“The Zenith of our National History!” National identity, colonial empire, and the promotion of the Portuguese Discoveries: Portugal 1930s

Paulo S. Polanah: “The Zenith of our National History!” National identity, colonial empire, and the promotion of the Portuguese Discoveries: Portugal 1930s  (excerpt):

"The discourse of a national historical rebirth in its modern form upheld the “glorious and heroic” past as a measure of the erratic national present, crippled by its unresolved, often alarming relationship with the empire. The political rhetoric of national rebirth, often employed (but not exclusively) by political parties in opposition to the regimes in power during the previous half century, was a reaffirmation of the idea of Portugal as a sovereign nation. This rhetoric also amounted to a call to reestablish and continue the heroic spirit and ideals of the empire launched during the fifteenth century. In this sense, the idea of “national regeneration,” remained linearly inseparable from “the colonies, the empire, national independence,” and, notably, “the discoveries” (Monteiro and Pinto: 56). The Estado Novo, the self-appointed champion and incarnation of the ideal of a national rebirth, promoted itself as the catalyst for the recovery of the spirit of the “glorious and heroic past” and the negation of Portugal’s historical decadence. Themes of national decadence during the 1930s premised much of the rhetoric of national rebirth, itself linked to the context of the legacy of the Discoveries, providing an explanation for the Estado Novo (as the antidote to historical decay), while constituting a demand for the imperial ideal sceptered to the Portuguese by the Discoveries.

The persisting anxiety—which had haunted the nineteenth-century Portuguese nationalist agendas into the early years of the Estado Novo—that Portugal had somehow missed out on or risked missing out on its historical destiny ghosted in much of the nationalist disquietude with the fate of the nation and empire. This was an anxiety linked to the perception that Portugal’s authentic national character and historical mission, defined by historical and evangelical imperatives, had somehow been lost to or neglected by most Portuguese."