Salazar and Charismatic Leadership*. Catholic Nationalism and the Portuguese New State

Ángel Rivero: excerpt from paper presented at NATION AND CHARISMA. The 20th Anniversary ASEN Conference, 13-15 April 2010, LSE. European Leadership and Politics.

"Salazar and Charismatic Leadership*. Catholic Nationalism and the Portuguese New State" by Ángel Rivero, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Draft)

António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970) ruled Portugal as a dictator during almost half a century. He named his regime the New State. This regime started as a result of a nationalist military coup against the Portuguese 1st Republic in 1926. Two years later Salazar who was a prominent militant of the Catholic party, was called to make part of the military cabinet. By 1932 he was appointed prime minister (de facto dictator) and he occupied the post till 1968, when he had an accident from which he never recovered. Strikingly, his regime survived him, the New State collapsed with a revolutionary military coup in 1974, four years after his death.

Salazar who was a prominent militant of the Catholic party, was called to make part of the military cabinet. By 1932 he was appointed prime minister (de facto dictator) and he occupied the post till 1968, when he had an accident from which he never recovered. Strikingly, his regime survived him, the New State collapsed with a revolutionary military coup in 1974, four years after his death.

In this paper I would like to show that, although Max Weber defines charismatic authority as a form of authority derived from the extraordinary qualities of an individual to mobilize political support, the “gift of grace”, charisma, has a slightly different political and religious meaning in the Catholic world.

In the case of Salazar, charisma cannot be linked with a capacity to messianic mobilization but with his self presentation as a receiver of Divine Grace to perform God’s will. Salazar was endowed, in his view, with the mission of developing an authoritarian State, a New State, congruent with the traditional religious values of rural real Portugal. Thus, here, charisma is what makes Salazar the saviour of an old nation, the most loyal Catholic Nation, created by Divine Providence, under the sign of the Cross and the Sword, against the infidels, the Moors.

This means that Salazar’s charisma has not to be seen as an instrument of political creation but of social restoration. In this case, the restoration of the Portuguese catholic nation threatened by Modernity (individualism, capitalism, socialism and secularism). Thus, Salazar as a charismatic leader was not the father of a new Portuguese nation but the humble son of the Catholic Church.

To sum up, the paradox of Salazar lies in that he was charismatic in the sense that he was “instrumental to God’s plan”, but as a political leader, according to his critics, he was characteristically un-charismatic.