Luca Fumagalli

Antonio De Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970) was prime minister of Portugal from 1932 to 1968. After the institutional chaos created by the Portuguese Republic, he came to power thanks to the army which was looking for a politician capable of restoring order to the country (this is why his power was never absolute, depending on the favour of the military).

After all, Salazar, a brilliant professor of Political Economy at the ancient University of Coimbra, had already distinguished himself as minister of the economy in the previous four years: thanks to his efforts, he had in fact managed to prevent the financial bankruptcy of Portugal.

Counter-revolutionary in its essence, traditional in its principles, Portugal’s new regime – the Estado Novo – rejected both liberalism and socialism, relying rather on the social doctrine of the Catholic Church as expressed in the papal encyclicals Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. It was a corporatist state, characterized by order and strong authority, and some scholars have categorized Salazar’s government as National-Catholicism.

In 1956 a book about the Portuguese prime minister was published in Lisbon, which collected the favourable testimonies of some European intellectuals about him and his work. Two years ago a French edition was published from which in 2021 the Catholic publishing house Arouca Press extracted three texts, then translated into English and printed with the title Salazar and His Work, with a preface by Marcos Pinho de Escobar.

The authors of the three texts are respectively the Belgian classicist and historian Marcel de Corte (1905-1994), the French journalist and historian Pierre Gaxotte (1895-1982) and the French self-taught philosopher Gustave Thibon (1903-2001).

If de Corte in “Salazar’s Work and Personality” examines Salazar as both a man of his time and a man with a place in history and also political philosophy, Gaxotte in his “Reflections from Margins of the National Portuguese Revolution” shows how healthy politics – of which Salazar is a prime example – is subordinated to the interests of the community. Finally, Thibon reflects on the prime minister’s psychology, calling him a wise man, in the sense that he has remained uncorrupted by the exercise of power (the title of his essay is naturally “Salazar the Wise Man”).

Even if the texts are dated and their approach is often uncritical, they better explain the complex figure of Salazar and, at the same time, show that the selfless service of religion and country is fundamental for politicians even today, with the current cultural crisis of the West.

M. DE CORTE, P. GAXOTTE, G. THIBON, Salazar and His Work. Essays on Political Philosophy, Arouca Press, 2021, 84 pages, $8. 95 USD

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