Power to the Academics
Interview with Carlos Huneeus
The Chilean political scholar Carlos Huneeus was the first Ambassador of the Aylwin administration in Germany. Kosmos talked to him about his moving between politics and science.
Kosmos: Before switching over to politics and becoming a diplomat, you worked as a scholar for years. What did the political theorist think at the time, when he was suddenly confronted with practical issues?
Huneeus: I realised how little we scholars had been prepared for this role. After all, I wasn't the only one.Many other colleagues, political scholars and jurists, became staff of the first democratic government. But we had never asked ourselves what we would be expected to do once we took office. In politics, I became aware that as scholars, we sometimes work in a world that has nothing whatsoever to do with reality. All at once, I was more critical of what political science actually performs. Not only with a view to Chile, but also in the established democracies.
Kosmos: After four years as an ambassador, you returned to your profession as a scholar. What have you missed from your period as a diplomat?
“In politics, I became aware that as scholars, we sometimes work in a world that has nothing whatsoever to do with reality.”
Huneeus: Transition wasn't tough because I had always regarded this activity as a temporary one.My profession is science.However, I did slightly miss simply tackling issues and acting, making decisions that have an impact. I thought it was a good thing that I had gathered this experience and would advise my colleagues to take a walk on the other side of the street for once and work in politics. But of course the possibilities are limited.
Kosmos: Just like you as a Humboldt Fellow, other Chilean academics were in Heidelberg as visiting academics during the Pinochet dictatorship.Many of this generation later entered diplomatic service or assumed leading positions in the new government.Was crossing over easier at the time?
Huneeus: It certainly was. The new government was in urgent need of academic staff. 17 years of dictatorship is a long time. The state was very weak. People were still in government positions who had previously worked for the dictatorship. The parties had assumed power within a relatively short period and had not had enough time to develop their own political staff. By the way, I am the only member of this circle who returned to the academic world. All the others stayed in politics.
Kosmos: Were academics the better politicians?
Huneeus: They had the right profile. The political actors of the time, President Aylwin and others as well, wanted young people with a PhD from abroad. More than half of the ministers in the first democratic government had done their doctorate in the USA, the UK, France, Germany and other countries. They were qualified people.
Kosmos: Where does today's political leadership in Chile recruit itself from? The share of young academics has declined.
Huneeus: Yes, nowadays staff are recruited mainly from the parties. It is rather a closed shop, which does present problems. However, the president will still recruit people coming in through the back door from academic and other professions. So it is still a mixed bag.
Kosmos: Power to the academics. Is that the right model for successful democratisation?
Huneeus: At any rate, it worked quite well at home. This approach differed considerably from our neighbour, Argentina, for example. The first democratic government there had staffed the senior positions mainly with old politicians rather than with politically experienced academics or technocrats. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why we can look back on more favourable developments in Chile.
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