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Chile's Left Needs to Chill
A Case Study in Provoking a Political Reaction
“But, after all, what can an unfortunate National Assembly do? Consider only this, that there are Twelve Hundred miscellaneous individuals; not a unit of whom but has his own thinking-apparatus, his own speaking-apparatus! In every unit of them is some belief and wish, and different for each, both that France should be regenerated, and also that he individually should do it. Twelve Hundred separate Forces, yoked miscellaneously to any objects, miscellaneously to all sides of it; and bid pull for life!”
- Thomas Carlyle [The French Revolution, I.VI.I]
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Acknowledgement: I would like to thank my friend Swann Marcus, who made me aware of this issue, and saw most of the best aspects. Much of this is fleshing out a couple of his short threads [which I can’t embed, of course.]
Introduction: Throwing the Baby Out with the Bongwater
On Sunday, May 7th, the South American nation Chile voted on delegates to a constitutional convention. “Far-right” and “traditional right” parties won an overwhelming majority. The far-right Republican Party who are said to admire the famed Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet got twice the delegates as the traditional right coalition; the left wing parties performed so poorly they cannot even block amendments on their own. Many are concerned that Chile could end up with an extreme right wing constitution. The story goes back to 2019, when a wave of protests consumed the country and could not be contained without severe concessions. The leftist parties turned their attention to overturning the normal, functional, and amendable 1980 Constitution which they and the media framed as being the “dictatorship constitution” due to it originally having been passed under Pinochet. In the first round of constitution framing they elected a democratic body which was mandated to contain an equal number of men and women with special representation for disabled and indigenous people. A bunch of cranks and weird hippies became delegates, and after a ridiculous convention their constitution ended up reading like the platform of the Democratic Socialists of America. The public downloaded and bought physical copies of the proposed constitution in huge numbers, only to find that it contained an enormous amount of silly, impractical, contradictory, and irrelevant things before it even got to describing how the basic powers of government would work. The public overwhelmingly rejected the constitution in a plebiscite, and a commission of “experts” was formed to go back to the drawing board. Now, far-right parties who wanted to keep the original constitution have a mandate to write a new one. My initial interest in this story was as a chance to apply my in-depth knowledge of political theory, but the prior constitution was so normal, and the proposed constitution is so goofy that it doesn’t take any sort of specialized knowledge in political theory to understand the situation. Instead, this is the story of what is perhaps the most hilarious far-left self-own of the modern era, which has found the left begging those they call fascists to consider how the pendulum can swing and thus take mercy.
We Have Nothing to Fear But Increased Subway Fares
It is common that a nation will have simmering resentment for years and then an unexpected event such as a police killing acts as a spark and the country explodes. However, as with the rest of this story, Chile has taken this to the point of comical absurdity. Chile’s 2019 protests started over a plan to increase subway fares by 4%. Students began to jump the turnstiles in protest, and the police responded, leading to violent clashes. Though the plan was withdrawn after 2 days, and the right wing President of the time Sebastien Pinera apologized and pledged to increase social spending, the protests could not be quelled.
Chile’s government continued to behave reactively towards the protests, and allowed themselves to be pushed to the point of accepting a plebiscite on a new constitution, a plan which was announced November, 15, 2019. The government had wanted Congress to do the work, but the protestors would not stop short of anything but a constitutional convention with delegates voted on by the public. The plebiscite was originally scheduled for April, 2020, but was moved back to October due to covid, which had remarkable timing in terms of how it disrupted protest movements the world over. The public voted both on if they should replace the constitution and if so, how a new one should be drafted; on both counts nearly 80% of the voters chose to draft a new constitution and have it done by a citizen constituent assembly. And so, it was decided that Chile’s constitution, as of 2020 amended 42 times since it was ratified, must be thrown out entirely because Pinochet stewarded its creation. It seems to have, yet again, been shown that such people are better at tearing down than building.
Help Wanted: Ship of Fools Needs Crew
The process of selecting the Constituent Assembly was absurd from the start. One wonders if voters understood what they were voting on when they chose to form a constitution in that fashion. This is part of a theme of this whole story, and also of what we call “woke leftists” generally, that their ideas are profoundly unfair and undemocratic though they never shut up about “inclusion,” “equality,” and “equity.” In this instance, they decided that the assembly needed to be gender equal; that is to say, the results of the election would be overruled to ensure precise gender parity with a maximum variation of one [on some great and glorious day a non-binary delegate will split the difference!] So instead of having democracy, the system went like this: every party made a list of candidates that were an equal number male and female, and if the regional election produced a gender disparity the lowest vote winning candidate of the dominant gender would be replaced by the candidate of the non-dominant gender who got the most votes without winning a seat. Further, every party had to nominate at least 5% disabled people, and there were special seats apportioned to Chile’s indigenous peoples- a subject of intense, condescending focus for this crowd. In short, the belief was what matters is not who is the most qualified- or even who the most people want to vote for- but instead various traits outside of a person’s control. We can only thank God that outside of their view towards the indigenous Latin Americans don’t generally racialize themselves or eachother as much as Anglophone Americans do or else they would have further Balkanized their Constituent Assembly.
When it came time to pick delegates, Chilean voters shocked the nation by choosing independent candidates as the largest bloc. In fact, on May 16, 2021 Al Jazeera published an article that included the line, “Analysts say the election will be a battle between candidates from parties on the left and the right, with independents not expected to draw any meaningful support”; this was follow by a May, 17 article titled, “Chile Chooses Independents to Draft New Constitution.” It’s always a bad idea to pull constitutional drafters solely from the general public selected by the public, but with them out of parties as well it was guaranteed to be out of control. The reality is statesmanship is an art that requires a lot of education and experience, and while people may become corrupt or establishmentarian over time this doesn’t change the fact that starry eyed people pulled off the street cannot write a constitution- especially 155 of them trying to agree. For example, though the American Constitution was debated and ratified at a convention, it was drafted by James Madison, who consulted an enormous number of texts and had a deep understanding of political theory.
So, as could be expected, they had a crackpot convention, where every man [and woman!] fought to get his [or her!] pet concern in and there were not the kind of leaders who can do proper “horse trading” or guide the group in a reasonable direction. They let many things through which have no place being laws at all, much less the foundation of a state. It was like one of the much-mocked Democratic Socialists of America meetings except that it actually mattered. Even so they did worse than one would have expected.
Though the delegates were considered to be primarily independent, in this instance it meant they were mostly left wing cranks who were not on any sort of leash. In a fawning profile in The New Yorker of Chile’s new left wing President, Gabriel Boric, it claimed that the zanier ideas had been shot down and it was mostly a hype promoted by hostile media. This is somewhat true, though as we’ll see, not nearly enough of them got shot down. Still, they highlighted some of the more colorful moments from the convention:
“A veteran Marxist named María Magdalena Rivera solemnly proposed a Soviet-style system in which all state institutions would be replaced by a “Multinational Assembly of Workers and Peoples” that would exclude such “parasitic figures” as senior clergy, the military, and owners of corporations. An environmental commission proposed special protections for fungi. One convencional, a tattooed man with a shaved head known as Baldy Vade, was ejected; he had run for office on an inspiring story of surviving cancer, which it turned out he’d never had.”
I have to give them credit that they didn’t try to promote running the country on the basis of “Multinational Assembly of Workers and Peoples.” And at least they didn’t give the fungi special rights, though that’s a bit misleading being as they did give the environment rights. Also, I love a good cancer scam, especially from some biker looking dude named “Baldy Vade.” No one claimed Chileans are boring.
A Constitution of No Majority
As I said earlier, the big joke of this whole thing is that Chile’s constitution is fine. It is not like neighboring Peru, where a severe constitutional problem has led to chronic political instability. In fact, the reason economic discontent was able to simmer so long and caused the government to fall into complacency due to what President Pinera described as a “lack of vision” is that Chile had a good constitution. It is also not a “frozen” document, and many changes have been made through normal processes. You can read Chile’s 2019 Constitution on Wikisource and see that it gets right down to business, starting with Chapter I, Article 1 which begins, “People are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It does have a strange I.9 titled “Terrorism, in any form, is essentially contrary to human rights” which would be fine in and of itself but then it goes on for some time about teachers and prohibiting them from working as teachers for 15 years if convicted of terrorism; I assume this is some sort of Pinochet holdover, as there was a great deal of hostility between his regime and academia1 [besides, of course, the famed Chicago Boys.] I didn’t read the entire thing, but it has 126 articles before you get to the modifications made in order to hold a new constitutional convention. It is not some sort of vestigial ad hoc justification for military dictatorship that Pinochet nostalgists held onto.
The proposed [and rejected] constitution on the other hand is something else. It’s like what you would get if a high school Human Rights Club was told to invent a fictional form of government which would solve all of society’s problems. It has 388 Articles, and doesn’t start really explaining how the government functions until it gets to Legislative Powers at Article 251. It also has 57 transitory provisions, which is to say, instructions for implementing the 388 Articles. It gives power to a strange body called the Chamber of the Regions that is meant to replace the Senate; this body seems mostly responsible for removing Presidents. There is a weird pattern where everything is simultaneously unitary and broken into separate parts, both the state itself and the individuals and groups within it. Really, you have to look at the proposed constitution for yourself. I don’t expect anyone to read all of it: their proposed constitution is so long that even using Ctrl + F it can be hard to find what you want.
I will highlight some of the more insane things, before getting to one I want to talk about the most.
Chile is a social and democratic State based on the rule of law. It is plurinational, intercultural, regional and ecological.
It is constituted as a solidary republic. Its democracy is inclusive and equal. It recognizes as intrinsic and inalienable values the dignity, freedom, substantive equality of human beings and their indissoluble relationship with nature.
The protection and guarantee of individual and collective human rights are the foundation of the State and guide all its activity. It is the duty of the State to generate the necessary conditions and provide the goods and services to ensure the equal enjoyment of rights and the integration of people into political, economic, social and cultural life for their full development.
Right, it is simultaneously “plurinational,” intercultural, regional, and solidary. It is ecological and humans have an “indissoluble” bond with nature, which I guess just means you have a legal right to visit national parks. It protects individual and collective rights, which definitely do not contradict eachother.
All the collegiate bodies of the State, the constitutionally autonomous, the superiors and directors of the Administration, as well as the boards of directors of State owned or semi-State owned companies, must have an equal composition that ensures that at least fifty percent of its members are women.
The State shall promote equal integration in its other institutions and in all public and private spaces and shall adopt measures for the representation of persons of diverse gender through the mechanisms established by the law.
So firstly, they must have an equal composition that is at least 50% women, meaning that it does not, in fact, have to be “equal” for men. The state must also do whatever necessary to cause women to be equally interested and thus represented in every field. Of course, anyone can see this destroys any trace of meritocracy as one is forced to select people due to immutable traits not on competence alone.
The State recognizes and promotes intercultural, horizontal and transversal dialogue between the various worldviews of the peoples and nations that live together in the country, with mutual dignity and respect. The exercise of public functions must guarantee institutional mechanisms and the promotion of public policies that favor the recognition and understanding of ethnic and cultural diversity, overcoming existing asymmetries in access, distribution and exercise of power, as well as in all areas of life in society.
“Transversal” is a geometric term for intersecting lines. How is anyone going to follow whatever this guideline means? I guess a judge will decide what it means, but based on what?
Individuals are holders of fundamental rights. Rights may be exercised and enforced individually or collectively.
Indigenous peoples and nations are holders of collective fundamental rights.
Nature is the holder of the rights recognized in this Constitution that are applicable to it.
Firstly, once again, they are removing the individual rights of the indigenous in a strange way, but also nature itself has rights [presumably natural rights?] They hopefully found a Lorax to act as its representative, as we all know trees have no tongues. What’s even more funny is that if you go to 252.3 you find that in the Chamber of Deputies [lower house] that the indigenous people are in a single national district. For all their talk about the diversity of the nations that throughout this document, they’ve put a bunch of isolated mountain and island tribes in a single non-geographic district for representative purposes, both treating them as if they are homogenous and also making campaigning unreasonably difficult especially for any individual one might consider “marginalized.”
Everyone has the right to participate in a digital space free of violence. The State shall carry out actions to prevent, promote, repair and guarantee this right, granting special protection to women, girls, boys, adolescents and sexual and gender diversities and dissidents.
Presumably this would mean you can log into Call of Duty and claim you just wanted to look around and then file criminal charges against someone for fragging you. Or I guess they just take cyber bullying really seriously. Also yet again, in the same section they say “everyone” and then list people with special privileges. It is trite, but it is as if their starting premise here is “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
And now, to perhaps the best one I saw:
Everyone has the right to adequate, healthy, sufficient, nutritionally complete and culturally relevant food. This right includes the guarantee of special food for those who require it for health reasons.
The State continuously and permanently guarantees the availability of and access to food that satisfies this right, especially in geographically isolated areas.
So many things to say here. First of all, a judge has to be able to interpret these things, so someone would have to argue in court what “culturally relevant” food is. Further, apparently if some elderly Jewish person were to retire to a shack 10,000 feet up in the Andes the government has a special obligation to travel there by llama delivering Kosher meals- gluten free ones if the person can claim to have an allergy. But this really shows the thing about this insane use of language: most states provide some food aid, so if you want to have a social democratic state you can simply say, “No one in a developed country should go hungry, the state will provide resources to ensure adequate nutrition to those in need.” Whether that is the right or wrong decision, nutritionism is a [questionable] science, and the need to feed prisoners has already established in most countries what constitutes adequate nutrition. You can have some economist determine how much money or what rations the poor need: this is already a common practice. That is a workable public policy, Article 56 is nonsense.
Further, and I don’t know why progressives refuse to see this, someone will always try to abuse laws. To an extent it is inevitable. Still, one should try to write them to avoid the most obvious abuses. With how this is written, combined with everything else in this constitution, you’ll get some crank anthropologist starting a cult and claiming to be part of an indigenous group that needs to eat human brains to respect their culture. Every aspect of this constitution is ripe for this kind of abuse.
What is perhaps even more funny is that Chile’s unofficial national food is the hot dog. They were brought back from New York by some guy in the 1920’s and the public really took a liking to them. The government could fulfill this requirement by giving out bags of hot dogs and buns with the relish they use and call it a day: nutritious and culturally relevant. Or they could just place free hot dog stands on the street. [If you’re wondering, yes, I did learn about Chile’s love of hot dogs from watching international television.]
As the constitution was being drafted, from July, 4th 2021 to July 4th 2022 [I supposed the United States remains an inspiration as far as government goes] the public had to vote for President. Before the constitution was released, Chile voted for Gabriel Boric as President, a 36 year old far-left hipster self-described “feminist” who shacks up with his “partner” in this deeply Catholic country. Boric tied his political fortunes to the drafters, full of the spirit of hope and change. Finally, a constitution for Chile’s everyman [and tree!]
When the constitution was released the public rushed out to get copies [well, the people under 70 just went online,] and much of the public had the same reaction:
On September 4th, 2022, the constitution was rejected 62%-38%, meaning that roughly 40% of the population had voted for a new constitution to be drafted by this goofy gender-equal assembly, but then did not want the monstrosity they produced. I guess woke progressivism is one of those things that sounds good until you give them power. C’est La Vie.
Writing the Right Right Wing Constitution
There are many interesting and entertaining things about Latin American politics, in fact just about everything if you are a politico. Perhaps the most entertaining for someone who lives to the north is that in the average Latin American election both candidates are outside of the “Overton Window” of the United States. Republicans and Democrats are to the center of the Latin American sides. However, what is curious about this particular situation is that usually the more extreme cultural insanity is kept to the Anglosphere. However, this draft constitution said “pregnant persons” and “people with the capacity to gestate.” [In their defense, it at least followed using “women” in the normal sense.] Regardless, though in the post-Cold War era Latin America has become more moderate and democratic, in Presidential elections there is still generally a communist sympathizer [or open Marxist] against a military junta apologist. The most curious thing is that a not insubstantial amount of voters will vote for someone like Bolsanaro in one election and then Lula in the next. That said, I know people who voted for Obama and then Trump. Government rarely works well, so there is always a temptation towards change for the more restive parts of the public.
In this instance, the so-called Pinochetistas were probably helped by the fact that they didn’t want to change the constitution and people didn’t want to vote. Associated Press quoted a 45 year-old architect who said, “I’m only going to vote because I don’t want to pay the fine.” In fact, 70% of voters reported being apathetic. This does, as ever, beg the question of what good comes from mandatory voting, as those who don’t want to vote could not possibly be making the best decisions. Alternately, perhaps their cynicism makes them better voters than people who believe in the system, but only people who believe in the system want mandatory voting.
The second round of choosing delegates and planning to make a new constitution was done in a far less zany fashion. They had a normal vote- this time only giving the 13% indigenous population the 51st representative; it seems to me like at that point you should just let the 13% indigenous vote like everyone else, but this sort of thing happens when you divide society into demographic factions and then lose power. Further, this time they had 24 experts present a draft constitution as a starting point. The Republicans, what is called a “far-right” party led by Jose Kast who lost to Boric by 10 points in the last Presidential election, won by a large margin. They got 35% of the votes, gaining 22 of the 50 available seats, while a “traditional” conservative coalition “Safe Chile” got 21% of the votes for 11 seats. Meanwhile, the left wing “Unity for Chile” coalition got 17 seats, below the 21 required for veto. This means, to the extent the “far-right” and “traditional” right can agree they can shape Chile however they want. For Chile’s leftists, this is a doomsday entirely of their own making.
Having won this power, it is not clear what the rightists should or will do with it. They already liked the prior constitution and it is probably good for their future power to look responsible and not be vindictive. At the same time, they have to do something with their mandate or else they will look weak. Though he is begging for mercy, Boric is not incorrect that they should be aware of how political winds can change and “act with wisdom and temperance.” At the same time, the constitution the left tried to pass would have been a maddening hellscape for any reasonable person to live under.
There is a precedent to this situation from Ancient Rome, where occasionally a dictator would be appointed but then news came that the crisis had somehow or another already been resolved. Not wanting to waste a mandate, the dictator would make some beneficial change to the state and then resign. Usually this would win a man admiration, but it can upset whoever loses from the change and then leave the erstwhile dictator without the protection of an office.
Regardless of what direction the Chilean right takes, the idiocy of their opponents has given them a once-in-a-century opportunity to reshape the country. They need to act simultaneously confidently and responsibly, but it isn’t clear what changes they should make to the state.
Conclusion: A Congress of Internet Commentors
Chile’s attempted constitutional reform is an incredible story. There is much to be learned from it for years to come. Anyone who knows political theory could have told you that a constitutional convention made up wholly of the commons would never work, though even so they took it to truly impressive levels of lunacy. It is well established in political theory that even with experienced career politicians any political body voted for by the commons will inevitably draw a fair amount of irresponsible cranks; this is a major purpose of having bicameral legislatures. Further, anyone could have told you that given the option the demos would irresponsibly vote for themselves to have all the power. As long as they had already separated out the indigenous, the far wiser thing to do [besides simply reforming the existing constitution] would have been to bring in members of the current Congress, business and community leaders, high level clerics, former Presidents, and other relevant stakeholders or luminaries of society. Instead they produced a comic example of what happens when decisions are made based on focus groups of people picked up off the street, except in a situation where it matters a great deal.
I’ve avoided delving into political theory simply because their folly is so obvious. However, there are multiple chapter titles in Discourses on Livy which describe specific mistakes they made, one of which I would like to highlight. Book I, Chapter 25 is titled, “Whoever wishes to reform a long-established state in a free city should retain at least the appearance of its ancient ways.” These lunatics, for no reason but wanting to tear down tradition tried to “abolish” the Senate and replace it with a “Chamber of Regions,” which would then still function as an upper house. Bear in mind, the original purpose of the US Senate was to represent state governments, so Senators representing a larger region than the lower house districts, perhaps selected by regional government, is not some sort of novel concept. Simply modifying the selection and function of the Senate would have received limited notice. Once they were getting rid of the Senate, then much more explaining had to be done, which is all the worse as their idea was stupid and overly complicated [I could barely explain it.] And Chile is, after all, part of Latin, America. Their political tradition goes back to Rome and having a Senate is the most ancient and proud of traditions for a free Latin state. It wasn’t just removing the name of Senate though, they sought to invent a new government whole cloth, irresponsibly changing all they saw.
I can’t imagine how or why anyone thought this would work. Both the form of government or that it could be sold to the public. You have to be a communist dictator to implement things like this. It is one thing to have to work out contradictions within a constitution or between conflicting laws- after all, that is what Supreme Courts are for- it is another thing entirely when an enormous constitution is full of contradictions which take part within a sentence. Anyone who has taken a high school class on government should have been able to see the many problems with what they were doing. It would have been far better to acknowledge they failed to form a constitution than to have pushed this freak show of a political system out to the public, but the delegates were functionally random people, not political parties with a collective future to worry about. For Chile’s left, this will surely live on as the greatest embarrassment of their lives: creating their shot at reforming society based on silly ultra-progressive principles and landing far below their starting point. The question remains, however, how this will impact the fickle segment of Chile’s electorate in the future, being as in some ways all the political parties are impugned and in some ways none of them are. We can be sure of one thing: you can’t simply have the public select 155 people who have high opinions of themselves and put them in a room and tell them to wholly reform an already functional state. Such individuals are not nearly as responsible as they think they are.
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Update 5/14: My friend who teaches Spanish tells me that in Spanish “terrorism” generally means “state terrorism” such as throwing people out of helicopters, so this is functionally a legal protection against extrajudicial killings. The specification of teachers remains strange.