The neoliberal-conservative alliance and the strategies for adaptation of the right in times of crisis in the Constitutional Convention of Chile (2021-2022): actors and reactions

Please cite the paper as:
Luciano Santander and Ana Belén Mercado, (2024), The neoliberal-conservative alliance and the strategies for adaptation of the right in times of crisis in the Constitutional Convention of Chile (2021-2022): actors and reactions, World Economics Association (WEA) Conferences, No. 1 2024, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy 80 years later, Looking at capitalism today in light of its past and possible future


In the diverse panorama of neoliberalism in Latin America, the traditional response to anti- neoliberal mobilizations is usually a staunch defense of the model through reactionary and authoritarian means (Bruff, 2013; Chamayou, 2018; Grugel, J. & Riggirozzi, P. 2018; Silva, 2009). However, there are moments where neoliberal actors have adapted to moments of hegemonic crisis of consensus with the free market, even participating in institutional instances where the system itself is being questioned (Bruff, I. & Burak, 2019; Kast, 2019; Silva, 2012; Stefanoni, 2021). How can neoliberal actors adapt to the hegemonic/organic crises of the model they represent? What are the tools and strategies that these actors use to defend their hegemony in times of crisis? Is there a common thread in the institutional defense of neoliberal actors?

The objective of this work is to investigate how neoliberalism can adapt to crisis situations. Studying the case of the Constitutional Convention in Chile (2021-2022), we propose that in adverse times, neoliberal projects are willing to accept processes that pose a danger to the foundations of their own system. The above, deploying a series of successful strategies that allow them to protect the hegemony of the system despite the moment of instability. In the temporal cut that we address, this is expressed in an incipient ideological alliance between neoliberals and a ultra-conservatives.

Chile has been the laboratory of the ideas of neoliberalism in Latin America since the implementation of the policy package designed by the Chicago Boys within the framework of the Pinochet dictatorship, during the ’70s and ’80s. However, the advent of democracy did not imply a rupture of the model but, on the contrary, it transformed, adapted, and coexisted with the democratic order. The social uprising of October 2019 represented a break that was expressed in the call for a Constitutional Convention with the objective of sanctioning a Charter that would address a heterogeneity of unmet needs. This situation allows us to observe a new deployment of strategies for adaptation and overcoming the crisis by neoliberal actors.

Our study focuses on two variables that influenced the success of these strategies: first, the political intervention of think tanks, understood as devices that, articulating the participation of experts, the production of ideas and membership in transnational networks, they diagram mechanisms that allow them to install topics on the agenda, as well as establish meanings on different topics.

Secondly, the strategic positioning of the neoliberal and ultra-conservative alliance as defenders of the Chilean national identity, through a skillful reorientation of public discourse from social rights – the basis during the 2019 protests – towards public order and security.

As a work methodology to address the proposed objectives, we relied on a series of interviews carried out during fieldwork in 2023. In addition, a survey of different sources and written documents was carried out. Based on this, the corpus of ideas was formed from which the speeches of the actors considered in the study were processed and analyzed.

Based on the case of the think tank Libertad y Desarrollo during the constituent process, we observed changes in their strategies that correspond to our hypothesis. While at first, they were opposed to the proposal to reform the Constitution in force since the ’80s, rejecting the demand that had arisen from the social uprising of 2019. In a second moment, its positioning was reoriented towards active participation in the Convention and the realization of a series of activities and publications that sought to install its ideas around the role of the State in the new Constitution, among other topics. Considering that Libertad y Desarrollo is an empirical reference for the actions of neoliberal actors, among others, the survey of their strategies is necessary to be able to study the connection between far-right and neoliberalism, as an ideological alliance as a representation of capitalism’s ability to adapt in times of crisis.

By examining this dynamic in Chile, this study seeks to contribute to a broader understanding of the authoritarian and flexible character of neoliberalism, offering crucial insights into the complex interaction between capitalism, democracy, social movements, and authoritarian responses.

Bibliographic references

Bruff, I. (2013). The Rise of Authoritarian Neoliberalism. Rethinking Marxism, 26:1, 113-129.

Bruff, I. & Burak, C. (2019). Authoritarian neoliberalism trajectories of nowledge production and praxis. Globalizations, 16:3, 233-244

Chamayou, G. 2018. “La sociedad ingobernable. Una genealogía del liberalismo autoritario”. Mayenne, Francia, La Fabrique éditions.

Chaui, M. (2020). O totalitarismo neoliberal. Anacronismo e irrupción, 10(18), Article 18.

Dávila, M. (2020). Los think tanks de la derecha en tiempos de crisis. Barómetro de Política y Equidad. Chile en cuarentena: Causas y efectos de la crisis política y social, 17, 45-68.

Gárate, M. (2008). Think Tanks y Centros de Estudio. Los nuevos mecanismos de influencia política en el Chile post-autoritario. Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos. Nouveaux mondes mondes nouveaux – Novo Mundo Mundos Novos – New world New worlds.

Grugel, J. & Riggirozzi, P. 2012. Post-neoliberalism in Latin America: Rebuilding and Reclaiming the State after Crisis. Development and Change 43(1): 1–21.

Grugel, J. & Riggirozzi, P. 2018. Neoliberal disruption and neoliberalis’s afterlife in Latin America What is left of post-neoliberalism. Critical Social Policy 2018, Vol. 38(3): 547–566

Harvey, D. 2007. Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 610, NAFTA and Beyond: Alternative Perspectives in the Study of Global Trade and Development, pp.22-44

Kast, C. 2019. Neoliberales en América Latina. En Neoliberalismo, neodesarrollismo y socialismo bolivariano (1.a ed., pp. 55–103). Grupos de Trabajo de CLACSO. Santiago de Chile.

Luna, J. & Altman, D. 2012. Uprooted but Stable: Chilean Parties and the Concept of Party System Institutionalization. Latin American Politics and Society 53 (2), pp. 1-28

Mudde, C. 2019. The far right today. Cambridge, UK ; Medford, MA : Polity.

Mudde, C. & Rovira Kaltwasser, C. 2013. Exclusionary vs. Inclusionary Populism: Comparing Contemporary Europe and Latin America. Government and opposition (London), 2013, Vol.48 (2), p.147-174

Pinilla, J. P. (2012). Think Tanks, saber experto y formación de agenda política en el Chile actual. Polis, Revista de la Universidad Bolivariana, 11(32), 119-140.

Polanyi, K. (1957). The great transformation: the political and economic origins of our time. Boston, Mass, US: Beacon paperback ed.

Roberts, K. 2012. “Market Reform, Programmatic (De)alignment, and Party System Stability in Latin America”. Comparative Political Studies, N°46: 1422-1452.

Rovira Kaltwasser C. & Taggart, P. & Ochoa, P. & Ostiguy, P. 2017. The Oxford Handbook of Populism: Oxford: Oxford University Press-

Ruíz Encina, C., & Caviedes, S. (2022). El poder constituyente de la revuelta chilena. CLASCO.

Silva, E. 2009. Challenging Neoliberalism in Latin America. Nueva York, Estados Unidos: Cambridge University Press.

Silva, E. (2012). Exchange Rising? Karl Polanyi and Contentious Politics in Contemporary Latin America. Latin American Politics and Society, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Fall 2012), pp. 1-32

Stefanoni, P. (2021) ¿La rebeldía se volvió de derecha? Cómo el antiprogresismo y la anticorrección política están construyendo un nuevo sentido común (y por qué la izquierda debería tomarlos en serio). Siglo XXI.

3 comment

  • Conference administrator says:

    Dear Authors

    The purpose of your investigation is to provide a contribution to the understanding of the authoritarian and adaptive nature of neoliberalism, which is the goal of your research. In point of fact, the study offers vital insights into the complex link that exists between capitalism, democracy, social movements, and authoritarian reactions. These insights are provided by considering the Chilean situation.

    One of your pertinent conclusions, which pertains to the constituent process, makes reference to the symbolic, semiotic, communicational, media, and ideological representation of the Convention’s activity as well as the text itself.

    I would appreciate it if you could elaborate on what you mean when you say that the image of the Constituent process was built upon the preponderance of value-identity discussions iin the Chilean society.

    It is also of great interest to highlight the role that symbols play in society within the context of neoliberalism; consequently, can you further elaborate on the symbols that move politcal actors in the Chilean society?

    Maria Alejandra

  • Luciano Santander says:

    First of all, we very much appreciate the comments provided. Below is our response to the doubts and topics mentioned.

    1. The use of the explanation of the authoritarian and adaptive nature of neoliberalism:

    As you mention, the intention of our paper is to find a deeper exploration of the phenomenon of authoritarian neoliberalism. The authoritarian neoliberalism is a theory that helps explain the behavior of this system and its actors, beyond the economic reform packages of the Washington Consensus. Leaving aside the “economic” and “political” spheres (Salyga, 2022), those potentialities of state power that contribute to the defense of neoliberal systemic hegemony after the successful restructuring of power in favor of new ruling classes are highlighted (Harvey, 2007), positioning itself, therefore, as an authoritarian ideology (Chamayou 2018).

    What defines this system? Our conceptual framework of authoritarian neoliberalism is based on the review that Salyga (2022) carries out to study the authoritarian monoliths of this system in Estonia, which gave way to the formation of new far-right referents in that country. In this study of the concept, the conceptual dichotomy between liberal democracy and authoritarianism is left aside, carrying out a comprehensive look that mixes the works of Poulantaz (1978), Bruff (201) and Tansel (2017). In essence, authoritarian neoliberalism would have rigid inclinations that, through the joint action between state practices and civil society institutions (for example, Think Thanks or Universities), support a “minimal” notion of democracy -e.g., electoral competition and vote for authorities- (Tansel, 2017: 11).

    Along these lines, overcoming the methods of imposition through brute force -such as the installation of the model in Chile through a coup d’état and a consequent dictatorship-, using the legal regulations granted by a liberal democracy, isolates from public control those discussions that would imply a possible change of neoliberal policies (Salyga, 2022). The above exemplified in our case with the 1980 Constitution. The foregoing, with special emphasis on those moments of organic crisis of the model, where through administrative, legal and coercive mechanisms, the use of abusive mechanisms that restrict certain formal liberties for the protection of the system is resorted to (Poplantzas, 1978; Bruff , 2014: 115-16).

    Therefore, using the Chilean case, our intention is to show the characteristics of the 4th wave of neoliberalism in the Latin American region, which has to do with the radicalization of this imposition through authoritarian mechanisms. This is part of the attempts to overcome the reformism of past experiences, or the programmatic moderation that may have existed in previous right-wing governments (both in economic and value matters).

    The new waves of authoritarian neoliberalism in Latin America blame previous right-wing governments for weakness and surrender, launching a campaign against the entire political system, raising the fight against the State, unions and social equity, alleging that these are privileges obtained at the expense of the “successes of capital.”

    The consolidation of the Chilean far right occurs then, in the context of a ruling class impatient to eliminate the conquests of previous progressive governments, as well as to stop the advance of the Social Outburst slogans that had a strong anti-neoliberal component. That gives way to the second point we are asked, about the hegemonic dispute over the meaning of the constituent text:

    2. Differences between the symbolic text and the real text: the hegemonic dispute

    The Social Outburst in Chile brought with it a polarization that is not only expressed at the political-electoral level, but also at the level of the socio-discursive dispute for hegemony. Chile’s social rage, which with the Social Outburst went from latent to evident, lately has been channeled more successfully in discursive terms by the far-right. To explain this, it is essential to study and highlight the strategic errors of the left that led it from electing a president and being the majority in the drafting of a possible new Constitution in Chile, to losing elections, squandering the possibility of establishing a new democratic constitution, and not being able to control the national political agenda despite having the presidency of the country.

    The synthesis of the constituent process can be divided in two: on the one hand, there is the constitutional text, the real, the objective and the written, which, despite several shortcomings (such as its long quantitative and qualitative extension), tried to respond to most of the anti-neoliberal demands raised during the mobilizations. On the other hand, the symbolic, semiotic, communicational, media and ideological representation of both the text and the work of the Convention, whose image is built on the preponderance of value-identity discussions that not only did not interest those who sympathized with the protests, but, at the same time attracted negative attention. This differentiation is important because it succeeded in installing the idea that the constitution being proposed to the country was alien both to the demands of the Social Outburst and to the identity values of Chilean society; a symbolic representation based on a differential policy of values.

    In line with the above, different groups made efforts so that each claim, mostly disconnected from social demands, would be discussed in commissions and plenary sessions of the convention. For example, public discussions on changing the Chilean flag, the national anthem, and patriotic symbols, or establishing a pluri-national state with indigenous justice, differentially affected public opinion. This was fueled, for example, both by the strong racist background of Chilean society, which the Convention members were not able to read, and by the mutation in the image of the Convention members, because for the public opinion, they ended up becoming what the Social Outburst claimed against: a political elite that discusses issues disconnected from the national reality. In this way, the representational dispute of the constitutional text was lost, and, therefore, an ideological battle. There was also a political and media machinery devoted to win the representational dispute of the text, which is not new. What is new is that the left allowed a free ideological space for a rapid counter-offensive by the far-right. This ideological group was able to show itself as daring and transgressive by challenging a political class that, instead of responding to social demands, positioned itself as antagonistic to the social bases and their national culture. In the framework of the social rage, to connect with it a rebellious touch is needed, and that rebelliousness was embodied by the far-right and the presidential figure of Kast, hegemonizing the anti-establishment discourse. The strategy was then to mobilize against positions and actors who took advantage of a discussion of national relevance to put forward a personalist agenda, extravagant and contrary to national “principles”. Thus, they succeeded in building a new binding narrative based on the defense of values, confronting the progressive agenda that supposedly wanted to radically transform Chile’s traditional morals, to the point that the discussion on the neoliberal model took a back seat in the campaign of Approving or Rejecting the new constitution.

    The evidence we have from our fieldwork interviews in Chile, where we were able to obtain direct information from various far-right leaders, shows the following: the symbols that most move the Chilean political actors of this trend are: i) meritocracy; ii) order and security; iii) defense of national/Chilean values. Therefore, a combination of what would be a defense of the neoliberal values installed in the 1980s constitution, added to authoritarian values typical of the 4th wave of authoritarian neoliberalism.

    We hope to have answered all the questions asked. Please if there are more comments, send them to us. See you next week!

  • Arturo Hermann says:

    I totally agree with your analysis of “the authoritarian and flexible character of neoliberalism”. From that insight, the important thing is to steer a progressive course in Chile and at world level. What could be in your opinion the main policies that should inform such course?

Submit your own comment

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b>
<blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>