Coordinated by Sabin DRĂGULIN

Constitutional Reform and Political Regime in Interwar Portugal. A Challenge for Political Theory[1]


Florin-Ciprian MITREA

University of South-East Europe Lumina



Abstract: Salazar’s authoritarian regime (1932-1968) represents unquestionably a controversial moment in Europe’s political history. Antonio Salazar is considered either a saviour of interwar Portugal and an exponent of Christian philosophy in politics, or, on the contrary, a dictator of fascist filiation who obstructed his country’s democratic evolution. All disputes aside, it can be stated with certainty that the Portuguese politician was the longest-serving state leader of twentieth century Europe and that his constitutional philosophy is still a challenge for political theory. Was Salazar’s an authoritarian, dictatorial, totalitarian regime or, conversely, can it be considered a sui generis aspect of the Mediterranean political model? Starting from this question, the aim of this article is to analyse the substance of Salazar’s political thought, as well as its reception phenomenon from the viewpoint of Arendtian critique of totalitarianism, and of the model of conceptual history, as theorised by Reinhart Kosellek.


Keywords: Portugal, interwar period, constitutional reform, authoritarianism, dictatorship, totalitarianism, Mediterranean model, conceptual history.    



The political regime established by Antonio Oliveira de Salazar in Portugal, between 1932 and 1968, was received in various ways. Thus, Salazar’s regime was depicted as either a form of successful corporatism which put an end to anarchy in interwar Portugal, or as a dictatorship which, chiefly after 1945, abused the state’s coercive means against political opposition. Notwithstanding these controversies, Salazar is the main author of the 1933 Portuguese Constitution, which echoes a corporatist political philosophy wherein the concepts of “family”, “profession” and “nation” occupy a central position. On the basis of the new fundamental Law, interwar Portugal witnessed an impressive economic revival, due to which it was possible to speak at that time and even long afterwards about a Lusitanian model of restoration of the nation’s stability and welfare.

Starting from these contextual premises, we can say that the constitutional philosophy formulated and encouraged by Salazar represents a relevant case study for the history of the concept of “corporatism”. Hence, from the perspective of “conceptual history” as theorised by Reinhart Koselleck the concepts which structure social and political life do not have monolithic semantic contents, but are rather composed of superposed and fragmented meanings according to the contexts in which they were forged. Unlike the Cambridge School of historiography (represented mainly by Quentin Skinner) which is interested in language as “source” of social changes, Koselleck’s historiographical method considers that discourse and concepts “mirror” social and political realities of an era, constituting its main category of documents.[2] Consequently, by applying the method of conceptual history, corporatism can be described as a polysemantic concept used both in antidemocratic oratorical contexts (specific to the interwar period) and in the theories formulated in the second half of the 20th century touching the evaluation and strengthening of democracy. The relationship between corporatism and democracy was eloquently analysed by Arend Lijphart in his theory of “consociational democracy”, as well as by Philippe Schmitter by means of the concept of social and political “concurrence”. Lijphart and Schmitter equate democratic corporatism with the functional inclusion of “interest groups” in the political process.[3]

In the interwar period, the corporatist doctrine was a dominant current, and rather an antidemocratic one, yet important differences can be observed between its manifold hypostases. Italian fascism promoted a form of economic corporatism completely subordinated to Mussolini’s revolutionary political movement. The transformation of the corporation-based system in a revolutionary tool for seizing political power was considered at that time by other representatives of corporatism as a distortion of this theoretical current. In this respect, the Romanian economist Mihail Manoilescu published in 1934, in Paris, his work “Theory of pure and integral corporatism” in which he defined the corporate state by delimiting it from both communism and Italian fascism. According to Manoilescu, corporatism integrates individual energies in a functional, oriented to community system. Unlike communist collectivism which relies on coercion, corporatism turns to good account individual energies only and only if the “corporate state” is an ideal accepted by all citizens. Likewise, Manoilescu denounces the claim of universality of Italian corporatism and its dependence on the existence of a revolutionary party. In this respect, Manoilescu states that corporate institutions cannot be imposed by a revolutionary party, but ought to be the expression of a natural historical development of each and every society.[4]

As far as Salazar’s corporatism is concerned, its most distinctive element is the identification of “family” as foundation of the nation. As such, Salazar did not regard the Portuguese nation as a construct, as an “imagined community”, as Benedict Anderson[5] would say, but as a “reality” made up of a “sum of realities”. These principles became the conceptual core of the 1933-35 Portuguese Constitution, according to which the New Portuguese State is characterised by an “eminently social thought”, since it has not its basis in the individual as source of law, but directly in the Nation. Parting with the ideas of the liberal revolution, this Constitution sees the State not as an arbitrary creation of reason, but as “the legal essence of the national community”. Denouncing the exclusively “political” character of 19th century demo-liberal constitutions, Salazar’s Constitution builds the State “on collective realities”, opting for an overall vision on “family, economic, and social manifestations, in their entire huge complexity”.[6] Consequently, in Salazar’s political philosophy “national politics” is a key-concept resting on the definition of the Nation as “living and immortal reality”, as an “organic whole” made up of individuals differentiated by their aptitudes and activities. Therefore, the premise of serving the national interest lies in the “recognition of natural and social groups” (such as: family, society, professional unions, associations for ideal goals, local autarchies) and not of political groups, “organised to conquer the power and seize the state”.[7] Accordingly, Salazar introduces a distinction between the “natural” forms of associativity (following the family pattern) and the “artificial” ones (represented by political groups).

To a large extent, the substance of Salazar’s corporatism was determined by the severe economic crisis Portugal had to confront with in the first decades of the 20th century. Between 1927 and 1928, Portugal was in full financial meltdown, with a huge foreign debt and galloping inflation, so that the public debate in Lusitania was gravitating around the hope that the politicians in power had placed in the idea of ​​resorting to a foreign loan. In this context, Antonio Oliveira de Salazar, as university professor specialised in law and economy, launches a press campaign in the Novidades gazette, meant to demonstrate to the Portuguese people that the solution able to avoid the catastrophe did not reside in a foreign loan, but in each person’s effort to revitalise national economy. Salazar advocates in particular the need for all Portuguese people to change their view on “wealth” and “labour”, emphasising the “national value of small savings for the families’ budgets”. This being so, the professor of Coimbra does not hesitate to criticise the “rhetorical tradition” of Lusitania prone rather to great deeds of ardent patriotism, and excessive “tittle-tattle” than to small constant efforts to learn the practice of saving and spending properly.[8]

Salazar pinpoints the cause of his country’s catastrophic budget deficits which, says he, resides not in her being poorly administered, but in a “false conception on life and the world”. Once the diagnosis found, the therapy has to start from a number of principles such as: “common sense”, “simplicity”, “saving” as fundamental values of economy which should be “reintegrated in an organic system of spiritual values”. These ideas will be the pivotal elements of the political programme assumed by Salazar, this time as prime minister, in a speech delivered on March 16, 1933, in which he proposes to the Portuguese to redefine the concepts of “wealth” and “labour”. In Salazar’s opinion, these two notions have been corrupted by the modern revolutionary spirit which has turned upside down the meaning and raison d’être of wealth and labour as support of human dignity. By regarding the individual as an autonomous value, the unlimited accumulation of goods without any social utility was sanctioned and legitimised and the human being was climbed down from the step as organic element of a community to the status of mere producing machine. The first reality attacked by this tainting of the notions of labour and individual worker was the family itself. The unwavering completeness represented by the husband, wife and children, endowed with its own dynamics and the right to dignity, was no longer considered as such, but was dissolved in individual labour forces, ignoring the organic interdependence between them. That is why to Salazar’s mind the financial rebalancing of his country and getting budget surpluses should commence with the overall reorganisation of Portuguese economic life, the restoration of “the authentic spiritual significance of work and production” and with the viewing of the “family” as the foundation of national life.[9]

Therefore, the meaning given by Salazar, ever since 1930, to the concept of “national revolution” rests in the first place on the restoration of the notion of family, in direct opposition to 19th century political liberalism which privileged the citizen, understood as an individual detached from his family, class, profession, cultural background and invested with the right to intervene in the governance of the State. However, the liberal citizen, argues Salazar, is but an abstraction, while the true reality is the family, “irreducible social cell, the original nucleus of the hamlet, of the municipality and therefore of the nation”. This being so, it is clear that the individual can be creative but in the family and professional associations. Thus, the assertion of the dichotomy “individualist fiction” vs. “reality of the family” is the philosophical premise of Salazar’s corporatism as foundation of the New State, built on the substitution of the “partisan fiction” with the “reality of associativity”. Virulent critic of parliamentarism (on the ground of its catastrophic effects on Portuguese political life), Salazar seeks to safeguard the legitimacy of the representative system centring it on the coordinates of associativity on “family” and “professional” criteria, instead of partisan criteria. In Salazar’s political philosophy, materialised in the 1933 Constitution, the social and corporate state should reflect the “natural constitution of society”. Thus, the supreme bodies of the state (as an expression of an authentic representative system) should be the emanation of the true “constituting organisms of the nation”: families, hamlets, municipalities, corporations as concrete expressions of associativity, wherein all the citizens are comprised with all their fundamental legal liberties.[10]

Proponent of the idea of the “​​primacy of the spiritual”, Salazar believes that social life has a sacred dimension that should be carried into effect. Hence, according to Salazar’s viewpoint, in order to be efficient and useful to his nation, a politician should first and foremost be aware of his “pedagogic” and “spiritual mission” which should be in tune with his various other competencies. In this respect, the revolutionary dimension of Salazar’s Constitution consists in his struggle to restore a tradition which had been replaced by the 19th century Portuguese liberal elite with a modern and antichristian perspective. Speaking with the authority of an economist who had succeeded, after only one year tenure as minister of the Finances, to balance the state budget, Salazar explains to all his compatriots that the “inefficiency” of liberal and socialist ideologies is caused by the fact that they are grounded on the concept of individual, i.e. an abstraction, “neglecting natural bonds in society”[11] . In contraposition to these inefficient ideologies, Salazar places the fruitfulness of a policy based on the concept of “family as an indissoluble element of society”[12], as “elementary cell of collective life”[13]. Understanding the state as “thought in action and as a participant in the absolute”, Salazar’s political philosophy posits a return to the organic units of national life, namely the “family and the guilds”, and their integration into a comprehensive Christian vision.[14] By assuming the notion of family as Archimedean point of his political philosophy, Salazar succeeds to overcome one of the main causes of modern Portugal’s scission, that is to say the conflict between “monarchists” and “republicans”. Although his Christian and traditionalist sensibility made ​​him take a liking to the idea of ​​monarchy, however, Salazar avoided any political regime fetishism. Envisaging the nation as a large family, what really mattered to him was the “union of the Portuguese family”. As such, if this union had had been injured or jeopardised by the attempt of restoring the monarchy, then Salazar would have adopted a rather antimonarchist position.[15]

Considering that the real revolution and reform of his country cannot be confined only to the institutions, Salazar highlighted even before going into actual politics that “man” ought to be reformed in the first instance. Thus, at a conference held on December 1, 1909, in the Via Sacra College, the young university teacher speaks about the “primacy of moral education”, making the distinction between the development of intelligence and the acquisition of knowledge, on the one hand, and the “education of will in love of God and thy neighbour”, on the other hand. The main resorts to achieve this pedagogical work are in Salazar’s thought the “family” and the “school”. By pointing out that the parents’ superiority as educators resides in the love they feel for their children, which helps them know their offspring best, Salazar emphasises that education must start in the parental home and be completed at school, in accordance with the foundation already laid. For this good reason, Portugal’s future lies firstly in the hands of the parents and is above all their work and that of the teachers, who, by virtue of this responsibility, should work together.[16] In its turn, according to Salazar’s Constitution, the State has the obligation to support and guide families through welfare services and institutions (such as economic homes affordable to workers’ families), programmes (e.g. “Mothers’ Work”, an institutional interface by which Portuguese mothers are invited to collaborate with public authorities “to defend childhood” and “to train physically and morally the new generations”), as well as through a protective legislation (reflected in the adequacy of taxes in accordance with the legitimate needs of the family or by fixing a “family wage”). At the same time, however, the intervention of the State is clearly stipulated and limited, which means that the state “cannot substitute itself to the initiative of families, who must protect themselves, defending their cohesion and moral health”.[17] Therefore in Salazar’s political philosophy the family plays the role of a key concept, full of substance, a real pivot around which the whole social and political system of the nation is structured. When he refers to the family, Salazar has in mind in the first instance the nuclear family, “this fundamental element of society”, “defined by marriage and legitimate filiation providing equal rights and liabilities to both spouses as to the feeding, maintenance and education of their children”.[18] As entity sanctioned also by civil law, the family has the right and power to dialogue with the State and local autarchies, its voice having the effects of a real power in the state without thereby losing any of its sovereignty of autonomous entity integrated in the nation’s big organism.



The anti-political (actually a critique of distorted politics that manifested as a source of anarchy in the Lusitanian space) and anti-individualistic character of the Constitution of Portugal during Salazar’s governance is perhaps likely to shock the political sensitivities specific to the 21st century. That is why, in order to understand it, we should take into account all the nuances of Salazar’s political discourse. A good and useful exercise in this regard would be to remember the great post-war philosophical debate between John Rawls and Michael Sandel. The former, reckoned as one of the greatest political philosophers of the 20th century, proposed in 1971 a theory of social equity based on the so called concepts of “original position” and “veil of ignorance”. Essentially, Rawls believes that to build a fair society we should imagine that when establishing the rules of the social contract we must consider the individuals as detached from their characteristics and purposes. In response, the philosopher Michael Sandel formulated a critique of the “disembodied self”, taken as a landmark by Rawlsian deontological liberalism. For Sandel, as for other liberal communitarian philosophers (Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor), an equitable social contract cannot be drawn unless we think of the individuals as actually rooted in their own communities. Consequently, the private or public identity of the individual cannot be the expression of a “de-socialised autonomy” or merely of a rational choice, but it is, in the first place, the result of an affiliation to a historical and cultural tradition, as source of significance and value.[19]

Somewhat in the terms of this kind of debate, but long before it took place, Salazar makes a critique of the fictional individual promoted by 19th century liberalism which “regarded individuals as being abstract, geometrically equal to each other and detached from all their preexisting interests”.[20] In fact, argues the Portuguese philosopher and politician, a political ideology based on fiction can offer no protection whatsoever to the human being. That is why, in his opinion, a Constitution which recognises that the individual’s communitarian dimension is a constitutive and inalienable value of the person is much more adequate to man’s needs. Therefore, the true advocacy of the human person can be achieved by turning to good account its “associative” and “communitarian” dimension. From this perspective, we might consider Salazar, the political philosopher, much closer to postwar communitarian liberalism than to interwar fascism. Moreover, it is precisely the way Salazar’s political philosophy solves the classical problem of the relationship between “individual” and “society” that is the stumbling block for its reception phenomenon, many historians hurrying to include Salazar’s period in the interwar European fascisms category.

Standing out in the middle of the fourth decade of the twentieth century, the Salazar political momentum is obviously deeply imbued by the interwar revolutionary ethos. Nonetheless, its originality stems precisely from its Christian and conservative dimension which places him in a relation of dichotomy against Bolshevism and a clear delineation relation as to fascist movements. Yet which are the resemblances and differences between the Portuguese Estado Novo and the other right-wing political movements of interwar Europe?  

Relevant are here Salazar’s own comments on the quite widespread even at that time opinion according to which the regime resulted from of the Portuguese national revolution of May 1926 was an exact copy of Mussolini’s fascism. Admitting that his dictatorship resembles the Duke’s dictatorship in some points (strengthening of the authority, critique of certain principles of democracy, nationalist character, concern for social order), Salazar underlines that there are other issues, at least as consistent, related especially to the renewal processes applied which differentiate him from Mussolini. Beyond their different ways of acting, Salazar also identifies a fundamental element pertaining to the very nature of the political regime, which creates a gap between the two movements of national renewal. Whilst “fascist dictatorship tends toward a pagan Caesarism, toward a new state that knows no legal or moral limits, which pursues its goals irrespective of any obstacles,” contrariwise, the new Portuguese state founds its reforming action on certain moral limits it deems indispensable.[21] It is remarkable in this context the radiography Salazar makes to Mussolini, the politician, in an era when few right-wing people across Europe proved capable of critically delimitate from Italian fascism. In interwar Romania too, in right-wing cultural and political milieus, the notion of totalitarianism was used either in a neutral manner (to describe certain contemporary tendencies), or in a normative manner, as a reference to a desirable political reality (which was however intended to ensure the harmony and collaboration of the creative forces of the nation and was not deemed to be a new radical political regime based on the usurpation of individual and collective liberties). A notable exception is the 1940 conference of Mircea Vulcanescu at the Dalles Hall, in which the negative connotations of totalitarianism are most explicitly stated.[22]

In this context, in Portugal, Mussolini is labeled by Salazar as an “opportunist of the action” who vacillates between the left and right depending on the context, and who stands out against the Church and then signs the Lateran Treaty[23] , and shortly afterwards bans catholic associations. Additionally, the university politician of Lisbon finds Mussolini’s political behaviour rather wavering between his relationship with the “elite” whose support he cleverly gained and the “street” whom, from time to time, he was compelled to befriend. And above all, warns us Salazar, let us not forget the Duke’s “socialist, almost communist origins and training”.[24]

What he stated in 1934, in the dialogue with Antonio Ferro, Salazar was to formulate systematically in 1939, when he expounded the doctrine of the Portuguese revolution and the contents of the Constitution derived thereof. Although clearly stipulating “the legitimate subordination of private interests to the general interest”, Salazar’s Constitution sketches the State not as the recipient of a monopoly power, but as main responsible for the creation of “national unity”, the establishing of “the Nation’s legal order”, and the respect of the “rights and guarantees” arising from morals, justice and law to the good of individuals, families and local autarchies.[25] Hence, this definition of the concept of State corresponds to none of the “forms of Caesarism, adopted more or less overtly by other regimes erected on the ruins of liberalism”. In other words, Salazar’s vision on the state “rests on the idea of “authority” and not of “totalitarianism”, that totalitarianism of pagan descent, which subordinates everything, people and things, to a national or racial particularism, considering itself an omnipotent system which possesses in itself the beginning and the end and which monopolises all individual and collective manifestations.”[26] The hints to totalitarian political pathologies such as Bolshevism, fascism and the emerging Nazism are only too obvious. Thus, Salazar’s authoritarian regime comes in opposition not only to the anticlerical revolutionary spirit that had devastated Portugal in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, but also to interwar political extremisms (both left and right-wing).

Salazar’s statism, placing itself “at the edge of totalitarian orientations”, assumes as limit and censor the superior order of morality. That is why the “State’s reason is not more legitimate once he enters into conflict with the rules of morality”. The Mediterranean dimension of this type of authoritarian regime (based on a national and Christian concept) and having at the level of morality the principle of limiting its power lies in the opening toward “the effective participation of all the organic elements of the nation” in the establishment of the State’s structure, respecting, at the same time, the autonomy of each and every entity.[27] Noteworthy in Salazar’s case is the fact that the anti-totalitarian dimension of his politics resides in its very statism, based on a fair equilibrium between authority and liberty. Perceiving this specificity, Hannah Arendt included Salazar’s regime in the category of “un-totalitarian dictatorships”.[28] According to Arendt’s explanation (expounded in 1951), dictatorships are a logical development of continental Europe’s multiparty system (different from the two party Anglo-Saxon system), because it favours the emergence of a dominant party whose aim will be to seize the state apparatus. As far as totalitarian movements are concerned (embodied by Bolshevism and Nazism), they seek the “destruction” of the state and certainly not its conquest. Confining himself to a systemic explanation, Arendt correctly distinguishes between Salazar’s New State and totalitarianisms (be they left or right-wing politically oriented), but makes no distinction between interwar Portugal and interwar Italy (although Mussolini spoke in 1923 about stato totalitario as aim) in terms of political regime. Or we have seen that due to its Christian and moral grounding Salazar’s politics places itself from the very beginning in contradiction with Mussolini’s “pagan Caesarism”.

Yet the special value of Arendt’s intuition consists in the emphasis he lays on the fact that totalitarian power is installed not by an exacerbation of classical political authority, but rather by its erosion and destruction. Being the political expression of nihilism, totalitarian power is based, in fact, on a vacuum of authority. Leonard Schapiro, a historian of the twentieth century, underlined, and with good reason, that the term of “totalitarian state” is a nonsense, since totalitarian politics, as “radical anti-institutionalist politics”, is actually a “regime” established on the ruins of the state. That is why, the tendency of the totalitarian leader is to substitute himself to the pillars of society, i.e. the State and the Church, for he himself is neither State, nor Church.[29] Therefore totalitarianism proceeds to unify society, yet not by bringing together its creative entities, but by deleting identities and by destroying institutions, through a confusion of political, economic and hierocratic spheres, under a “Caesarian-papist-Mammonist” regime.[30] Hence, the destructive force of totalitarianism is a consequence of its utopian attempt to embody “a perfectly unified society” wherein all conflicts will be abolished and human aspirations fulfilled. The idea of ​​flawless social unity and inner reunification of man being an “eschatological” concept, the attempt of its implementation at the immanence level leads unavoidably to a call for violence.[31] It is precisely in this regard that Mircea Vulcănescu also warned since 1940, more specifically on “the paradoxical character of human striving towards unity”, undoubtedly legitimate in terms of aspiration, still tending to borrow “the forms of forced external authority” when “unity claims to be accomplished ​​here on earth”, in which case “spirituality splits from the effort toward unity and becomes protest”.[32]

Seen in this conceptual context, Salazar’s philosophy and political work, along with their results and fundamentals (Christian perspective on society, strong yet limited by morals State, critical demarcation from contemporary totalitarian movements, savings as a source of economic stability and growth, preservation of the autonomy of the traditional collective institutions of the Portuguese nation and guarantee of individual freedoms) can hardly be labeled as expressions of right-wing extremism. It seems more appropriate to place Salazar’s political philosophy (built around the constitutional reform of 1933) in the context of the traditional philosophical debate on the relationship between “individual” and “community”. The 1933 Portuguese Constitution suggests corporatism as the best way to solve this relationship. It ensues thereby a pre-eminence of the community’s rights as compared to the rights of the individual. It is, however, a moderate collectivism which includes explicitly, as a constitutional principle, a self-limitation by assuming civil liberty and Christian morality as its supreme values. Given these specific elements, Salazar’s political philosophy can be listed as criticism of the totalitarianism that is based on the critique of democratic individualism stemming from the Enlightenment. Besides Hannah Arendt (with her critique of modernity), another well-known theoretic landmark in this sense is Claude Lefort who demonstrates that totalitarianism is the result of “the revolutionary intellectuals’ fantasies”, in their attempt to continue the Jacobins’ exploits of 1793. According to Lefort, during the ancien régime, “the body politic” had a real consistency, since it “was made up of an infinite number of small bodies (…) fitted together within a great imaginary body for which the body of the king provided the model and the guarantee of its integrity.”[33] After the French Revolution which led to the fall of the ancien régime, the unity of the political body was replaced by social division, meaning that “there is no representation of a centre and of the contours of society”. Consequently, argues Lefort, “democracy inaugurates the experience of an ungraspable, uncontrollable society in which the people will be said to be sovereign, of course, but whose identity will constantly be open to question, whose identity will remain latent.”[34] The replacement of the former organic structure of society with a fictional unity prepared, according to Lefort, the conditions for the imaginary space of totalitarianism.[35] This type of reasoning can be also easily found in Salazar’s constitutional philosophy, which is an additional argument in favour of a systematic approach of his philosophy from the perspective of political theory.



The phenomenon of the reception of Salazar’s political model is one of the most complex one can imagine. Thus, the balanced descriptions (outlining the context and the significant nuances) coexist with interpretative abuses present both among his apologists (who believe that Salazar succeeded what Plato had failed at Syracuse) and among his detractors (who believe that the professor at the University of Coimbra betrayed philosophy and politics likewise). Therefore, by comparing several representative viewpoints from both interwar and postwar periods, we can arrive at a result apt to indicate, even if only approximately, the middle path.

Mircea Eliade portrays Salazar, after having met him in 1942, as a man with a profound spiritual life and at the same time simple and modest, whose whole philosophy was reduced to being “a Christian and a common sense Latin, a realist in the best Catholic tradition and with a great love of people and things”.[36] When reading this description, we can agree with Florin Ţurcanu who considers that Eliade saw in Salazar a sort of Catholic Nae Ionescu, with a touch of sobriety who, just like the Professor of Bucharest, addressed state affairs from the perspective of organic, natural, family, corporate and Christian love realities.[37] Furthermore, we can add that Eliade saw in Salazar a man with an academic and ecclesiastical calling who sacrificed his peace by dedicating himself to a national pedagogical work.[38] Worthy of notice in this respect is the way Eliade presents Salazar as overcoming his disgust for politics which he had acquired after the first sitting in the Parliament, and accepting to respond positively to the proposals of becoming the minister of Finances in order to save Portugal’s economy, but only after having received his mother’s blessing to leave for this purpose for Lisbon.[39] The gesture described by Eliade is significant for Salazar’s view on how politics ought to be practiced, identifying it with an almost sacramental ministration.

Whilst Eliade’s perspective is by and large objective and still resists as trustworthy evidence, although clearly marked by obvious admiration and by his intention (avowed also in his memoirs and correspondence)[40] to give the Romanians a fruitful model to face the terrors of history, in those days more questionable opinions were also formulated. Thus, Alexandru Gregorian, for instance, who prefaced the 1939 Romanian edition of some of Salazar’s writings (“The Doctrine and Organisation of the Portuguese Revolution”), does not hesitate that, after having praised the Portuguese leader’s personality and corporate system implemented by him, to find similitudes between the Lusitanian political model and the Romanian regime under Carol II, whose claimed corporatism were based on the 1938 Constitution.[41] The differences in terms of content and consequences between the two political realities, and especially between the two figures, appear to us now so huge and indisputable that they almost require no additional argument. Also in the Romanian interwar period, but at a quite different level (untouched by ideological reading), we find in the historian Gheorghe Brătianu a very interesting perspective on Salazar’s model. What fascinates this liberal historian is the great similarity between Salazar’s economic recovery policy and the one applied by the Emperor of Byzantium, Nikephoros I (802-811). What likens the two men would be the skill, courage, efficiency and the lack of compromise in administering the finances of their respective countries. Confronted with serious financial crises, neither Nikephoros nor Salazar, relates the chronicler, resorted to the easy solution of the inflationary devaluation of the national currency, but resorted to a “classical” policy: they laid emphasis on savings, a new distribution of taxes, an improved tax collection and a severe punishment of tax frauds. Therefore, concludes Brătianu, we are compelled to make a comparison between the balancing of the Byzantine Empire’s budget achieved ​​by Nikephoros through totally transparent means and “the financial recovery effected in Portugal by Mr. António de Oliveira Salazar”. Great admirer of the Byzantine emperor’s realism, contrariwise to the dominant historiographical current, Brătianu regretfully notes that “maybe Nikephoros would have left a reputation equal to that of the wise Portuguese dictator, had he had the opportunity to pursue his work in peace” and not with so many wars on all frontiers, which forced him to take much tougher measures and therefore be much more unpopular.[42]

One of the most interesting and notorious debates about Salazar’s pattern occurred in the postwar period, in the writings and correspondence of Kojeve and Leo Strauss, two political philosophers who have left a strong imprint on this subject. In a comment to Xenophon’s dialogue “Hieron”, entitled “Tyranny and Wisdom” (1950), the Hegelian Kojeve tries to prove, following the ancient author, that a “good tyranny” is possible when certain social and economic conditions are met. To support his theory, Kojeve gives an example of good tyranny, namely Salazar’s political experiment. Leaving aside the fact that it is hard to prove Salazar’s tyrannical dimension (even in the Xenophonian sense), we can say that this apology does not do a great service to the Portuguese politician, if we think that the project in which Kojeve, the Hegelian atheist philosopher, strongly believed, was the work of a “Universal Homogenous State”, as an embodiment of good tyranny. As a matter of fact, the retort was quick to appear. Thus, in 1959, Leo Strauss denounces the utopian dimension of Kojeve’s political thought. In this respect, Strauss agrees with the positive description of the outcomes of Salazar’s policy, but believes, contrarily to Kojeve, that Salazar is rather an exception than the illustration of a rule. At the same time, Strauss states that Salazar’s regime should be defined rather as “post-constitutional” than as a tyrannical one.[43] Relevantly, other theorists have pointed out that the phenomenon that urged many European monarchies and republics to adopt authoritarian regimes after 1918, leaving the impression of a Europe of dictators, should not be dealt with by hastily sticking a general label on it. It would be much more appropriate to establish certain criteria when it comes to comparing dictatorships, in other words to see which of them preserve the features of the ancient concept, and which of them correspond to a different reality, a radically different one, implying therefore a definition with other concepts.[44]

However, in what could be called the “main stream” political science, Salazar’s regime is described as being, through its authoritarianism, opposed to the so-called “Mediterranean model”, based on democracy and economic liberalism.[45] By fathoming the way in which, in fact, the regime of the Portuguese “New State” preserved and cultivated civil liberties and revitalised national economy through the latter’s own resorts (including by encouraging private initiative), we might be led to reconsider the not sufficiently proven antagonism between Salazar’s political model and the Mediterranean one.




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ELIADE, Mircea, Salazar şi revoluţia în Portugalia, Scara, Bucureşti, 2002.

ELIADE, Mircea, Jurnalul portughez şi alte scrieri (ediţie îngrijită de Sorin Alexandrescu) – Vol. II, trans. Mihai Zamfir, Humanitas, Bucureşti, 2006.

FERRO, Antonio, Salazar. Le Portugal et son chef, trans. Fernando de Castro, Editions Bernard Grasset 61, Paris, 1934.

HEINEN, Armin, Legiunea Arhanghelul Mihail. Mişcare socială şi organizaţie politică. O contribuţie la problema fascismului internaţional, 2nd ed., trans. Cornelia and Delia Eşianu, Humanitas, Bucureşti, 2006.

KOLAKOWSKI, Leszek, Main Currents of Marxism. Its Origin, Growth and Dissolution, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1978.

LEFORT, Claude, The Political Forms of Modern Society. Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism, edited and introduced by John B. Thompson, The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1986.

LIJPHART, Arend, Modele ale democraţiei. Forme de guvernare şi funcţionare în treizeci şi şase de ţări, trans. Cătălin Constantinescu, Polirom, Iaşi, 2000.

MAIER, Hans (ed.), Totalitarianism and Political Religions, Vol. I (Concepts for the comparison of dictatorships), Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2004.

NEUMANN, Victor, Armin HEINEN (eds.), Istoria României prin concepte. Perspective alternative asupra limbajelor social-politice, Polirom, Iaşi, 2010.

PUSIC, Vesna “Modelul mediteranean şi sfârşitul regimurilor autoritare”, Polis. Revistă de ştiinţe politice, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2000.

SALAZAR, Oliveira, Doctrina şi organizarea revoluţiei portugheze, Editura Ziarului Universul, Bucureşti, 1939.

SCHAPIRO, Leonard, Totalitarianism, The Pall Mall Press, London, 1972.

STRAUSS, Leo, What is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies, The University of Chicago Press, 1988.

ŢURCANU, Florin, Mircea Eliade. Le prisonnier de l’histoire, La Découverte, Paris, 2003.

VULCĂNESCU, Mircea, ”Creştinul în lumea modernă”, Logos şi eros, Paideia, Bucureşti, 1991.


[1] Acknowledgment: This paper was financed by POSDRU/89/1.5/S / 62259 contract, strategic project “Socio-human and political applied sciences. Postdoctoral training programme and postdoctoral research fellowships in socio-human and political sciences”, co-financed by the European Social Fund through the Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development 2007-2013.

[2] Armin HEINEN, “Elaborarea istoriei României: dezbateri metodologice”, in Victor NEUMANN, Armin HEINEN (eds.), Istoria României prin concepte. Perspective alternative asupra limbajelor social-politice, Polirom, Iaşi, 2010, pp. 38-39.

[3] Arend LIJPHART, Modele ale democraţiei. Forme de guvernare şi funcţionare în treizeci şi şase de ţări, trans. Cătălin Constantinescu, Polirom, Iaşi, 2000, p. 165.

[4] Armin HEINEN, Legiunea Arhanghelul Mihail. Mişcare socială şi organizaţie politică. O contribuţie la problema fascismului internaţional, 2nd ed., trans. Cornelia and Delia Eşianu, Humanitas, București, pp. 163-165.

[5] In the debate primordialists” vs. “constructivists”, regarding theconcept ofnation, BenedictAndersonlaunchedin 1991 the formula Imagined Communitiesthatdefined thenationas “an imaginary political communityandimaginedasinherentlylimitedand sovereign”. Cf. Benedict ANDERSON, Comunităţi imaginate. Reflecţii asupra originii şi răspândirii naţionalismului, trans. Roxana Oltean and Ioana Potrache, Integral, București, 2000, pp. 7-8.

[6] Oliveira SALAZAR, Doctrina şi organizarea revoluţiei portugheze, Editura Ziarului Universul, București, 1939, pp. 37-38.

[7] Antonio FERRO, Salazar. Le Portugal et son chef, trans. Fernando de Castro, Editions Bernard Grasset 61, Paris, 1934, pp. 39-40.

[8] Mircea ELIADE, Salazar şi revoluţia în Portugalia, Scara, București, 2002, pp. 143-145.

[9] Idem, pp. 152-153.

[10] Idem, p. 160.

[11] Oliveira SALAZAR, Doctrina şi organizarea revoluţiei portugheze, ed. Ziarului Universul, București, 1939, p. 45.

[12] Mircea ELIADE, Salazar şi revoluţia…cit., pp. 166-167.

[13] Oliveira SALAZAR, Doctrina…cit., p. 45.

[14] Idem, p. 164.

[15] Idem, p. 181.

[16] Idem, pp. 97-100.

[17] Oliveira SALAZAR, Doctrina…cit., p. 46.

[18] Idem, pp. 45-46.

[19] Ovidiu CARAIANI (coord.), Dreptate sau moralitate? O introducere în filozofia politică a lui John Rawls,, București, 2008, pp. 204-205.

[20] Antonio FERRO, Salazar. Le Portugal…cit., p. 38.

[21] Idem, pp. 147-148.

[22] Mircea VULCĂNESCU, “Creştinul în lumea modernă” (conference held at the Dalles Hall, April 7, 1940).

[23] The Lateran Treaty was signed on February 11, 1929 by the cardinal Pietro Gaspari (on Pope Pius XI’s behalf) and the prime minister Benito Mussolini (on the behalf of the king of Italy, Victor – Emanuel III). This treaty granted the sovereignty of the Vatican as an independent and autonomous state. In 1922, Mussolini has also concluded an alliance between the fascist movement and the catholic party Partito Popolare Italiano.

[24] Cf. idem.

[25] Oliveira Salazar, Doctrina şi organizarea revoluţiei portugheze, Editura Ziarului Universul, București, 1939, pp. 39-40.

[26] Idem, p. 40.

[27] Idem, p. 40.

[28] Hannah ARENDT, Originile totalitarismului, trans Ion Dur and Mircea Ivănescu, Humanitas, București, 1994, pp. 407-408.

[29] Cf. Leonard SCHAPIRO, Totalitarianism, The Pall Mall Press. London, 1972, pp. 63-71.

[30] Cf. Ernest GELLNER, apud Dominique COLAS, Dicţionar de gândire politică, trans. Dumitru Purnichescu, Univers Enciclopedic, București, 2003, p. 344.

[31] Cf. Leszek KOLAKOWSKI, Main Currents of Marxism. Its Origin, Growth and Dissolution, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1978, p. 523.

[32] Mircea VULCĂNESCU, “Creştinul în lumea modernă” (conference held at the Dalles Hall, April 7, 1940), apud Mircea VULCĂNESCU, Logos şi eros, Paideia, București, 1991, pp. 75-76.

[33] Claude LEFORT, The Political Forms of Modern Society. Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism, edited and introduced by John B. Thompson, The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1986, pp. 301-303.

[34] Idem, pp. 303-304.

[35] Cf. Idem, p. 306.

[36] Mircea ELIADE, Jurnalul portughez şi alte scrieri (ediţie îngrijită de Sorin Alexandrescu), trans. Mihai Zamfir, Humanitas, Bucureşti, 2006, Vol. 2, p. 323.

[37] Florin ŢURCANU, Mircea Eliade. Le prisonnier de l’histoire, La Découverte, Paris, 2003, p. 323.

[38] Mircea ELIADE, Salazar şi revoluţia în Portugaliacit., p. 147.

[39] See Ibidem, pp. 113 and 134.

[40] In a letter of April 26, 1942, to Constantin Noica, Eliade confesses that he wrote the book – which in manuscript form was entitled Salazar şi contrarevoluţia din Portugalia (Salazar and Counterrevolution in Portugal) – “to come to the aidof our so tested generation, by showing that not even afterthe most tragicattemptsa nationhas no right todespair, no matter howirreparablelosses are, no matter howvastchaos is, rescuecan occurunexpectedly– asthingshappened in Portugal”. Cf. Mircea ELIADE, Jurnalul portughez şi alte scriericit.

[41] Alexandru GREGORIAN, “Portugalia salazariană”, foreword at Oliveira SALAZAR, Doctrina şi organizarea revoluţiei portugheze, Editura Ziarului Universul, București, 1939, pp. 7-21.

[42] Cf. Gheorghe I. BRĂTIANU, “Politica fiscală a lui Nikephoros I (802-811) sau Ubu Rege în Bizanţ”, Studii bizantine de istorie economică şi socială, trans. and foreword by Alexandru-Florian Platon, Polirom, Iaşi, 2003, p. 187.

[43] Leo STRAUSS, What is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies, The University of Chicago Press, 1988, pp. 107-118.

[44] Cf. Hans MAIER (ed.), Totalitarianism and Political Religions, Vol. I (Concepts for the comparison of dictatorships), Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2004, pp. 200- 201.

[45] An interesting yet disputed theory on this matter can be found in Vesna PUSIC, “Modelul mediteranean şi sfârşitul regimurilor autoritare”, Polis. Revistă de ştiinţe politice, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2000, pp. 21-22.