The New State Decalogue (1934) and the Constitution of 1933

Ana Letitia Fauri

In the late 20's, Europe was involved in a crisis of democracy. Shaken by the upheavals of emerging fascist and communist regimes, followed by the economic devastation of the post-war, Portugal, like other countries, was affected. The country's situation after the First Republic (1910-1926) was chaotic, with successive governments, one after another, succumbing to the instability of the times. A new political regime was in order: the Republic was overthrown by a dictatorship that positioned itself far from recent liberalism. António de Oliveira Salazar was the key figure upon whom the design of the New State depended. The new regime the emerged out of the military coup of May 28th, 1926, was formally established with the approval of the 1933's Constitution. This was probably the first victory of Salazar and some of the posters in the National Archives show how the government communicated with the public. Most posters were text-only messages, designed to convince the citizens (who could vote at the time) to accept the new ideas. Some kept the request simple: "Vote for the new Constitution!" 

It's interesting to notice that the first pages of the 1933 Constitution report start by justifying measures taken by condemning the previous one. The text disapproves of inspiration on "individualism and liberalism", neglecting most significant values such as the family, the municipality and the professional forces, as well as the moral support of public opinion and the nation's culture. Salazar knew the importance of keeping a balance and the notion of stability, and for this matter, he decides that the 1933's Constitution will be committed to the military too. 

This authoritarian, but paternal state regime ruled and controlled the country for forty-eight years, and like many other European authoritarian regimes, created a strong, centralized propaganda Secretariat. The Secretariat of National Propaganda (SPN/SNI) was considered essential to the maintenance, consolidation and to the dissemination of Salazar's government policies within and outside Portugal. António Ferro was under the direction of the Secretariat that implemented the New State Propaganda. He was the mentor of the Decalogue -- the document that summarizes the principles of the New State, and could be seen as a short version of the Constitution.

Together with the three pillars of the regime -- God, Fatherland, and Family -- the Decalogue reinforced the importance of the nation as a collective, while made sure that the government appears as a strong and paternal, yet an implacable figure. It was a good attempt to consolidate the faith of the supporters and to convert the others, with the purpose of maintaining the government's stability. 

Published by the SPN in 1934, at the very early days of the Portuguese New State, the Decalogue assumed different versions afterwards, being even reduced to pamphlets sometimes, or translated into other languages, but always kept a double reading: on one hand, the flaunting display of religious evocation, on the other, the resemblance of a country constitution. The document is also formulated in a way that it combines the idea that the New State is the synthesis of all that is good in terms of tradition and modernity, while implying that being against it is the same as being against the nation. 

The New State Decalogue

1 - The New State represents the agreement and synthesis of all that is permanent and everything that is new, the living traditions of the nation and its more advanced impulses. It represents, in a word, the moral, social, and political vanguard.

2 - The New State is the guarantor of the independence and unity of the nation, the balance of all its organic values, and the fruitful union of all its creative energies.

3 - The New State is not subordinated to any class. It subordinates, however, all classes to the will and supreme harmony of the national interest.

4 - The New State rejects the old formulas: authority without freedom, freedom without authority, and replaces them with: authority and freedoms.

5 - In the New State, the individual exists socially, as part of natural groups (families), professionals (corporations), territorialities (municipalities), and it is under this aspect that all necessary rights are recognized. For The New State, there are no abstract human rights, but concrete human rights.

6 - There is no strong State where the executive branch is not. The parliamentary system used to subordinate the government to the tyranny of the political assembly, through the tumultuous and irresponsible dictatorship of the parties. The New State guarantees the existence of a strong state through the security, independence and continuity of the Chief of State and the Government.

7 - In the New State, the nation's representation is not made of fictitious or ephemeral groups. It is made of real and permanent elements of national life: families, municipalities, associations, corporations, etc.

8 - All Portuguese people are entitled to a free and dignified life -- but this right must be achieved, first of all, together with the right of Portugal to the same free and dignified life. The overall well-being surpasses the individual well-being. Salazar said: we must sacrifice everything for everyone; we should not sacrifice everything for a few.

9 - The New State wants to reinstate Portugal in its historic grandeur, in the plenitude of the vast empire of its universal civilization. The New State wants to turn Portugal again into one of the greatest spiritual powers in the world.

10 - The enemies of the New State are the enemies of the nation. In defense of the nation -- that is, to keep the order, the common interest and justice for all --, force might and must be used, since it will be the legitimate defense of the nation".


The Portuguese constitution of 1933 brought profound ideological changes, which were reflected in the political propaganda posters produced during the period. One of the measures taken by the new regime (the “Estado Novo” or “New State”) was the publication of the “Decalogue of the Estado Novo,” a document that was similar in concept to the Biblical “Ten Commandments,” in that it laid out a series of ‘laws’ presenting the intentions and objectives of the regime. Another was the creation of the Bureau for National Propaganda (SPN or Secretariado da Propaganda Nacional) (1933), led by António Ferro (1895-1956). His proximity to the modernists meant that he was able to encourage artists to serve the regime’s objectives. Consequently, some of the most highly-respected artists of the period were involved in the reformulation and divulgation of the image of this new Constitution.
— "The Design of Portuguese Political Poster: Two Politics, Two Discourses" by Helena Barbosa, Anna Calvera, and Vasco Branco