Castro V. Pinochet Cont’d

by Jonah Goldberg

From a more reasonable and civil liberal reader:

Jonah,

My compliments for acknowledging that there’s inconsistency on both ends of the political spectrum here. That makes for a very useful starting point in what I believe is an important and interesting discussion.

I have just three quick points to make, from a liberal perspective, on the issue:

First, and most importantly, I think it’s necessary to distinguish between those on the far Left and those in the mainstream. It’s true that you can always find some bedraggled college student handing out copies of the Socialist Worker, but in my experience there aren’t many mainstream liberals who would actually make excuses for Castro or support continuation of his regime. By way of contrast, I would note that mainstream conservatives do make excuses for and have actively supported Pinochet. Hence, there’s not really a perfect symmetry here. (In fairness though, I think Castro is a special case, due largely to memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis. If we extend the discussion to Leftist movements in general, the symmetry does become more apparent.)

Second, I think there’s a difference between criticizing American policy and supporting/defending her enemies. While there was definitely some readiness on the part of American liberals to take the faux-egalitarianism of Leftist movements at face value, I don’t think it amounted to widespread support or excuse-making. Instead, liberal attitudes (even now, it seems, vis-a-vis Iraq) tended to focus on the injustice of our actions and those of the groups we were backing rather than on the supposed merits of the alternatives.

Finally, there’s the relationship between economic freedom and political freedom. Conservatives tend to see free markets and free political systems as mutually reinforcing in all but the most extreme circumstances, so supporting a regime that’s good on one and bad on the other is obviously better than supporting a regime that’s bad on both. Liberals, on the other hand, often see a tension between the two when wealth is concentrated among too few members of society. For them, a pro-market dictatorship doesn’t look like a system that’s at least partially free; it looks like a system designed to keep both the economic and the political power firmly concentrated at the top. From that perspective, Pinochet was the one who was bad on both counts.

Anyway, I guess those points weren’t as quick as I’d hoped. Interesting topic for discussion though, so thanks again for bringing it up.

Me: Interesting points, but I think they crash on the facts.

Point one: Castro is surely not remotely as demonized by mainstream liberals. Does no one remember the coverage of Elian Gonzales? Follow the pronouncements of Pat Leahy? Anti-Castroism is still regularly sniffed at as a form of dementia by many mainstream liberals. Read more Nordlinger if you doubt this.

Point two: There’s some merit here, and it gets to the core of my point about where foreign policy should draw distinctions. I certainly think that supporting a Pinochet-type outside of the context of the Cold War would be much more difficult to defend and would ultimately probably be indefensible. And, even in such a context, I by no means think the US should have simply a blanket policy of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. This is partly a moral point and partly a practical one. Our support of Saudi Arabia has proved that such logic carried on indefinitely creates very real problems, both morally and strategically.

Point three: I think this is an empirical question. Egalitarianism has resulted in many leftist– and some liberal — intellectuals making apologies for leftwing totalitarians on the grounds that at least everyone is impoverished equally (even though this is never really the case; Communist Party members live much better in Communist countries than working stiffs). More importantly, one of the core arguments for tolerating free market-but-autocratic regimes is that eventually the rising middle class they create demands more and more democracy and liberalism. Only people who think capitalism is by its nature oppressive can feel comfortable saying that an increasingly capitalistic autocratic regime is not better than a totalitarian collectivist one. Chile is now a free society. Pinochet stepped down peacefully. Totalitarian dictators don’t do that. Unless I missed Raul Castro’s election.

Anyway, there’s lot’s more than can be said, but Rich will kill me if I don’t send him my article.

Update: From a reader:

“By way of contrast, I would note that mainstream conservatives do make
excuses for and have actively supported Pinochet. Hence, there’s not
really a perfect symmetry here. (In fairness though, I think Castro is a
special case, due largely to memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis. If we
extend the discussion to Leftist movements in general, the symmetry does
become more apparent.)”

This liberal says the “mainstream conservatives do make excuses” for
Pinochet and then in the next sentence makes an excuse for Castro
“Castro is a special case.”  Hello?  And he is not aware of the efforts
of Dodd (a perennial Dem presidential candidate and sandwich mate of Ted
Kennedy) and others to advance the interests of Castro??? What am I
missing here?

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