These essays by Renato Cristi and Carlos Ruiz analyze the thinking of five twentieth-century Chilean conservatives: Alberto Edwards, Francisco Antonio Encina, Jaime Eyzaguirre, Fr. Osvaldo Lira, and Mario Góngora. All of them (though Lira less than the other four) are known as historians whose writings try to divine the true lineaments of Chilean nationality as revealed by the past. Their forms of conservatism are closely associated with Catholicism and corporatism (Eyzaguirre and Lira) and certain brands of nationalism (the other three). Both Edwards and Encina (the latter taking some of his key ideas from the former) were deeply concerned with the fomenting of a strongly developed organic national community. Góngora, in some of what proved, alas, to be his last writings, reflected on the incompatibility of true Chilean nationhood, as he saw it, with the Friedmanite “neoliberalism” (confusingly termed “neoconservatism” in the United States) that began to take hold of sections of the Chilean political Right in the late 1960s and that later became the leitmotiv of national policy during the Pinochet era.
Cristi and Ruiz do not really chronicle the ideas of Chile’s modern Right as such (that enterprise would have to embrace the Liberals as well as the Conservatives proper). But they have certainly provided a sophisticated and thoughtful account of five Chileans whose views command respect, whatever we ultimately make of them. For anyone who lived through the 1980s in either the United States or Britain, it is pleasant to be reminded that there was once a time when “conservatism” was more than a simple rationalization of material gain. At least none of these five strong-minded, idiosyncratic Chileans would ever have been crass enough to say “Greed is good.”