[This review was published in the July/August 1996 issue of Conservative Review, pp. 37-38.] 


Book Review


Out of the Ashes: Life, Death and Transfiguration of Democracy in Chile, 1833-1988

By James R. Whelan

Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1989


Reviewed by Dwight D. Murphey 


            Our delay in reviewing Out of the Ashes, published in 1989, is not due to its great length, although that accounts for part of it.  This reviewer simply had not heard of it until a friend from Chile insisted that it was splendid, a “must read” for those of us who have not shared the world’s predilection in favor of Allende’s communization of Chile and against Pinochet’s restoration of a free and civilized community.

            My friend was certainly right.  Happily, it is not too late to bring the book to the attention of readers of Conservative Review, since it covers a distinct historical period and is in no sense dated.  The perception of historical events remains, of course, at the heart of ongoing ideological debate, which gives Whelan’s account additional current relevance.

            Most obviously, the book is valuable as a factual rebuttal of the mythology of the Left relating to Chile.  Whelan is distinctly aware, as the Left chooses not to be, of the horrors that Communism has visited upon the world, and this means that he is prepared to see Allende for what he was.  And in the sympathetic view Whelan presents of Pinochet, Whelan is in the continental European “classical liberal” tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries.  We see this when he does not join those who, aware of Allende’s evil, damn Pinochet because he didn’t instantaneously snap into place the full model of “democracy.”  Classical liberals on the continent, knowing that all the prerequisites of a completely free society were not in place, supported “enlightened despotism” precisely as an intermediate stage pointing toward ordered liberty.  Pinochet—embracing a free market under the direction of Milton Friedman’s “Chicago school,” privatizing much that had come under the control of the state, and eventually turning over the reins of power in a peaceful transition to an elected President—must be seen not as a pinched “denier of human rights,” but as one of history’s best examples of classical liberalism in the continental tradition.  Whelan understands all this, while not denying that there were some abuses during the chaotic first days following the 1973 overthrow of Allende.

               An extra dimension comes from the book’s review of Chilean history, something about which most Americans know little.  That history gives the context for the more recent events, especially in its showing of how strong the Left has been in Chile and the rest of Latin America in the 20th century.

            Probably more than anything else, though, Whelan’s discussion is valuable in relation to the ongoing ideological war.  His concluding chapter, entitled “Reflections,” merits careful study by everyone who is concerned about the ideological distortions and double-standards that pass for discourse in today’s world.  We live in a truly insane time.  Whelan quotes George Orwell about the Spanish Civil War: “‘At an early age, I  became aware that newspapers report no event correctly, but in Spain, I read for the first time articles which bore no relation whatever to the facts, not even the relation implicit in an ordinary lie.’  It is difficult,” Whelan goes on to say, “to come away from a conscientious examination of the scholarship and reportage on Chile of the years since 1973 without experiencing a similar sensation.”  Accordingly, Out of the Ashes holds a mirror up to the world, and is far more than a history of Chile.

            In 1996 we are in a presidential election year here in the United States.  What is frustrating to many conservatives is to know that it apparently makes little difference, on a variety of issues, whether we elect a conservative or not; the “liberal” ethos runs along unabated.  Whelan’s book was published, as we know, in 1989.  In it, he lamented that “what is notable is the hostility, since 1985, of an ostensibly conservative Reagan administration, a hostility which, in terms of practical measures, has surpassed anything achieved by its two post-revolution predecessors [Presidents Ford and Carter]… Continuing the policy of Carter, the Reagan administration has implicitly declined to recognize the legitimacy of Chile’s 1980 constitution, approved in a plebiscite in which an unprecedented 6 million Chileans voted….”  This will remind conservatives that “winning the presidency” is a necessary but by no means sufficient step toward the throwing off of America’s leftist ideological incubus.