Book Review: Chile, Dictators, and Constitutions

Here’s a brief book review I just posted on about Constitutionalism and Dictatorship: Pinochet, the Junta, and the 1980 Constitution (Cambridge Studies in the Theory of Democracy) by Robert Barros. As I state in the review, the book presents a fascinating argument about constitutions in dictatorships, but doesn’t develop it well enough to apply elsewhere. As such, the book is probably only of interest to scholars of Chile’s history or hardcore constitutional law nuts. I will argue in an upcoming paper that Barros’ theory might help explain Burma’s new constitution (more on that later). Here’s the review:

In Constitutionalism and Dictatorship, Barros provides some fascinating alternative perspectives on courts in authoritarian regimes. He proposes that the Chilean Junta drafted the 1980 constitution i large part to institutionalize the junta and allocate power among all four branches of the defense services. Contrary to popular opinion, Pinochet did not wield absolute power, but rather all stakeholders in the junta limited their own power in order to convince the other branches that they would abide by the rules. Thus, the Tribunal Constitucional was created to enforce the authority of Pinochet in the executive and of the air force and navy as the legislative branch.

As a book though, I found Constitutionalism and Dictatorship both too long and too short. First, for those readers who know nothing about Chile – like me – it doesn’t provide much context. Barros frequently referred to other prominent politicians in the junta, but I didn’t have the context to appreciate some of his comments. The book seems geared toward readers with an interest and background in Chilean history. However, for readers primarily interested in constitutional theory, the book might seem a bit too long. The intricacies of the constitutional negotiations might be much. Indeed, Barros only gets to the tribunal 2/3 into the book. If you just want to understand his theory, I recommend reading one of his articles instead. 

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