby shocked the conscious of Europe. Had the Spanish Inquisition stuck to torturing the poor and common like the Inquisition in other regions, we would not remember it today.”
I indeed believe you are correct on the notion that the Spanish inquisition hurt the elites more than the poor. Except there is perhaps a little twist in the case you make of paralleling it with what happened with Pinochet that I believe could be of some help to understand it better.
Let me roll out a little bit of history before explaining my point:
After the Reconquista period ended, 1492, and the Castilians had recovered most of the peninsula, there were many wealthy and skillful Jewish who enjoyed privileges during the Caliphate (a tradition dating back to the times of Moses Maimonides and the golden age of the Spanish Sephardim) Many Jewish converted to Catholicism in fear of death or persecution, and to retain their wealth and business activities in the kingdom. But their wealth arose envy and more persecutions and the Catholic Kings called for an investigation of the secret heretic practices of Converted Jews (marranos, as they were called), and requested the Pope authority to form an inquisition, based in the model of the already existing Aragon inquisition which depended directly from the Pope, somehow in the process, because of the weakness of the Pope, the Catholic Crown twisted the rules to control themselves the newly formed clerical authority.
In the unique Spanish balance of power, the Spanish inquisition played a role the court system of the Spanish crown lacked, it was responsible for the checks and balances of the Spanish crown’s struggle to control both the Church and the local Monarchies, with the Vatican interfering whenever possible.
But somehow it also was responsible for the obedience of the law, and law they created. So while it served the interests of the Crown and the Church, it also laid some of the foundations for today’s Court system in Spain and France, and several other countries in Latin America, including Mexico, but that can the subject for another discussion.
Let me quote from you again:
“The Spanish Inquisition had next to nothing to do with religion. Its true purpose was to destroy the political enemies of the Spanish crown and to confiscate or extort wealth. To that end, it tortured the noble and the wealthy and thereby shocked the conscious of Europe. Had the Spanish Inquisition stuck to torturing the poor and common like the Inquisition in other regions, we would not remember it today.”
Here is where I do not agree with you. Even though I certainly agree that the Spanish inquisition true purpose was to destroy the political enemies of the crown and to confiscate or extort wealth, I believe it had a lot to do with religion also.
The fact is that the Jews were some of the wealthiest members of the kingdom at the time the Inquisition began working against them, but they were also the most educated too and many Jewish, or converted Jewish wrote the history of those events, some from Amsterdam, some from Madrid, some from Latin America too. When the Jewish converted to Catholicism, they retained their wealth and very importantly too, their education. We need to remember that in Catholic Spain it was forbidden to read the Bible in other language than Latin, and so reading the bible was not incentive for regular Spaniards to learn to read and write Spanish, as it was the case in England were the reading of the King James English Bible encouraged and provided the incentive for entire generations of English to learn to read and write, in Spain, much to the contrary, knowing how to read and write in those days was also a reason for the inquisition to investigate you. The average Spaniard remained uneducated for centuries.
Which takes me to quote from you again:
“The Spanish Inquisition burned itself into the collective conscious of the world not due to its use of torture but due to the value that the culture of the day placed on the class of the people tortured. Even though most religions believed all human life to be of the same value, few put that belief into practice. Most people viscerally believed that some groups of people were morally exempt from facing torture. Elitism ruled the cultures of the time.
Yes, I think indeed you are correct here again, except for the twist I was mentioning before. The most common target of the Inquisition in many communities was precisely the converted Jews and many of these converted Jewish of those dark days of the inquisition we had said, did only convert to Catholicism in order to retain their wealth, but they continued practicing their religion in secret ceremonies and teaching their children to read and write Hebrew and also Spanish, and in doing so, they were educating their children to write and tell the evils and crimes of the inquisition in future days.
In later times, many of these children descending from the Jews turned to be very catholic indeed and tried to get away from Judaism, which was cause for their parents to hate them and to refer to them as “guercos” and take away their inheritance. Yet they still retain the feelings against the inquisition their parents had passed on to them.
And I certainly believe we can draw a parallel between this story and what happened with Pinochet in Chile, where the leftist intellectual elites of Chile where the ones most hurt and paid him back writing evils against him.
It’s nice that people for whom reality is an unjustifiable and unquantifiable variable of the left, and anti-Semitism can be cloaked in quasi-intellectualism, have a place where they can go and engage rhetorical skills. the self-same blather that the left like to engage, sans this more blatant form of anti-Semitism. At least they are not adverse to self-correction, when they feel they warrant it. It is a shame the same can not be said for the right.
Spanish Inquisition is remembered because:
1. It hurt FAR MORE PEOPLE than any other inquisition of this time (witch-hunt is also widely remembered, btw )
2. It hit people whose relatives could write about it.
3. And it hit Jews en masse and Jews do not forget easy.
4. And the EFFECT on the country was devastating.
The POLITICAL elites of Spain (nobles) weren’t hit that hard, by the way
As for Pinochet, well, you kill English citizens, expect English government to try you. Until VERY recent legislations (which are signed only by handful off countries, NOT including USA ) killing of Chile’s people in Chile can only be prosecuted in Chile. The rule of “inner affairs” applies. Likewise, Nazis weren’t tried for crimes against Germany’s Jews prior to war begin.
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