Cover image for In the Name of Reason: Technocrats and Politics in Chile By Patricio Silva

In the Name of Reason

Technocrats and Politics in Chile

Patricio Silva


$78.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03453-9

$34.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03454-6

Available as an e-book

272 pages
6" × 9"

In the Name of Reason

Technocrats and Politics in Chile

Patricio Silva

“State organization was highly elaborated in Chile well before it took shape in neighboring republics. The required technical expertise was supplied by highly developed systems of educational and professional training that nurtured a local technocratic elite. Much that is distinctive about Chilean politics—both under democracy and during the dictatorship—can only be understood in this context. Patricio Silva is a master of this topic, and his analysis not only illustrates the strange dynamics of Chilean political development but also indicates why that experience has proved difficult to transfer elsewhere.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
The major role played by a technocratic elite in Chilean politics was perhaps most controversial when the “Chicago Boys” ran the economic program of Augusto Pinochet’s military regime from 1973 to 1990. But technocrats did not suddenly come upon the scene when Pinochet engineered the coup against Salvador Allende’s government. They had long been important contributors to Chile’s approach to the challenges of economic development.

In this book, political scientist and historian Patricio Silva examines their part in the story of twentieth-century Chile. Even before industrialization had begun in Chile, the impact of positivism and the idea of “scientific government” gained favor with Chilean intellectuals in the late nineteenth century. The technocrats who emerged from this background became the main architects designing the industrial policies of the state through the Ibáñez government (1927–31), the state-led industrialization project of the late 1930s and 1940s, the Frei and Allende administrations, Pinochet’s dictatorship, and the return to democracy from the Aylwin administration to the present. Thus, contrary to the popular belief inspired by the dominance of the Chicago Boys, technocrats have not only been the tools of authoritarian leaders but have also been important players in sustaining democratic rule. As Silva shows, technocratic ideology in Chile has been quite compatible with the interests and demands of the large middle classes, who have always defended meritocratic values and educational achievements above the privileges provided by social backgrounds. And for most of the twentieth century, technocrats have provided a kind of buffer zone between contending political forces, thereby facilitating the functioning of Chilean democracy in the past and the present.

“State organization was highly elaborated in Chile well before it took shape in neighboring republics. The required technical expertise was supplied by highly developed systems of educational and professional training that nurtured a local technocratic elite. Much that is distinctive about Chilean politics—both under democracy and during the dictatorship—can only be understood in this context. Patricio Silva is a master of this topic, and his analysis not only illustrates the strange dynamics of Chilean political development but also indicates why that experience has proved difficult to transfer elsewhere.”
“There are many books that look at Chile’s political history in the twentieth century, but very few have focused on the critical role that technocrats have had on the country’s economy and politics. In The Name of Reason provides an outstanding analysis of the forces that have stimulated the development of technocratic groups in Chile and their impact on the country’s economy and society. Patricio Silva presents a new and creative analysis of critical economic policies and the role of technocrats both under democratic and authoritarian regimes. This book is essential reading for those interested in Chilean politics, economic policy making, and the role of technocrats in Chile.”
In the Name of Reason brilliantly shakes up the pejorative conventional wisdom regarding technocracy and democracy. Patricio Silva links the problem of technocracy to the larger question of the role of the middle class in Latin American politics and socioeconomic development. Largely of middle-class origins, technocrats may make a positive contribution by offering their political masters a buffer from political pressures in the policy process, thereby contributing to political stability and state-building.”

Patricio Silva is Professor of Modern Latin American History at Leiden University in the Netherlands.


List of Tables


List of Acronyms

Introduction: Technocrats and Politics in Chile

1 Scientific Politics in Chile: The Positivist Design

2 Pablo Ramírez and the “Administrative State”

3 Technocrats and the Entrepreneurial State

4 The Age of Global Planning

5 Pinochet and the Chicago Boys

6 The Concertación and the Emergence of a Technocratic Democracy

7 Technocracy in Chile: Past, Present, and Future




Technocrats and Politics in Chile

Studies of the Chilean political system have historically been characterized by their strong emphasis on the role of political parties (Edwards and Frei 1949; Gil 1966; Garretón 1989; Scully 1992). This particular feature of Chile’s political system has brought Manuel Antonio Garretón to claim that the political parties have constituted the “backbone” of Chilean society (1989, xvi). From a similar perspective Liliana de Riz concludes that “Chilean political history, unlike any other in the neighboring countries, developed with, and through, the political parties” (1989, 57). And finally, Larissa A. Lomnitz and Ana Melnick (2000) have argued that the political parties’ influence on Chilean society has been such that they have permeated, and in a sense modeled, the country’s dominant political culture.

There is no doubt that Chile has a solid system of political parties, a system that has, for many decades, made it possible for a relatively stable democracy to operate (see Valenzuela 1989). For this reason, it is not my intention to question the important presence and influence of political parties in the political and social dynamics of the country; nonetheless, I do not believe that they monopolized politics in twentieth-century Chile. As early as 1988, Alan Angell had expressed doubts about this reading of the political history of the country, rightly highlighting the strong antiparty feeling that has also been a constant in Chilean politics since the 1920s. The government of Arturo Alessandri (1924–25), the two administrations of Carlos Ibáñez (1927–31 and 1952–58), and the government of Jorge Alessandri (1958–64) all “flew the banner” of antipartisanship. To this list we should add the considerable citizen support received by General Pinochet with his “politics of anti-politics” (Loveman and Davies 1997) and, more recently, the support obtained in the 1990s by conservative leader Joaquín Lavín, who has also resorted to a clearly apolitical discourse (see P. Silva 2001b).

My analysis of the evolution of the political institutions of Chile has led me to conclude that, together with political parties, technocrats have also played a key role in the administration and ideological orientation of the different political projects that Chile has embarked on since the 1920s. A cursory overview of key historical milestones gives evidence of this. Thus, we can see how technocrats played a central role in the reforms launched in 1920 after Arturo Alessandri’s victory, which were further reinforced in 1927–31 by the government of Colonel Carlos Ibáñez. These reforms not only implied the end of the oligarchic state, but also brought along with them a strong modernization of the state apparatus (see Ibáñez Santa María 1984 and 2003). Technocrats also played a leading role in the industrialization process promoted by the state from 1939 on after the foundation of the Corporación de Fomento (CORFO, the state development agency), which became the main tool to give shape and implement the industrialization-based developmental strategy (Pinto [1958] 1985; Muñoz 1986).

In the 1960s and until the military takeover of 1973—the period that Mario Góngora ([1981] 1988) so aptly called “the era of global planning”—the influence of technocrats increased together with the expansion of the state apparatus after the creation of new bodies such as the Land Reform Corporation (CORA) and the National Planning Agency (ODEPLAN) and the administrative structure that emerged as a result of the nationalization of copper in the late 1970s. During this period, technocrats also acted as the ideologists of developmental-style reforms through the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) and the universities, advocating a purported structuralism that called for active action by the state (see Ahumada [1958] 1973, Pinto 1973a, C. Kay 1989, and Hira 1999).

After the military coup of September 1973, the so-called Chicago Boys were to become the main engineers of the neoliberal economic and ideological policy. One of them, Sergio de Castro, Pinochet’s minister of finance, was to be for a long time their undisputed leader within the cabinet of the military government (C. Huneeus 2007; Arancibia and Balart, 2007). During the transition to democracy, in 1985–90, private institutes (such as CIEPLAN, FLACSO, and so on) and technical think tanks of the democratic opposition performed a crucial job of rapprochement to the technocrats of the regime, facilitating the agreements that preceded the changeover (Puryear 1994; Levy 1996).

Following the restoration of democracy in 1990, there was a strong expansion of the role of technocrats in the four administrations of the government coalition between 1990 and 2008, during which economists with a strong technopolitical imprint such as Alejandro Foxley, Eduardo Aninat, Nicolás Eyzaguirre, and Andrés Velasco were to become key figures in the first four governments of the Concertación. Finally, it is also possible to see that the project for the modernization and internationalization of the Chilean economy and society supported by the Concertación governments since 1990 has itself positioned technocrats to become key actors in future years (P. Silva 1997). Not only have these technocrats been the main executors of policies and programs, but they have also quite often supplied the political movements with the necessary instruments to articulate their political projects. One of the main characteristics of technocrats has been their continued presence within the state apparatus, providing administrative stability at times of strong political turmoil (1931–38); facilitating agreements and rapprochements (1988–90); or strengthening democracy through attainment of economic success and internationalization of the Chilean economy and society (1990–2008).

In the course of the twentieth century there has been a sordid struggle between political parties and antipartisan sectors. The latter have in general tended to give their support to solutions that are technocratic in nature. Nevertheless, political parties have also made use of technocratic models and projects conceived of mainly by technocrats, which have ranged from industrialization via CORFO; to Eduardo Frei Montalva’s “revolution in liberty”; to Salvador Allende’s “Chilean way to socialism”; to Augusto Pinochet’s “silent revolution” and the “growth with equity” project of the Concertación governments.

Identifying Technocrats

This study expressly seeks to make visible the importance that technocrats have had in the functioning of the Chilean political system since the 1920s. Let it be said, however, that technocrats themselves are partly to blame for their relative invisibility and absence in studies on Chilean politics. In fact, the perception of their role in politics has been impeded by their tendency to distance themselves from political parties and mass media. Furthermore, technocrats do not identify themselves as such because of the pejorative connotation assigned to the concept by public opinion, since a “technocrat” is generally equated with a person who is cold, calculating, and lacking in social sensitivity.

In his classical study on technocracy, Jean Meynaud gives a minimal definition, namely, “the political situation in which effective power belongs to technologists termed technocrats” (1968, 29). On the basis of this minimal definition, Meynaud embarks upon an in-depth exploration of the different facets of technocracy and of the technocrats that constitute it. His analysis reveals the image of the technocrat as an individual with a clear technoscientific orientation who acquires political influence in the high government circles because of his (or her) specialized skills and expertise in the fields of economic policy, finance, and state administration. However, he makes it clear that the political power that technocrats may attain is not permanent and that it is always subordinated to the power of the politicians that steer the course of government. More than political power per se, it is “political influence” that technocrats exercise on the powers-that-be, by giving advice on complex economic issues and public policies (21–70). In turn, Giovanni Sartori (1984) rightly warns that the relative increase in the technocrats’ power observed in modern societies does not have to mean increased power for technocracy itself. As he puts it, even when scientists govern, it does not necessarily mean that they govern like scientists (1984, 328–29). Frank Fischer (1990) stresses that technocracy is the allegedly apolitical adaptation of expertise to the tasks of governance. Thus, technocrats justify themselves by appealing only to technical expertise grounded on scientific forms of knowledge in order to find technical solutions to political problems (1990, 18). For the purposes of this study, I shall use David Collier’s definition, namely, technocrats are “individuals with a high level of specialized academic training which serves as a principal criterion on the basis of which they are selected to occupy key decisionmaking or advisory roles in large, complex organizations—both public and private” (1979, 403).

Although most technocrats are trained as engineers, economists, financial experts, or managers, expertise in economic and administrative issues is not a necessary condition for the adoption of a technocratic outlook. As this study will show, individuals with formal training in sociology, political science, and the like can under certain circumstances become “technocratized” as they become influenced by the existing technocratic ideology and eventually accept the idea that decisions must be made by experts.

A recurring theme in the debate has been the existing differences among technocrats, technicians, bureaucrats, intellectuals, and politicians, and above all, the nature of their interaction within the political system. For Meynaud the difference between a technician and a technocrat was fundamentally one of degree, determined by the level of decision-making in which they take part and their influence on political leaders. As he put it, “The switch from technical adviser to technocrat is accomplished when the technologist himself acquires the capacity for making decisions, or carries the most weight in determining the choices of the person officially responsible for them. . . . The very large majority of technologists never reach the technocratic stage” (1968, 30–31; emphasis added). Later studies, which deal with the relation between technicians and technocrats, have paid more attention to the different public spheres in which both operate, and to their career patterns, as well as to their level and type of education (Camp 1980). Thus, Miguel A. Centeno and Sylvia Maxfield, when discussing Mexico, observe that technicians traditionally specialize in specific substantive areas such as health and agriculture and tend to enjoy job security and long tenure in traditional institutions of public administration. Besides, most of them have received their technical training in technological schools and universities in their home countries. As for technocrats, they usually operate in specialized planning institutions and think tanks that are more interdisciplinary in nature. These are experts who, more often than not, have postgraduate academic degrees from foreign universities, work both in public and private institutions, and frequently have some work experience in other countries (1992, 62–67).

The distinction between bureaucrats and technocrats appears to be less problematic, but here also there are gray areas with respect to their commonalities and differences. The most generalized opinion is that the bureaucrat only obeys and implements top-down legal guidelines, without questioning their legitimacy or effectiveness, according to the classical Weberian postulates. Besides, in the Latin American context, their level of professional training has traditionally been quite low, which in some cases may only include secondary education and practical experience acquired in years of service in public agencies (see Cleaves 1974). Technocrats consider bureaucrats limited in scope and old-fashioned, and likely to obstruct or even block the great administrative and economic reforms that they seek to implement. This may account for why they openly declare themselves the enemies of traditional bureaucracy, as well as why they often blindly attempt to reduce the number of government agencies, and to eliminate the largest possible number of bureaucrats, on the grounds of pursuit of efficiency (Camp 1983).

Despite their contempt of bureaucrats, however, many technocrats operate in bureaucratic environments (ministries, public agencies, and so on) and must work side by side with them, and are often forced to accept the bureaucratic rationale in an attempt to attain results in their policies. But also, the improved level of technical training in managerial methods reached by many bureaucrats in recent decades has made them somewhat approach the “cosmovision” of technocrats, which has even led them on occasion to adopt a stance that might be considered clearly technocratic, favoring the technification of decision-making and the assessment of personal merit (see Bresser-Pereira and Spink 1999).

Indeed, relations between technocrats and intellectuals in modern societies have been more complex and full of open conflict over hegemony than those between technocrats and bureaucrats (see Gouldner 1979). Currently, intellectuals in Latin America are generally sociologists, political scientists, and philosophers who have traditionally made it their job to formulate critical interpretations of the sociopolitical and cultural development of their respective countries, offering at the same time alternatives for change. They criticize technocrats for their apparent detachment from social and cultural reality and from the needs of the population, and for their stubborn insistence on applying to developing economies rationalist-style economic and financial policies based on technical and theoretical guidelines generated in industrialized countries. In turn, technocrats generally look down on and distrust intellectuals, whom they identify as the main culprits of the process of political radicalization and economic collapse experienced by many Latin American countries in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Latin American technocrats were largely subordinated to the intellectuals, whose map of the “road ahead” was based largely on political and ideological considerations. In those years, sociologists, rather than economists, exerted a greater level of influence within government circles. One can state that from the early 1960s until the mid-1970s intellectuals exercised a large degree of influence within the political elite of many countries, even when they took an oppositional stance. They were very visible actors who interpreted the national reality and defended particular ideological models through the universities and the mass media (Brunner and Flisfisch 1985).

The emergence of the military dictatorships of the 1970s was to produce a dramatic weakening of the traditional intellectual cadre, which became one of the central victims of repression. However, after the restoration of democracy in the 1980s, intellectuals—who, by definition, have the ability to come up with a critical view of the sociopolitical reality—have failed to make their voices heard with their past strength (Petras 1990). What can be observed instead from the 1980s on is that some intellectuals have adopted technocratizing attitudes. This can be seen, for instance, in the fact that in the last two decades intellectuals have been paying greater attention to the issues of government transparency and effectiveness. This concern, in my view, is connected to the increasing internationalization, academization, and professionalization of Latin American social scientists and intellectuals in general. During the last two decades, the meritocratic orientation of many intellectuals has been encouraged by a series of developments such as the growing dependence on foreign donors for financing their research, the increasing importance attached to postgraduate degrees obtained in U.S. and European universities, the participation in international congresses, and the growing acceptation of the tenet “publish or perish” (Brunner and Barrios 1987).

Finally, the relation between politicians and technocrats has also been plagued with conflict, in which the former have attempted to prevent the ascent of technocracy, which they consider a direct threat to their power within the political system. What we have witnessed is that the ascent of technocracy has been fostered by the decline of political parties in the new democracies emerging in Latin America since the 1980s. Political parties, which used to operate as the social mobilization mechanisms par excellence, no longer have the convening power and representativeness that they enjoyed in the past (Domínguez 1994). We should also bear in mind that in many countries, political parties used to be the primary recruiting ground for upper-level government officials. Their current decline has generated in some countries a greater space for the use of meritocratic criteria in the recruitment of cabinet members and candidates for other important government posts, who now simply define themselves as “independent” and even as “apolitical.”

In the 1960s there was a tendency in academic discussion to stress the strong differences between technocrats and politicians, and the subordination of the former to the latter, who kept firm control of the government and the state bureaucracy (Vernon 1963). James Cochrane (1967) makes it clear that technocrats and politicians have different perceptions of how to preserve government legitimacy. So while the technocrats believe legitimacy is best maintained through a professional administration and the use of technical criteria for decision-making, politicians believe that the regime’s legitimacy rests on the preservation of old national ideals and decision-making according to political guidelines.

Raymond Vernon’s original dichotomy between politicians and technocrats no longer reflects the dynamics of the Latin American political elites; for since the early 1970s the dividing line between politicians and technocrats has become extremely fine. That is to say, over the years the rise of technocrats to the highest posts in the government has demanded that they acquire the technical and practical skills of both technocrats and politicians. However, this “new” type of technocrat—the “técnico-politician” (Grindle 1977), “political technocrat” (Camp 1985), or “technopols” (Domínguez 1994)—is actually not that new. As I show later, “technopoliticians” have been important members of the Chilean political administration since as early as the late 1920s.

Studying Technocracy in Chile: A Personal Journey

This book is the product of a long personal journey. I came across the technocratic phenomenon in Chile in the mid-1980s while I was writing my dissertation (P. Silva 1987). Although this study was not explicitly centered on the role of technocrats, each of its pages gave evidence of the significance of the group of technocrats popularly known as the Chicago Boys in economic policy in general and the agrarian strategy in particular. In fact, the Chicago Boys were the architects of the socioeconomic policies and were among the main ideologues of the military regime (see Rabkin 1993).

The Chicago Boys and their neoliberal economic policies were one of the elements most criticized by the opposition to the military regime, especially after the economic crisis of the early 1980s (see O’Brien and Roddick 1983). What I found striking was that once the military regime was over, the press and public opinion practically stopped talking about not only the Chicago Boys but the technocratic phenomenon in general. This prompted me to explore the question of whether technocracy had really lost its strength with the end of Pinochet’s regime and the restoration of democracy. The first product of this inquiry was my article “Technocrats and Politics in Chile: From the Chicago Boys to the CIEPLAN Monks,” published in 1991. In that article I suggest that the technocratic phenomenon in Chile, which had seen itself notably strengthened during the authoritarian period, seemed to have survived perfectly the transition from an authoritarian to a democratic regime and, in fact, there had already emerged initial evidence that made it possible to anticipate that technocrats would have an important role in the new democracy. Far from taking accusatory aim, my analysis intended rather to contribute with some political and sociological explanations related to the continuity of the technocratic phenomenon.

From then on, I concentrated on the search for an explanation of a phenomenon that I had already detected while writing my dissertation, the analysis of which became more and more urgent every day after the experience of the democratic transition and after the installation of the first democratic government in 1990, namely, which factors make the theme of the role of technocracy in Chile “appear” and “disappear” from political and academic debate in the country. What I had observed was that the theme of the existence of the technocratic phenomenon in Chile emerged fleetingly during the government of Jorge Alessandri (1958–64), and subsequently practically disappeared during the governments of Eduardo Frei Montalva (1964–70) and of Salvador Allende (1970–73). The theme reemerged strongly under the regime of General Pinochet (1973–90) and then, as already mentioned, disappeared again under the first three governments of the Concertación (1990–2006). All this was going on despite the fact that a serious analysis of the situation showed that since the late 1950s not only had there been no interruption in the importance of the technocratic phenomenon, technocratic influence within Chilean state institutions has been growing constantly (P. Silva 1993a).

It seems that the cycles of “death and resurrection” of technology as a subject of public discussion can be linked to whether or not the center-left intelligentsia is in control of the government. In retrospect we can see that the public discussion of technocracy only acquired political relevance during the Alessandri government (that is to say, before the advent of the Christian Democratic technocrats into government), and during the military government of General Pinochet (when the left-wing technocracy was removed from the state institutions). On the other hand, the discussion on technocracy petered out during the governments of Eduardo Frei Montalva and Salvador Allende (when center-left technocrats occupied influential positions), and following the restoration of democracy under the governments of Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Ricardo Lagos, and Michelle Bachelet (when these center-left technocrats regained control of the state institutions).

The little acknowledgment until now of the role played by technocrats in the political and economic development of Chile is, in my opinion, related to the central position occupied by political parties. The parties, for ideological and electoral reasons, have systematically misrepresented the history of modern Chile as entirely the product of party politics, omitting all mention of technocrats and technocracy. Owing to the prevalence of the democratic regime, the eventual recognition of the technocratic element was considered to be problematic and not in keeping with the prevailing democratic ideology. This became even more marked in the 1960s and early 1970s because of the populist character of these experiments.

My next step was to carry out a historical study seeking the “origins” of technocracy in Chile—where was it born and under what circumstances? In this search, I came across a relatively little known technocratic project sponsored by the government of Colonel Carlos Ibáñez (1927–31) that is crucial to the understanding of the subsequent evolution of the technocratic phenomenon in Chile (see P. Silva 1994). Until the present, the Ibáñez period has always been a taboo subject among Chilean political scientists and historians. Because of its authoritarian nature it has been regarded as a disagreeable black spot in the country’s long-standing democratic tradition. Hence, until recently no major aspect of the Ibáñez government, including its technocratic orientation, had been thoroughly studied by Chilean scholars.

In particular the many existing similarities, mutatis mutandis, between this early technocratic project and the administrative model adopted by Pinochet fifty years later moved me to carry out a comparative analysis of the nature of the alliance between the military and technocrats in both regimes (see P. Silva 2001a). I also found a strong continuity in the management of the state and of its institutions starting with Ibáñez in the late 1920s until the late 1950s. In fact, the young cadre of engineers who were first hired by the state under Ibáñez years later were running CORFO (founded in 1939) and managing the main enterprises born from the process of industrialization of the state in the decades that followed (see Muñoz 1993). All of this gives evidence of the durability of technocratic action in Chile, from the 1920s until the present fourth Concertación term of office.

My most recent exploration has centered around the intellectual and ideological background to the formation of the first technocratic cadre in the 1920s. This research has led me to two great Chilean intellectuals whose influence was fundamental in the genesis of the pretechnocratic conceptions that would later materialize under the regime of Colonel Ibáñez. They are José Victorino Lastarria (1817–88) and Valentín Letelier (1852–1919), who proclaimed the need to adopt “scientific politics” in Chile (see P. Silva 2006a). The study of the life and work of both authors reveals the positivist, middle-class, democratic, and liberal origins of technocratic thought in Chile, which explains much about the evolution of Chilean technocracy in the twentieth century. I have also discovered a connection between the ideas of Lastarria and Letelier, and the formation of Ibáñez’s technocratic team in the late-1920s. In fact, Valentín Letelier, Lastarria’s most important disciple, inspired within the Radical Party (Partido Radical), partly through the Freemasons, the emergence of quite a cohort of young politicians, among them Armando Quezada, Luis Galdames, and Pablo Ramírez, who were later to play an outstanding role in the government of Ibáñez. Ramírez in particular was to encourage the promotion of technocratic engineers to strategic positions of power (P. Silva 1998, 2006b).

This book represents a synthesis of my recent research on the technocratic phenomenon in Chile. Most of the material used in it comes from different articles, chapters of books, and unpublished manuscripts, which have been thoroughly reformulated and placed within the context of a larger historical and analytical perspective. This book does not seek to become “the history of technocracy in Chile,” but rather to present a series of theses on the evolution and importance of this actor. For this reason, and depending on their significance for understanding the technocratic phenomenon in Chile, some historical periods will receive more attention than others. By the same token, sometimes the analysis will be focused on the important role played by some specific individuals, such as Lastarria, Letelier, and Ramírez.

Most of the arguments presented in this study will be arranged along the following three analytic and thematic axes, which have been central to the general debate that has been taking place in the last forty years on the relation between technocracy and politics, namely, technocracy and industrial society, technocracy and social class, and finally, technocracy and political regime.

Technocracy and Advanced Industrial Societies

Many classical studies on the technocratic phenomenon either assert or imply that technocracy and its incursion within the realm of politics is directly connected to the consolidation of advanced industrial societies (Galbraith 1967; Meynaud 1968; Putnam 1977; Gouldner 1979; Fischer 1990) and even postindustrial societies (Ellul [1954] 1964; Bell 1973; Lindberg 1976). This argument highlights the fact that the industrialization process and the growing social, political, and technological complexity of the industrialized societies have led to the increased importance of assigning the decision-making process to people with technical credentials, rather than to those with traditional political aptitudes. Thus, for example, Fischer points out that “historically, the theory and practice of technocracy have been political and ideological responses to industrialization and technological progress” (1990, 17; emphasis added).

As I shall suggest in this study, this has not necessarily been the case in Latin America, where the importation of ideas, doctrines, ideologies, and social projects originating in the core countries has been a constant since the emergence of the Latin American republics in the initial decades of the nineteenth century. Otherwise, it would be impossible to explain, for instance, the case of the so-called Mexican científicos, who as early as the end of the nineteenth century were advocating positivist proposals of a technocratic nature within Porfirio Díaz’s regime (Zea 1970). In the case of Chile, as we shall see later, the technocratic cadre began to take over the state apparatus as early as the 1920s, with the emergence of a mesocratic regime, preceding by over ten years the creation of CORFO, which would later give shape to the state-led industrialization process. What is more, these very same technocrats were to set in motion the process of industrialization and modernization that would characterize the decades to come.

The thesis that I shall attempt to develop throughout the book is that political factors contribute more to emergence of technocratic regimes than the systemic needs inherent in modernization and the growth in complexity of society resulting from the industrialization process. This is why in countries with comparable economic, social, and industrial development it is possible to observe different degrees of technocratic influence within the governments and administrative structures of the state. What is more, the forces that stimulate the rise of technocratic groups can be found not only within the circles of power but also in society at large. Often, in such cases, there emerges in society as well an intense uneasiness about traditional politics and politicians, which may lead to a cry for “apolitical” leadership. This, in my opinion, was evident at the time of Ibáñez’s regime in the 1920s, during the Estado de Compromiso of the Radical governments in the early 1940s, Pinochet’s dictatorship, and to a certain extent, also during the governments of the Concertación since 1990.

Technocracy, Ideology, and Class

Another central aspect of the general debate on the technocratic phenomenon has been the effort to establish the existing relation between technocracy, political ideologies, and social classes. The actual question is how “apolitical” and ideology-free are these technocrats, as most of them define themselves. From the classical study by Meynaud, a (not quite inaccurate) image emerges about technocrats being no more and no less than policy executors, whose only aim is to reach the objective set by the groups in power. By definition, they are in favor of industrialization and state interventionism in economic matters.

What we do know is that technocracy is a phenomenon that has already achieved universal presence in governments and political regimes ranging the full political spectrum: in German Nazism and the famous French technocracy; in the countries from the former Eastern European communist bloc; and more recently, in the People’s Republic of China. In other words, there have been technocratic groups at the service of the most varied ideologies and doctrines since the early twentieth century up till now. In the specific case of Chile and regardless of the right-wing or left-wing orientations of the technocrats, in my opinion, they have often been revolutionary in the sense that they have defended economic, administrative, and social proposals that implied profound transformations in their respective areas. If the Chilean technocrats have one ideological feature in common, this has been their idolatrous regard for progress and modernity (seldom defined by the technocrats themselves) and their attempts to achieve them at all costs (see Van der Ree 2007 and Correa Sutil 2004). This may perhaps be a mere reflection of the shared fascination with modernity shown by every government of Chile since the early 1920s.

The second aspect of technocracy under discussion has to do with the social class or background of technocrats. If technocrats form a group whose roots and class identification are somewhat vague, can they then be defined as an elite of “socially unattached intellectuals,” or the Freischwebende Intelligenz referred to by Karl Mannheim ([1936] 1976)? Meynaud, once again, who focused on the case of France, clearly presents an image of the technocrat as a member of the social elite at one of the prestigious and exclusive grandes écoles. According to other scholars, rather than being the representatives of a particular traditional social class, technocrats may be about to give shape to a “new class” that is challenging the power of the traditional industrial and political elites (see, for example, Gouldner 1979 and Kellner and Heuberger 1992). This perspective hints at a possible takeover of power, to be followed by a literal conversion of government into a technocracy, that is, a new political order dominated by a minority of technocrats. It is my opinion, on the contrary, that the technocratization of the political system should not be conceived of as technocrats as such taking power, but rather as technocratism becoming the legitimate basis of power. In other words, I agree with Sartori (1984) when he says that technocrats do not rule directly, but via politicians.

Despite the fact that access to higher education and postgraduate studies in Latin America are luxuries within the reach of just a select few, one cannot conclude that the majority of technocrats in the region proceed from, or are part of, the upper classes of their respective countries. As we shall see in the case of Chile, ever since the early years of the republic, the middle class has always had some access to enlightened circles. For instance, Lastarria, Letelier, and many other Chilean professionals came from middle-class milieus, were educated at public schools, and through their talent and personal effort, managed to reach top positions in the world of politics, culture, and the academy, and came to be senators, ministers, ambassadors, university authorities, and so on. This penetration of middle-class sectors into the circles of political and intellectual influence occurs in Chile even now. For instance, former president Ricardo Lagos constantly stressed the fact that he was from the middle class, had studied at state-run schools, and had needed a scholarship grant to continue his education.

My contention throughout the whole of this study is that, rather than a class in itself, Chilean technocracy has constituted itself around the middle class. As Patrick Barr-Melej indicates, the emergence of the Chilean middle class since the mid-nineteenth century is indelibly linked to capitalist modernization and “classical liberal” projects that stimulated international trade, domestic commerce, and internal migration, factors that, as he points out, “created the necessary conditions for the proliferation of middle-class professions in such areas as governmental bureaucracy, accounting, small business, teaching, journalism, and so forth” (2001, 5–6). He also stresses the important fact that the members of the Chilean middle class also shared common cultural features which shaped their class identity. In his words,

[A] mesocrat’s being in the world, then, was not solely the function of economic activity and a comparable social standing; it also was tied to cultural norms and a cultural outlook. . . . In short, it may be argued that locating and identifying a mesocracy during this period by, say, examining employment data or breakdowns of occupations in census reports would not take into full account the pliability of “class” and, for the matter, the significance of culture and cultural practices in the elaboration of classes and identity. (6)

Thus, the main exponents of the technocratic ideology to be found in Chile agree in general terms with the central principles of the middle class, which has a strong meritocratic and anti-oligarchic character, in which education and the attainment of scientific knowledge take pride of place (Cerda Albarracín 1998). This connection between the middle class and the tenets of technocracy becomes distinctly manifest when we explore the legacy of Lastarria and Letelier, the adoption of their main proposals within the ideological bosom of the Radical Party (the Chilean middle-class party par excellence) and the subsequent emergence since the 1920s of a Chilean technocracy operating in the state sector. As we shall see in the following section, the fundamentally mesocratic character of technocracy will also be reflected in its positioning vis-à-vis authoritarianism and democracy.

Technocracy, Authoritarianism, and Democracy

The third and last discussion, which will cut across the different chapters of the book, has to do with the conflicting relation that technocrats have always had with democracy. This was already evident in the first promoters of technocratic ideologies, such as Henri de Saint Simon and August Comte in the early nineteenth century, who advocated the installation of an “administrative state,” in the hands of an elite of scientists, experts, and entrepreneurs. Their writings give clear evidence that they valued the preservation of social order and the “positive” or scientific administration of the affairs of the state above individual freedom, participation of the people, and democracy (see Jones 1998). A series of technocratic experiences in Europe and the United States during the twentieth century have also contributed to reinforce the close relation between technocrats and authoritarian ideologies and regimes. Among these experiences are those of Nazi Germany (Herf 1984); the short-lived technocratic movement of the 1920s in the United States, which in the early 1930s was to lead into a movement with a fascistoid bias (Bell 1960; Veblen 1965; Akin 1977); and the experience of “really existing socialism” in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (Konrad and Szeleny 1979; Rowney, 1989). Another case that is particularly relevant for Latin America in general and Chile in particular, is the fiercely repressive dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain, whose policies of industrialization and modernization were supported by a select group of Opus Dei technocrats (see Fernández de la Mora 1986).

In the Latin American context, the image of an alleged “elective affinity” existing between technocracy and authoritarian regimes became markedly patent during the 1960s and 1970s as a series of “bureaucratic-authoritarian” regimes were established in the Southern Cone countries. In his seminal work on this new type of political regime, Guillermo O’Donnell (1973) identified the civilian technocracy as one of the military’s principal allies in the “pro-coup coalition,” and as key figures in the execution of the military regime’s economic policies. Under the military governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, a select group of economists and financial experts acquired unprecedented discretionary powers in the formulation and implementation of radical financial and economic reforms (Ramos 1986; Malloy 1979). But in practice, it was the paradigmatic case of Pinochet’s Chicago Boys that was to raise awareness of the existence of an alliance between technocrats and the military in Latin America (see Vergara 1985 and Valdés 1995). Finally, many have insisted that an antidemocratic tendency is inherent in technocracy, since technocrats firmly believe that erratic policies formulated in reaction to massive popular pressure on the state apparatus can never solve social problems, but that only they are capable of formulating and implementing the correct, technical solutions to such problems (Meynaud 1968; Putnam 1977; Fischer 1990).

As I attempt to show in this book, technocracy may play very different and even opposing roles under different historical and political situations. Although at certain times in history technocrats have indeed given their support to authoritarian solutions, it can also be proved that, under other circumstances, they become directly or indirectly the key actors in the preservation and operation of a democratic regime. In my opinion, the positioning of technocracy vis-à-vis democracy and authoritarianism during the twentieth century in Chile has somewhat followed the classical patterns of political behavior of the middle class. Thus, it has been conditioned by the permanent middle-class fear of the masses and chaos, and its desire for order and, at the same time, by its wish for social justice and the value it assigns to personal effort. Thus, when the oligarchic regime was on its way out, technocrats became a strategic force in the emancipation of the emerging middle class, with its strong rejection of inherited privilege and its strong advocacy of rewarding merit and personal effort.

From the late 1930s on, when the middle-class sectors had already settled down to power, technocracy became a balancing factor between, on the one hand, the weakened oligarchic groups and, on the other, the emerging popular sectors. Technocracy not only gives the latter no preference, but also guarantees to the former that the businesses of the state will be well administered and that economic policy will not be politicized. This was particularly the case under the Radical Party administrations between 1938 and 1945. As I shall suggest in this book, the state technocrats became a sort of mediating group between a frightened and mistrustful Right and the forces of the Center-Left, who were in charge of administering the funds of the country and the state enterprises.

Chilean technocrats have had to operate within a highly politicized polity, despite the existence from 1938 to 1973 of an “Estado de Compromiso.” It can be argued that the very existence of the compromise upon which Chilean democracy was built was in part the result of polarization and the inability of any one political sector to impose its will on the rest (see Valenzuela 1978; Scully 1992). This is why, for many decades, a marked three-way ideological split between the Right, the Left, and the Center permeated the Chilean political system, each of these sectors controlling almost one-third of the electorate. This is what scholars have referred to as the three-thirds pattern (Gil 1966; Drake 1978). Political polarization reached high levels, particularly during electoral periods. This polarization became very visible during the presidential elections in 1958, 1964, and 1970. Marcelo Cavarozzi concludes that “the consensus that Chilean elites reached during the 1930s and the 1940s was quite tenuous. . . . The fragility of the Chilean political consensus became progressively more obvious beginning in the early 1950s” (Cavarozzi 1992, 214). Eduardo Boeninger assesses the fragility of the Estado de Compromiso in similar terms. “It is paradoxical that the Estado de Compromiso existed in a climate of strong political instability and discontinuity. This produced an increasing loss of prestige by the political parties, politics and the practices of negotiation to achieve agreements between party leaders and members of the Parliament. This became even more evident as the economic malaise became more accentuated. To put it in present-day terms, the Estado de Compromiso was characterized by its unsatisfactory conditions of governability” (1997, 114).

In this polarized political environment, Chilean technocrats have since the late 1930s mainly operated as a moderating force. As a result of constant changeovers between center-left and center-right governments, the state apparatus was forced to seek support in a relatively stable body of technocrats. This was also the result of the lack of confidence between several social sectors and the politicians. In this context, technocrats have constituted, as it were, a sort of buffer or intermediary zone between contenders for power because of their technical capacity, their apparent neutrality, their lack of overt political affiliation, and so on. They also provided much needed continuity in state policies between different administrations because they were not easily replaceable. One of the most striking features of the permanence of technocrats in state agencies from 1927 to 1973 was their ability to survive from one government to the next. With perhaps the sole exception of the Alessandri Rodríguez period (1958–64) and the military regime (1973–90), most of the period under consideration shows an exceptional degree of continuity in the pool of technocrats in charge of specialized state agencies. As I show later in this book, the same young engineers who came into the state agencies in 1927 under Ibáñez “survived” all the different governments until 1958. The same happens later on. A good example is Sergio Molina, a technocrat who served as a minister in three different and even antagonistic governments (under the second administration of Ibáñez, under Alessandri Rodríguez, and under Frei Montalva). A similar degree of continuity can be observed between Frei Montalva and Allende. Following the victory of the Unidad Popular (Popular Unity, or UP) coalition in 1970, many Christian Democratic técnicos kept their positions at different state institutions (such as CORA, INDAP, ODEPLAN, CODELCO, and so on) because the Allende government did not have sufficient technical staff to run all those specialized agencies. Furthermore, many Christian Democratic technocrats became members of the left-wing MAPU and IC parties that finally became part of the governmental coalition supporting Allende. A clear example of this was Jacques Chonchol, who possessed marked technocratic credentials: he became director of CORA under Frei Montalva and later minister of agriculture under Salvador Allende.

When the mesocratic system encountered crucial survival problems like those in the late 1950s, technocrats (like those working at ECLA) went on to formulate economic and social reforms (particularly, the agrarian reform) that had an emancipatory impact on the neglected sectors of society, such as the peasantry and the urban poor. The technocrats also became the main agents in favor of the regional integration and later of globalization. There were, of course, clear political goals behind these policies, such as the active integration of the marginal social sectors into the political system in order to win their support at the polls. However, by making use of a technical and depoliticized discourse, these technocrats were able to present their policies as efficient instruments to transform the popular sectors into new consumers and strengthen the national economy.

The fact that technocrats have been kept on in key positions has been seen as typical of the new democracies emerging in the 1980s. In the case of Chile, technocracy offers guarantees to the powerful economic sectors, to the political Right, and to the military. The economic domain (particularly given the trauma of the early 1970s) has largely become “depoliticized,” while the economic policymakers are isolated in a cocoon that protects them from direct pressures by the political and social sectors (see Haggard and Kaufman 1992).

It is obvious that the mere presence of technocrats is not sufficient to guarantee political and social stability. By the same token, prosperity alone is not sufficient to legitimize the political class. What we have seen in Chile since the mid-1990s is that the mere attainment of economic development and the use of an apolitical discourse have not apparently provided a solid and permanent solution to the need for political legitimacy. The people seem to be somewhat weary of the cold and colorless technocratic discourse, which became apparent under the government of Eduardo Frei Ruíz-Tagle in the late 1990s and has reached its peak under the Bachelet administration. What is interesting about this new situation, though, is that it by no means implies that the people should come to adopt politicized formulas. What we rather see is that the (consuming) mass consumption society, produced by the neoliberal model in Chile has created a public demand for a more marketized political message, in which apoliticism is combined with issues having to do with values and participation (Tironi 2005).

Thus, my central argument is that rather than having constituted a threat for democracy, technocrats have played a leading role in the consolidation of the democratic regime ever since the crisis of the 1930s, particularly in the generation and functioning of the so-called Estado de Compromiso from the end of the 1930s up to the early 1960s. The technocrats were also key actors in the economic and social transformations of the “decade of reforms” under the governments of Frei Montalva and Allende (1964–73).

So whereas during the Estado de Compromiso the Chilean governments pursued clear political and social goals with their policies, this, however, went hand-in-hand with the presence of technocrats who were supposedly defending technical and apolitical approaches to the problems of the day. Their very presence in the highest positions of the state agencies inspired confidence among the right-wing opposition forces. By providing that buffer zone to the system the technocrats indirectly made a very important contribution to the functioning of the Chilean democracy from 1938 to 1970. This constitutes in my view one of the main paradoxes about the political role played by technocrats in Chile, namely, that people who detested politics and politicians, at the end of the day were among the main facilitators—not deliberately but de facto—that made it possible for the pre-1973 Chilean democracy to function.

During the military government the neoliberal technocrats were part of what was known as the “soft” sector (O’Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead 1986) within the regime. They urged the military authorities to draw up a constitution and operate according to a rule of law. The Chicago Boys were particularly concerned about the mounting threats of boycott for Chilean products by the dockworkers’ confederations in the United States and Europe because of the continuous violations of human rights in the country and were aware of the need for some form of legality, including respect for international agreements.

In the final phase of the Pinochet regime, the neoliberal technocrats seemed more preoccupied with the continuation of the economic model in the future democratic era than with putting up a fight for the continuation of the authoritarian regime. Thus, for the 1989 general elections, Hernán Büchi, Pinochet’s successful minister of finance, was put forward as presidential candidate by the right-wing forces for the 1989 general elections. Büchi, however, showed an erratic position by declaring that he was tormented by “vital contradictions” when accepting that candidacy because he had no affinity whatsoever for politics (Angell 2007, 41). The rather passive attitude adopted by Büchi during his presidential campaign―he neither firmly criticized the democratic opposition nor convincingly defended the military government’s achievements—indicates in my view that he, like many other Chicago Boys, no longer considered the Pinochet regime necessary to the survival of the new economic model. In fact, the neoliberal technocrats were convinced that once the masses had accepted the main tenets of the neoliberal postulates (reduction of the state, sacred respect for private property, consumption as the reward of individual effort, and so on), the restoration of democratic rule could be possible. It was evident that in the late 1980s the neoliberal economic model had became consolidated in Chile. In addition, many opposition leaders had already declared that they were not considering introducing fundamental changes in Chile’s market economy in the near future (see Ominami 1991).

The positive relation of technocracy and democracy in Chile becomes more evident both during the period of transition and during the era of Concertación governments since 1990. My argument is that the technocratic groups (both of the government and the opposition) constituted themselves as spokespersons and mediators by becoming a channel for the dialogue between sectors of the military government and the moderate sectors of the opposition. It was in this that the private research centers and think tanks played a role of unique importance. They allayed the misgivings of politicians and translated the points of agreement and disagreement into technical language (see Puryear 1994). Indeed, the use of similar professional languages (Gouldner 1979), in the mutual relating of “comfreres” (particularly among economists such as Foxley, Büchi, and so on), facilitated the necessary reduction of the fear and feelings of mutual threat between the regime and the leaders of the democratic opposition.

My last contention here is that since the late 1990s technocratic ideology has mixed with the democratic idea in Chile, and that this has shaped an increasingly “technocratized” and depoliticized democracy, in which the social problems are translated into technical terms.

Mailing List

Subscribe to our mailing list and be notified about new titles, journals and catalogs.