Hayek and Chavez

Some interesting thoughts on why Chavez reacted to his recent defeat the way he did:

This brings us back to the question, Why didn't Chavez find a pretext to invalidate the election? What stopped him from doing this, I would argue, was not his respect for the existing constitution, which he was obviously willing to toss aside, nor was it his great love for the abstract principles of democracy, which he was willing to manipulate for his own purposes. What stopped him was simply the sobering realization that if he refused to accept the result of the election he would be faced with an outright rebellion among his political enemies, like the coup that removed him from power in 2002.

Hayek believed that democratic elections were valuable because they could prevent bloodshed and civil strife, like the 2002 coup. To see how this works, consider how elections took place among primitive armed tribes. To vote for someone to be your leader, you got up and stood next to the man you supported. By doing this, you were indicating that you would fight on your leader's side against his opponent. Hence the result of the primitive election was to disclose the relative power, in terms of armed supporters, of the various candidates. If one candidate had ninety men standing around him, while the other had only ten, then it was obvious that in an armed struggle the weaker side would lose and the stronger side would win. As a result, the man with only ten supporters would concede defeat, acting on the principle that it is better to lose an election than to lose one's head. By the same logic, when two men had nearly equal support, then this too sent a signal to the community—namely, that unless the two sides would work out a compromise, they would be plunged into a civil war that would inevitably end by weakening the community's capacity to survive struggle against their collective enemies. In short, the primitive election was a way to avoid bloody power struggles that would end up destroying the solidarity of the community.

By gracefully accepting his defeat at the poll, Hugo Chavez was skillfully averting a much worse defeat in the streets. If all the population knew that half the population had defied his bid for power, then it was obvious that there would be ferocious resistance to any attempt on Chavez' part to seize what he wanted by fraud. How ferocious this resistance might be had already been shown in 2002. It was a risk that Chavez chose not to take—but only after looking at the election returns.

Paradoxically, it was Venezuela's history of political instability, the knowledge that he could be unconstitutionally removed from power by a coup d'etat that led Hugo Chavez to abandon his efforts at mangling the constitution that is the only remaining obstacle to his own dictatorial ambitions.

In short, the happy outcome of Venezuela's most recent election should not be construed as showing that Hugo Chavez harbors no dictatorial ambitions, but neither should it be taken to be proof of the infallible wisdom of the democratic system. Instead, it indicates what we should suspect already—namely, that Hugo Chavez is no fool, and he is prepared to be prudent in order to get what he wants. And one day, he still may.
Chavez still bears watching... I said before, and I say again, I do not think he's given up the idea of seizing powers as a de facto dictator.