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Social/Cultural Characteristics of Chilean Politics

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2754 words Published: 11th Sep 2017

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Chile is a Spanish speaking country in South America bordering the Pacific Ocean to the west. From the world map, Chile is narrow along the South America’s western coast with a coastline of 4300 km. The capital of this country is Santiago, which is located between the Andes and coast range mountains. Before its colonisation, the country was ruled by two powers; Inca in the north and Mapuche in central and southern Chile. Chile was a colonised by Spain in the 16th century. It declared its independence in 1810. After attaining its independence, the country engaged in the War of the Pacific that occurred between 1879 and 1883 where it defeated Peru and Bolivia. The victory over the two countries enabled the country to expand its present territory in the north (Collier, S., & Sater, 2004).

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Before adopting democracy, Chile was once a country under oligarchy and dictatorship. Oligarchy, authoritarianism, is evident during the 19th century and the early 20th century. During the era when the country was under an oligarchy, few individuals ruled the illiterate citizens and gathered enough wealth. The rulers used the military to sustain their rule and achieve their individual interests. Some foreigners such as Bello who had an interest in the country thought that education was the suitable way of helping the Chileans resist oligarchy. Education was fruitful since it enlightened the Chileans and they were able to reform their constitution that provided an election of the president based on universal suffrage. The dictatorship was evident during the tenure of Salvador Allende, who took power in 1970, and he was the pioneer of the Socialist party. He implemented radical policies that led to rising of inflation levels, the proliferation of strikes and communist economy.

Allende was overthrown by Pinochet, commander-in-chief of the army in 1973. Pinochet invested more on military arguing that security was important to end communism. He tortured and killed most of his opponents, suspected leftists. However, he revived the economy, reduced inflation and renewed foreign investment. Pinochet was condemned for violation of human rights. In 1988, there was a referendum on whether Pinochet should stay in power until 1997 and 55% of voters didn’t accept Pinochet’s rule. His regime of dictatorship was ended by the referendum. A Christian Democrat, Patricio Aylwin, was elected the president in 1989. Patricio’s government protected Pinochet in the 1990s against any punishment for the crimes he committed during his regime. 1990 marks restoration of democracy in Chile where the three arms of government, executive, legislature and judiciary, came to effect (Collier, S., & Sater, 2004). A socialist president has headed most governments in the 21st century. In 2000, the first socialist president after Allende, Ricardo Lagos, took the office. Michelle Bachelet, a socialist, was elected president in 2006. The first conservative president, Sebastian Panera, was elected in the 2010 election. However, Michelle was re-elected in as the president in the 2014 election.

The current political system of Chile is democratic socialism and more of compadrazgo. In comparison to previous political systems, a 60 year Chilean I interviewed on July 24, 2016, said that the democratic system is the best the country has ever had. In a personal interview, July 24 a former Chilean who immigrated to Argentina during the reign of terror reported, “I am happy for my home country’s current political system”. During a personal interview on July 24, another Chilean argued that education played an important role in the adoption of the democratic political system as well as the increase of the middle class. All of the interviewees reported that the current political system allows for political freedom, and reduce inequality and discrimination more than any other system. The first two Chileans I interviewed believed that the rift between the rich and the poor is due to the earlier political cultures. Most of the wealthy individuals come from land-owning families in the oligarchy and dictatorial regimes. During the personal interview July 24, 2016, an elderly Chilean lady said, “The democratic system has not brought complete freedom as it may be thought”. Generally, it was evident from the interview that the current democratic political system has some elements of socialism.

Busky, D. F. (2000) describes socialism as the political system characterised by social ownership and control of the methods of production, distribution and exchange of a country. Socialism was first introduced into Chile in 1970 by Salvador Allende. Allende was more of communism. Communism is an undemocratic form of socialism based on dictatorship or oligarchy and totalitarianism. As a communist, Allende promoted nationalised economy. Communism involves the appointment of all managers as well as planning of all aspects of production, distribution, and exchange (Collier, S., & Sater, 2004). This system affected the Chileans a great deal and frozen prices. The system lacked democracy which the Chileans have been pursuing since independence. Communism did not address the issue of inequality but instead promoted it, a factor that most liberal Chileans resisted. Promotion of education is considered the major benefit Chileans had from the Allende’s communist government (Gomez & Rodriguez 2006)

Democratic socialism is seen as evolutionary and the best among all the forms of socialism. It combines the principles of liberal-democratic government with those of social ownership and control of the economy. Due to its eclectic nature, democratic socialism ideals emanate from various sources such as various cultures, religions socialism, Fabian socialism, and revisionism. Regarding the population of Chile, it is found that whites or combination of Europeans and indigenous groups dwell there.  The percentage of non-indigenous is 89, that of Mapuche is 9.1, Aymara is 0.7 and other indigenous groups is 1. The very need of freedom and equity to be among all the people and ethnic groups all over the nation propelled the concept and practice of democratic socialism. Political democracy is considered the first goal in the pursuit of democratic socialism. Political democracy involves the establishment of basic civil rights such as freedom to participate in government and society without discrimination, free elections, and free political parties. It also encompassed freedom to work and to use public amenities without racial or other forms of discrimination.

Since the country has diversity in ethnic groups, races and origin, there was a need for political freedom. There as some point in the 20th century when Chile was known for emigration. The emigrants fear for their life and future in Chile. Discrimination was present almost everywhere in the country’s systems. The people needed a system that could enable everyone to feel free to act and behave like any other person within the country. The minority groups were always left out in almost every program or activity carried out by the government. During the Pinochet’s regime, any person who was suspected as an opponent suffered physical and psychological torture. There was no political freedom. Participation in the government and the society was limited to only some selected loyalists (Collier, S., & Sater, 2004).

The need for government systems for old-age pensions, unemployment compensation, national health plan and education fueled the pursuit of democratic socialist government. Social democracy is another goal of democratic socialism beyond the establishment of democratic government and civil liberties. This aspect of democratic socialism seeks to address the social welfare of the every Chilean. Education is key to the current political system of Chile since it enlightened the Chileans. Being one of the most influential and intellectual thinkers in the era of Chile, Bello had given a very significant contribution to the promotion of education in the 19th century.  In his opinion, a country without education has neither a civil, economic nor cultural future. A democracy that Chileans are currently enjoying is a product of education. Education enlightened the citizens who by then were illiterate. Through education, the Chilean liberals were created. The government has and is still investing in education as it is an important pillar without which relevance and understanding are lost.

Social democracy has far more inclusive social welfare plans that the conservatives or communists. Democratic socialism ensures to provide public-paid health coverage for everyone else in the society. National public health insurance system in Chile have ensured that every Chilean have access to a medical facility without discrimination. Over 70% of the Chilean population is covered by the national public insurance scheme while 18% of the population is under private insurance schemes. This has made it possible for a Chilean from any ethnic background, poor or rich to have access to health services. In the previous political systems, the rich individuals were at a position of accessing medical services more easily than the poor. Education is sponsored by the Chilean government which has made pre-primary, primary and secondary education compulsory. However, private organisations have also played an important role in the growth of the education sector in the country. Chile ranks highest in literacy level in South America. Education enabled the Chileans to realize the need to advance from communism and dictatorship to democratic socialism. Education is also responsible for the increasing percentage of the middle class in the country. The middle class are the majority in Chile and are the supporters of democratic socialism. This political system is fair for all social class, unlike the communist and dictatorship where loyalists and the wealthy had added advantage. Busky, D. F. (2000) argues that under the social democratic government, other programs apart from health care such as aid to address unemployment and education, are also far more generous than the communism and dictatorship.

The country’s economy should be socially owned and democratically controlled instead of the management power being at the hands of some few individuals with individual interest. Over the years, Chileans have desired to see an end to inequality, exploitation and alienation of the working class. The history of Chile has been characterised by increased increasing gap between the poor and the rich, and the use of national resources by some few individuals to meet their selfish demands. There was no economic freedom during the regimes of oligarchy and communism. There has been an increasing need for equal opportunities among all the Chileans despite their socioeconomic status. The market was not free for all individuals to operate. When the market is owned collectively, market freedom is achieved, and any citizen or foreigner can conduct his/her business effectively (Gomez & Rodriguez, 2006).

Democratic socialists argue that their political system is the best since ownership and control of production, distribution and exchange are cooperative. This means that everyone has right to take part in the production, distribution and exchange. Busky D. F. (2000) describes the two forms of cooperatives: producer cooperative which involves worker ownership and collective ownership of marketing operation; and consumer cooperative which involves ownership of stores by consumers. These collective operations in production, distributed and exchange were adopted by the Chilean government in a bid to address discrimination that characterised the Chilean market. Through economic democracy, democratically appointed legislatures appoint managers and exercise an oversight function over the country’s market. The organisation with the oversight function has the responsibility of protection its citizens from exploitation, inequality and alienation. Economic democracy also contributed to the growth of the middle class.

Social ownership supported the development of depersonalised, relatively stable political structure in Chile (Matthew Feldman, 2004). The relations of production, distribution and exchange constitute the economic structure of the Chilean society which democratic socialists assume as the main base which help to build the legal and political superstructure corresponding to culture. In term of the Chilean political system, democracy is an essential part for development. It seeks to ensure a free society that is guided by the constitution it has passed. The poor now has a voice in the government and the entire society because of the democracy. The current political system in Chile was resulted to address the social issues such as inequality and discrimination the society was faced with. The regime of dictatorship violated human rights and international democracy. The society was no longer free but was subject to the actions and behaviour of the ruler.

All the processes in the Chilean economy, politics and social welfare were under the control of a few individuals who were in power. This was the regime after attaining independence. Oligarchy was characterised by discrimination, lack of political, social and economic freedom, and inequality. Chile’s journey in attaining its current political system was directed by the need to bring freedom, end inequality and discrimination, and protect its citizens. To achieve a peaceful, prosperous and free society, Chile had to pursue democratic political system, a socialist welfare economic system and a government limited by the constitution.


Since her independence in 1810, Chile has experienced changes in its political system ranging from oligarchy to communism to dictatorship and democracy. During the oligarchy, only a few individuals or groups controlled and benefited from the operations in the country. In the time of the oligarchical political system, discrimination and inequality were prevailed to the highest level in the whole country. The Democracy was introduced into the country’s politics during the early 20th century. However, the democracy seemed not to address the social problems the country was facing and therefore adopted a communist system when Salvador Allende came to power. Dictatorship followed, and it made things worse in the country. It did not favour most people and led to some leaving the country in fear for their lives. Democracy was restored in 1990. However, there were some elements of socialism in the democratic political system. The democratic political system of Chile was supposed to address the inequality, freedom, social welfare, discrimination and economic and social development. Education and the increasing middle class are considered to be among the key pillars of currents country’s political system.


Busky, Donald F. Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Westport, Conn. [u.a.: Praeger, 2000. Print.

Santangelo, Giacomo. “National Political Culture as a Limit to Democratic Intervention; The Chilean Case.” (2015).

Corfe, Robert. Reinventing Democratic Socialism: For People Prosperity. Bury St. Edmunds: Arena, 2001. Print.

Matthew Feldman, Fascism: The ‘fascist epoch’, Taylor & Francis, 2004

Szeman, Imre, and Timothy Kaposy. Cultural Theory: An Anthology. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Print.

Dirlik, Arif. Marxism in the Chinese Revolution. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005. Internet resource.

Crow, J. A. The epic of Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980

Collier, S., & Sater, W. F. A history of Chile, 1808-2002. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Pres, 2004.

Gomez, C. F., and J. K. Rodriguez. “Four keys to Chilean culture: authoritarianism, legalism, fatalism and compadrazgo.” Asian Journal of Latin American Studies 19.3 (2006): 43-65.


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