It is a known truism that, for as much as the best empire was not perfect, everyone else sucked a lot more. Back when Europe conquered the world, espousing a global empire was a fashionable fad, and nobody wanted wanted to be left out. Much to the detriment of subsequent human history, many less-than-able European nations jumped on the empire bandwagon and acquired sizeable holdings, providing us with ample data points to scrutinize under comparative politics and conclude that they, objectively, suck.
This week we will delve into the history of a particularly inept nation. A nation that wallowed in dissaray and mediocrity for most of it’s history, save for a brief periods where it outperformed almost every one of it’s european peers - offering us a singular perspectice into how to raze - and raise - a country. We will talk about Portugal.
Nations oscillate between greatness and shittiness all the time, but Portugal a tad more so. Having kickstarted the age of discovery and built a global empire together with Spain and ahead of everybody else, Portugal proceeded to somehow mismanage it all. By 1910s the country was in completely dissaray - the Royal family fresly murdered by republicans with malformed ideals, chaos and gridlock being the only certainty within the government, the country’s finances in ruins.
In 1926 the military seizes power, but is still rather unable to tame the finances. They reach out to a law and finance professor in Coimbra University, begging him to accept managing the finances. He declines, for they balk at his request for absolute control over expenses. Two more years of mismanagement ensue, until the military caves. He takes over the ministry of finances, and produces a novelty unseen for decades: a balanced budget. In 1932 he becomes prime minister, and from there proceeds to be acclaimed world’s best dicator by Life maganize. And also in the book Dictators , by Jacques Bainville. I am not kidding.
This man is António de Oliveira Salazar, and he went on to earn the distinction of becoming the longest serving European autocrat - 40 years! The very embodiment of benevolent - and competent! - dictator, his unusual government and historyis seldom discussed - perhaps because it flies on the face of the liberal world order’s desire of making faces at the idea of autocracies.
In 1937, less than a decade in, he wrote a little book in French for the Universal Exposition named “How to raise a country”. In it he proceeds to explain how, yes, he’s an autocrat, but not a Fascist, and how whatever little political liberties he curtailed, he did so only to run the government better, without wasting time with politics.
I couldn’t find the book in english, but I managed to get it in portuguese, and tomorrow 6PM at BBB B101 I’ll tell you about Salazar’s best moments. But, if you can’t wait, I’m attaching the Dictators chapter on Salazar for your pleasure. It’s very short, and very fun.
See you today at 6PM!