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Salazar’s Dictatorship of Love

Antonio Salazar [1]

Antonio Salazar

1,523 words

Editor’s Note:

The following is the English translation of the great historian of religions Mircea Eliade’s preface to Salazar and the Revolution in Portugal (Salazar și Revoluția în Portugalia [Bucharest: Editura Gorjan, 1942]), a book which has not been translated into English. The title is editorial. 

This book of political history is written by a man who is not professionally engaged in either history properly speaking or in politics. It was born out of a state of perplexity and it was written to answer a question that the author has not tired of asking for the past ten years: Is a spiritual revolution possible? Is a revolution historically realizable, made by men who believe, above all, in the primacy of the spiritual? The Portugal of today, the Portugal of Salazar, is perhaps the only country in the world that has attempted to answer such a question. The study of its history is all the more instructive in that the Portuguese political experiment — inaugurated with the first liberal constitution and the civil war at the beginning of the nineteenth century — is today concluded. Salazar, by reintegrating Portugal into the line of its historical destiny, ends a disastrous cycle, which was nourished by all the influences and all the ideological conflicts of the nineteenth century, which knew the latent preparation for the revolution and the proclamation of the republic, the struggles between parties, the political anarchy, and finally the counterrevolution of 28 May 1926 — he ends this cycle and begins a new cycle, oriented around completely different principles and validated by a different tradition. Salazar’s moral and political revolution has succeeded; the best proof is the serenity and fecundity of today’s Portugal, as compared with the chaos of the last regime. Who does not remember the refrain, “Encore une révolution au Portugal!” with which a famous Parisian couplet of twenty years ago ended?

The modern history of Portugal has seemed interesting to me from another point of view also. How was it possible to arrive at a Christian form of totalitarianism, in which the state does not confiscate the lives of those who constitute it, and the human person (the person, not the individual) preserves all his natural rights? So much has been spoken and written about the function and limits of freedom — but to me it seems that the ancient Christian formula is closest to the truth: “Love — and do what you want” (St. Augustine). But first, love. Love assures man of a state of grace in which the brute instincts are at least asleep. Brotherly love purifies, and a man so purified can exercise at will all his freedoms; they will never endanger the peace of his neighbor nor harm society. Freedom preceded and nourished by caritas is the optimum climate allowed for the perfection of man. But how far is this Christian freedom in love from the Rabelaisian maxim, “Fais ce que tu voudras!” that obsessed so many doctrinaire dreamers of the eighteenth century!

The Salazaran state, a Christian and totalitarian state, is founded, first of all, on love. This assertion can seem, in the eyes of the competent, an irresponsible exclamation of a dilettante. But it is nothing other than a reduction to its ultimate elements of the revolution and reforms undertaken by Salazar. Because what is meant by the replacement of the individual (the “citizen”) by the family, the irreducible nucleus of the nation, and the return of the corporation, considered as an organic social collective; and what does it mean to say: “We do not question the nation . . . no son ever wants to be the child of a different mother”? All these are but variations of the same organic community of love: love that creates, unites, and places value on the family. This organic and irreducible unity — and, as such, the only thing that can exercise political rights — only comes into being through an act of love, with all that that entails: humility, sacrifice, renunciation, creation. The whole social and governmental concept of Salazar is based on the family, and, as such, on love. The corporations, towns, and nation are nothing but elaborated forms of the same Portuguese family. The “Unitary Nation” means, for Portugal’s dictator, a community of love and a community of destiny — terms that define the family precisely.

In light of these specifications, one can understand the miracle that Salazar has achieved: a totalitarian and Christian state, constructed not on abstractions, but on the living realities of his nation and its traditions. This creation is all the more remarkable in that it has been accomplished at the end of a political evolution that was violently antitraditional, anti-Christian, and passionately “Europeanizing.” Entire generations of Portuguese youth — some of them in good faith, others simply out of snobbery or spiritual drought — sought to drive Portugal from its traditional course and transform it into a “European country.” This book relates the history of these men and the results of their efforts. When Republican and democratic Portugal wanted to “enter” Europe, the moral misery and administrative chaos reached unimaginable proportions — and the presence of Lusitanianism in in European capitals made itself noticed in couplets. For a hundred years Portugal struggled to become a European country, borrowing from the Right and from the Left, imitating Parisian models especially; and much blood flowed in order to put an end to the “specter of reaction,” by which was meant tradition, monarchy, Christianity. And when the liberal ideas had triumphed and Portugal had become a country, at least by constitution, just like other European countries — the only reward was the refrain, “Encore une révolution au Portugal!”

Europe did not begin to take account of Portugal until the day when it became itself again. The prestige this little Atlantic country enjoys today in Europe is simply amazing, if we think about its situation of twenty years ago. It seems that “Europe” can be satisfactorily assimilated only by the elite; more precisely, only a few personalities can allow themselves to assimilate the genius of one or several European cultures, while remaining themselves and continuing to create in the spirit of their own people. (What the Spanish genius meant for Corneille, the Italian for Ronsard or Sa de Miranda, the English for Voltaire and the Romantics, the Greco-Latin for Goethe, and the German for the Anglo-Saxon Romantics — are well-known facts.) But when whole nations try (or are forced) to imitate one or another European government — then they either fail disastrously or produce hybrid, weak, standardized forms, which mean, besides their own sterilization, the death of “Europe” as well.

Thus, I believe that I have not digressed too far from the problems of our nation and our time in bringing out this book, which deals with the recent history of a country at the other extremity of Latinity. Addressing the Portuguese youth of ten years ago, Salazar said, “Times are becoming increasingly harsh . . . I tell you that you are the sacrificed generation, the generation that must make atonement . . .” The great conflict of today, in which the youth especially are being sacrificed, atoning for the sins of so many well-intentioned generations, reduces to the problem of the restoration or the disappearance of Europe: of that Europe which takes account only of those countries that have not betrayed their destiny and have not suppressed their history. Salazar has tried to save Portugal through a Christian revolution, that is, a revolution that begins with little things well done — but which ends, naturally, in the reintegrating of man into the organic unities and the cosmic rhythms. He has tried — and he has succeeded. This historic experiment compels us — as Christians, as Latin, and as Europeans — to revise a whole series of concepts: tradition, nation, freedom, etc.

This book is based on true and, insofar as possible, complete information. I have, first of all, allowed the facts to speak, but not only the facts that seemed significant to me (although this is the case also with the majority of historians, even when they don’t say so). However, in order to make an accessible book, I have dispensed with the scholarly apparatus, being content to print at the end a bibliography for each chapter individually. Perhaps later, if there is need, I will bring out an amplified, more erudite edition.

Undoubtedly this book would have had fewer shortcomings had I been able to profit in time by Jesús Pabón’s admirable La Revolución Portuguesa (Madrid, 1941). Unfortunately, the first chapters were already written when Pabón’s monograph appeared.

I wish to express my thanks to the head of the Secretariat of Propaganda in Lisbon, which put at my disposal a large number of inaccessible works, as well as to Antonio Ferro, Dr. Tavares d’Almeida, Dr. Manuel Múrias, Pedro Correa Marquez, João Ameal, and Eduardo Freitas da Costa, who assisted me — through publications, documents, or personal information — in the redacting of this book.

I thank also Minister Victor Cădere, who read the volume in manuscript and suggested several improvements in the text.

M. E.
Lisbon, May 1942

Source: Drawn from Mircea Eliade, The Portugal Journal [2] (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2010), translated by Mac Linscott Ricketts, 251–54.