Editor’s note: This piece by William F. Buckley Jr. appeared in the February 17, 1978, issue of National Review.
A most learned and cosmopolitan friend was recently in Chile and spent an hour with General Pinochet after devoting the previous fortnight to instructing himself on the general state of affairs in the two thousand mile long country . My friend, who is an ideological sophisticate with a wry sense of humor, made a proposal to General Pinochet designed to dispose of most of his p/r problems. “Why don’t you declare yourself a socialist?” Pinochet gasped . “No no. Just declare yourself a socialist. Go ahead and do everything else exactly the way you’re doing it.” General Pinochet presumably thought of calling in the men in the white suits, but satisfied himself merely to change the subject.
Really, it was a brilliant insight. Let us fantasize for a moment.
General Pinochet announces in a major speech that he is a socialist. He gives a lot of speeches about socialism and about bad housing, bad health, and unemployment. He joins the Socialist International and instructs his ambassadors in Sweden, West Germany, and France to arrive suddenly at the doorsteps of Olaf Palme, Willy Brant, and Francois Mitterrand, kiss them on both cheeks the minute they get into the door, pull out the highest Chilean decoration, and drape it about their necks.
Pinochet then arrives at the next international meeting of the Socialist Internatidnal .(yes, such a group exists) and gives a speech . What kind of speech? Oh, any old Humphrey speech would do: it doesn’t really matter, it’s his presence there that counts. He could then make a world tour of the socialist nations, praising India, Yugoslavia, Poland, Algeria, Libya, and Portugal.
And back home? Actually, he would not need to do anything different back home. We all hope of course that the gradual restoration of civil liberties would continue as it has during the past couple of years. But that is an abstract concern, in the design of this discussion. After all, life under Tito, Boumedienne and Qaddafi is hardly a bed of civil liberties, but by and large the press leaves them alone. When last did you see a demonstration against Algeria? When last did the General Assembly of the United Nations petition for the release of political prisoners in Algeria? What human rights commission has recently scheduled an investigation of affairs in Algeria? Or Libya? Or Yugoslavia?
They talk about the slowness of Pinochet’s revival of civil liberties notwithstanding that his political prisoners at the moment are probably fewer than a dozen; there is daily criticism of him in the press; the statements of political opponents are widely discussed on radio and television; an appeal by ex-president Frei to boycott the pro-Pinochet resolution fizzled and he got 75 per cent support, to be sure for a resolution tendentiously worded. In that sense the socialist world might find him suspiciously libertarian, but probably he could bull it through — socialism has to adapt itself to national patterns, as everybody says.
As for his economic program — why, don’t alter it in any particular . It is a program designed to curb inflation, stimulate the recovery of the private sector, and otherwise absorb the damage done by Salvador Allende . When questioned at press conferences about his procrastination in reintroducing conventional state socialism to Chile, he could shrug his shoulders, smile knowingly, and cry out: “Viva el pueblo! Viva el socialismo! Adelante, comparieros!” and end the interview.
Absolutely marvelous things would begin to happen to him . First the United Nations would begin to lose interest in victimizing Chile. Then, after a while, Chile’s ambassador would begin to be invited to meetings of the radical chic set in the UN, where he could always be counted on to toast the socialist martyrs of the world. The New York Times and the Washington Post, Le Monde and the Times of London would remind us that you cannot bring about extensive reforms in a day, but that the identification of General Pinochet with social justice has to be applauded, and that we must all exhibit patience — Rome wasn’t made in a day now, was it?
Meanwhile, the years go by and the standard of living of the Chilean people has risen dramatically. There is peace in the countryside, and bustle in the city. Every few years they go to the polls and Pinochet campaigns in a worker’s costume, calling for yet more socialism, and the people cheer, and the older folks, sitting at home, think wistfully about the poor folks elsewhere who haven’t had the benefits of a generation of Chilean socialism .