The Myth of Antonio Salazar
Reason magazine|May 2021
The integralist right’s foolish crush on the man who once ruled Portugal
JOSHUA TAIT

Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused To Die, by Tom Gallagher, Hurst Publishers, 360 pages, $34.95

ANTONIO SAL A Z AR SECURED power by resigning. In 1929, when he was minister of finance in Portugal’s military-led government, a minor scandal over-regulating church bells divided the government’s secular and religious factions. Salazar, a Catholic, resigned. The president sided with him, a reversal that led the prime minister and the minister of war to resign instead. Three years later, Salazar himself was prime minister. He ruled for the next 36 years.

So it was with Salazar. The reserved, academically minded dictator held power through a combination of ability, work, factional balance, repression, and ultimately military support.

Salazar was a nationalist, an “integralist,” and a foe of liberalism, and he was prone to presenting himself as a defender of Western civilization. As those ideas come back into fashion, Salazar has seen a resurgence of interest. Into this vogue comes Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die, a quickly produced biography, enthusiastically covered in The American Conservative and First Things, about the man at the heart of an alleged “dictatorship without a dictator.”

Tom Gallagher, a Scottish historian and political scientist, gives a largely even-handed if somewhat forgiving biography of Salazar. One of Gallagher’s chief contributions is bringing many Portuguese-language secondary texts, from which he quotes extensively, into English.

Portugal was wildly unstable in the early 20th century, rotating through 45 governments from 1910 to 1926. Politically, it took its cues from France, splitting the country between anti-clerical urban republicans, Catholics, monarchists, and the army. In 1926, a military coup marked, Gallagher writes, “the end of over a century of a broadly liberal ascendancy.”

Born into a peasant family, Salazar rose within the Catholic education system. At the University of Coimbra, he wrote two doctoral theses, earning him a chaired professorship in economics and finance. There, Gallagher writes, he joined a circle of “intellectuals from the upper and middle classes known as Integralists” who “offered a searching critique of parliamentary government. Their remedies were conservative and, indeed, authoritarian.” Salazar joined the cabinet in 1928, where he balanced the nation’s books and stabilized the currency. These feats earned him a lifetime of political capital.

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