In This Review

 Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die
Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die
By Tom Gallagher
Hurst, 2020, 360 pp.

In this book, a British academic expert on Portugal seeks to salvage the reputation of António Salazar, the autocrat who ruled the country from 1932 to 1968. Few would quibble with the first half of the author’s argument: rather than being a totalitarian, Salazar was a conservative. His rule was milder than that of contemporaries such as Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Franco. He engaged in only modest domestic repression, sought no territorial expansion, remained neutral in World War II, and took the side of the West in the Cold War. He wore no uniform, proposed no radical ideology, eschewed cults of personality, avoided mobilizing the masses, and lived a restrained and apparently incorrupt personal life. Some may balk, however, at the second half of the argument, namely that Salazar was a “benevolent autocrat,” an interpretation that overlooks his suppression of multiparty democracy, his support for the Catholic Church’s socially reactionary values, and his disinterest in economic development as long as the government budget remained in balance. The book also dismisses as insignificant Salazar’s stubborn (and overtly racist) decision to defend the remains of Portugal’s empire. Yet today Portugal is a stable democracy where a recent poll found that its citizens consider Salazar the greatest leader the country has ever had. Gallagher invites readers to wonder whether, in the end, Portugal’s slow and cautious road to democracy might have been for the best.