The Low Price of Power

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"The Low Price of Power"

Pamela Constable offers a pretty solid retrospective on Augusto Pinochet. This, however, jumped out at me:

Pinochet, who died Sunday at age 91, was a man with a mission. He genuinely believed he was doing the right thing, carrying out a grim duty in order to save his country from evil. In every speech and interview, the strongman of Santiago returned to the same theme: his sacred, patriotic calling to rid Chile of communism, whatever the cost.

This is a cliché that people don’t tend to think about, but it’s important to qualify that claim. Pinochet believed it was his calling to rid Chile of Communism, whatever the cost to other people. He wasn’t eager to pay a price personally, or to have members of his circle do so. Indeed, though Pinochet’s corruption was hardly on a Mobutu-style scale, it’s clear that he and his retainers profited personally from his dictatorship. And when he left office, he didn’t throw himself on the mercy of the people, pleading justification but willing to accept whatever verdict — pay any price — they might render. Instead, he had himself made a senator for life to obtain immunity from prosecution. Once that stopped working, he adopted a number of other methods to try — successfully, in the end — to avoid bearing the cost of what he’d done.

This line of thought is, of course, entirely typical of the authoritarian mindset. You hear it in contemporary political disputes about torture and about the use of brutal force abroad. We must do what it takes to succeed whatever the cost. Always suppressed is the proviso — whatever the cost to other people.

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