Waiting for our salazar | The American Conservative


Salazar: the dictator who refused to die, By Tom Gallagher, (Hurst: 2020), 360 pages.

Nobody wants to talk about António de Oliveira Salazar. The left annoys him because he doesn’t fit their profile of a right-wing dictator. He despised fascism, which he dismissed as “pagan Caesarism”. He also said that Hitler’s racism was “essentially pagan and incompatible with the character of our Christian civilization”.

Salazar rarely used his secret police to suppress political disagreements. When he did, it was limited to the militant communists who tried to blow him up in 1937 when he made his way to church. After the bomb went off and broke the windows of his car, he wiped himself off and said to his entourage, “It’s all over now. Let’s go to mass. “

Dr. Salazar resisted Axis expansionism, beginning with Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. During World War II, he helped victims of the Third Reich flee Nazi-occupied Europe. Casablanca did so much right. He provided material support to the Allies during World War II and would have liked to join the war on their side. Salazar remained neutral only for fear of driving his neighbor Francisco Franco into Hitler’s arms.

Meanwhile, the law does not like to talk about him for fear of being called fascists themselves. (What nonsense – as if our progressive friends need a reason.) We can hope that Tom Gallagher’s new biography of Salazar will break that silence.

Dr. Salazar, as he was always called, was a trained economist. In 1926 a military junta ended the anarchic, anti-clerical First Portuguese Republic; The generals asked him to serve as finance minister. In his first year, he restored financial stability for the first time in a century and became a national hero.

Soon the military made him prime minister with universal recognition. Over the next several years, Salazar fired several of his cabinet ministers and took their portfolios for himself. So Salazar established himself as a dictator, almost without anyone noticing.

Salazar ruled as a Catholic, and his regime was naturally conservative on social issues. He constantly insisted on “the intrinsic value of religious truth for the individual and society”. Its stated goals were to “prevent the perversion of public opinion” and “protect the moral integrity of the citizens”. He was an integralist or something very similar.

Yet he gave few political privileges to the institutional church. It fitted in with the old feudal idea of ​​a Christian king, an independent officer of the church. He supported the Church’s efforts to evangelize the people and serve the poor, but insisted that the bishops leave the business of statecraft to him. In fact, he was so disgusted by the “reforms” of the Second Vatican Council that he banished Pope Paul IV from Portugal.

In tax matters, Salazar was open to the social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII. And Pius IX. To inspire. As an economist, he was wary of the fetish for rapid economic growth shared by fascists and communists. His priority was to free Portugal from its dependence on trade with the UK while slowly expanding the country’s industrial base.

Yet he was not a nationalist. Salazar’s goal was never to “make Portugal great again” but simply to ensure that the country’s imperfect economy works for ordinary Portuguese. He advocated a kind of patriotic humility and urged his compatriots to reject the megalomania of fascists and communists. He simply asked her to work calmly and steadily for the good of the country, as he did himself.

The cornerstone of Salazarism was Depoliticization. As the French journalist Raymond Aron noted: “The Salazar government is trying to” depoliticize “men, those of Hitler or Mussolini in order to” politicize “or fanatize them.” Salazar realized that the suffering of Portugal (and Europe) was based on an obsession with radical ideologies and not just fascism or communism. Basically, he blamed the liberalism that infected Europe during the French Revolution.

He despised mass politics and was practically absent from public life. “Those good people who cheer me on one day, moved by the excitement of the occasion, may rebel the next day for equally temporary reasons,” remarked Salazar. He also despised political parties that he believed had no other purpose than to hamper good government and to divide compatriots against one another. “Politics killed the administration,” he once complained.

In Salazar’s view, the means was to rally the nation around its Christian heritage, to keep the peace in the Iberian Peninsula, and to improve the lot of the ordinary Portuguese.

And it worked. When he left after three decades, Portugal was a respected First World power. The literacy rate had risen from 30 percent to almost 100 percent. The economy was booming (modestly). His admirers included personalities as diverse as T.S. Eliot, Charles de Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer and Dean Acheson, the latter of whom Salazar described as “the closest approach in our time to Plato’s philosopher-king”. No wonder that in 2007 Salazar was named the greatest Portuguese in history in a national poll.

If you look around our own country, it becomes more and more difficult to refute Patrick Deneen’s thesis that liberalism has already failed. All the hallmarks are there: excessive dependence on foreign markets; a stagnant and servile economy; an increasingly polarized left and right; widespread political violence; a loss of confidence in our democratic institutions.

However, Salazar’s example offers a different kind of post-liberal order than that of left and right ideologues. Salazarism, if there is such a thing, is a kind of paternalistic traditionalism. Either a weaker or a “more visionary” leader could not have spared Portugal the excesses of totalitarianism. Salazar was temperate in his own way.

Gallagher sums up the spirit of Salazarism, sharply quoting the Israeli Conservative thinker Yoram Hazony: “When a people is unable to discipline themselves, a mild government will only encourage licentiousness and division, hatred and violence, and ultimately the choice between Civil war and civil war enforce tyranny. The best an undisciplined people can hope for is a benevolent autocrat. “

Events of the past year could prove Hazony right. If we Americans lack the self-discipline necessary for self-government, if liberalism is The only alternative to a tyrant like Lenin or Hitler could be a man like Salazar: a paternalistic traditionalist, a philosopher-king.

Michael Warren Davis is the author of the upcoming book The reactionary spirit (Regnery, 2021).

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