António Costa Pinto

"'Chaos' and 'Order': Preto, Salazar and Charismatic Appeal in Inter-war Portugal"

Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions


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This excessive praise for Antonio Salazar by a priest may express the classic triangle of a charismatic juncture, yet it dates from a moment in which Salazar was already leader of the Portuguese dictatorship and was driving forward with the institutionalisation of the Estado Novo (New State). The takeover of power by Salazar transpired in the elitist context of a crisis within the military dictatorship; nevertheless, it provides us with an interesting example of a post hoc utilisation of some of the characteristic processes that are associated with charismatic leadership. Salazar was not the charismatic leader of a political party that led him to power, nor was he the most visible ‘candidate’ dictator during the final years of the parliamentary regime. There were others who preceded him that had greater charismatic appeal: Sidónio Pais, who led the brief dictatorship of 1918, being a case in point. During Salazar’s lengthy regime, he cultivated a ‘charismatic’ image, despite himself and despite his personality. During the 1930s he used all the methods possible to construct an image that would enable him to strengthen his position as dictator and encounter models of legitimation. This text will examine three interrelated areas. The first of these areas to be investigated is the process by which the political space opened up for charismatic alternatives to the crisis of liberal democracy in Portugal. This involves considering the location of some of the cleavages (e.g. secular/religious, civil/military) taking place during this period, as well as the absence of a fascist party as an important political actor in the fall of the democratic regime. The second aspect to be examined is the late development of fascism as a movement in Portugal. As a movement, fascism only appeared during the military dictatorship, when it was led by the charismatic Rolão Preto. Its existence was brief, being destroyed by Salazar’s emerging authoritarian order.Finally, the third area for investigation relates to the methods Salazar used in adapting his ‘traditional’ dictatorship to the needs of the new mass politics. 

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Antonio Costa Pinto   |
Institute of Social Sciences   |   Av. Professor Anibal Betencourt, 9   |   1600-189 Lisbon   |   Portugal