November 25 was a date of cosmic importance this year. Jupiter joined a waning crescent Moon in the dawn sky, “bleeding inside each other’s wounds,” according to the America’s Most Haunted Twitter account, whatever that means. But it wasn’t the only event of cosmic significance to occur that evening. As the entire world now knows, and probably no longer cares, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro finally died at the age of 90 – and on General Pinochet’s 101st birthday, no less.
Whether the death of another communist was a welcome present for the deceased Chilean dictator, or whether joining him in Hell would be the supreme punishment, only America’s Most Haunted can tell us. But such a bizarre coincidence hasn’t occurred in the world of politics since former US presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within six hours of each other – on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
It’s fitting because Castro and Pinochet were not only mirror images of each other – brutal dictators with similar tactics guided by ideologies on opposite ends of the political spectrum – they also both served as a remarkably accurate litmus test for democratic credentials on both the Left and the Right. Because if you find Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone, and Justin Trudeau making excuses for Castro’s ‘excesses’ because of his education and healthcare policies nauseating, remember that Margaret Thatcher was a personal friend and admirer of Pinochet.
This champion of democratic capitalism and scourge of Soviet human rights abuses was willing to overlook the very same brutality in Chile because Pinochet’s junta had implemented to an even greater degree the policies of Thatcher’s economic godfather, Milton Friedman (a privilege of dictatorship). Even Friedman himself, a god-figure amongst libertarians, saw the dictatorship as an opportunity to prove his ideas right – despite misgivings about the ‘excesses’ of the regime.
I’m guilty of it myself. I’m one of these irritating people at pains to point out the difference between liberty and democracy, and tend to agree with Friedrich von Hayek – that other titan of libertarian economics – who said he would always ‘prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism,’ but generally advocated limited democracy. I condemn Pinochet’s gut-wrenching record of torture and summary execution but then find myself comparing him favourably to Castro because he put a time limit on his dictatorship and because Chile is now much better off.
But what’s worrying is this lefty love-in for Castro is just the latest in a disturbing tendency gathering force in 2016 – the rhetoric of post-democratic politics. From Remoaners remoaning that ‘Brexit reminds us some things are too important to be decided by the people’ and David Lammy MP urging Parliament to ‘stop the madness’ of a democratic vote, to arch-Remoaner Matthew Parris remoaning that ‘After Trump, I’m losing faith in democracy’, it’s becoming ever more acceptable to denounce the ballot box as rule by the ignorant, rule by the prejudiced, rule by the mob.
It’s tempting to think of this dangerous tendency as a new development, but I suspect it’s simply a case of people finally being honest about what they’ve always thought. That true democrats are, and always have been, an exceptionally rare breed. That most of us simply co-opted democracy as a means to and end. That democracy is currently political expedient to the Right but no longer to the Left. But, as Castro and Pinochet renew their ideological warfare in the afterlife, perhaps the graves of their victims ought to remind us how precious our democracy really is.
Paul is Creative Director for Conservatives for Liberty. Follow him on Twitter: @Whiggery
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty