DR. SALAZAR. who is
critically ill as we go to press, has never been rightly understood. either by his own people or by the world. This peasant turned don, turned statesman is almost the last of the pre-war dictators. and he coull not have clung to power so long without his secret police.
He is certainly the last of the im rialists. refusing to allow little Portugal to retreat from Africa long after Britain and e ery other colonial Power liad done so. Yet he has ne er looked the part, because he does not truly belong ) this age. or to any other a e either.
He is not all that of a good Catholi . Like so many of us these d ys. he picked and chose between Papal pronouncements. and would not allow P cem in Terris to be reprodu ed in the Portuguese Press. c banished bishops. inipriso ed clerics, and regarded ood Pope John as a Commu ist.
I ha no special reason to love tm, because in 1946. owing t a misunderstanding by som of his yes-men, he expelled me from his country. Nevertheless I regard him as a man who would have been no able in any era. and who in this one was truly great.
What ver we may think about is policies, he has held t certain principles which h believed had a universal nd eternal validity. and not ing whatever in the climate of the world about him could cause him to abandon them. It is sufficiently remarkable for a Pope to speak like this for a politician to behave like it is little short of a miracle.
Salazar has no time for democr y. He does not even worry mickabout prosperity. He sees society as a Platonic order, blessed by God, in which "totes are irrelevant, and in which it does not signify very much whether individuals Are rich or poor. Applied to the little backward country of Portugal, this attitude has brought political and economic stagnation. It means balancing the budget at the expense of development. and reducing public life to mere administration.
Applied to Portugal's vast possessions in Africa, it has meant a fixed paternalism rather than growth. and it certainly does not point to African majority rule.
But it is neither Fascist nor racist. since it is unconcerned with power as such and places no value at all on skin pigmentation. It is a view of society which nineteenthcentury Popes spoke about. but which Salazar resolved to act upon. He would not agree that it is a reactionary ideal; to him it belongs to all centuries: he wants to be (the phrase is inescapable) a man for all seasons. That is why he is unique.
Inevitably this timelessness has been exploited by timeservers. The check on Portugal's natural economic growth has preserved the enormous gap between the wealthy few and the impoverished many; the closed colonial regime in Africa has tended to benefit certain shareholders rather than the nation — or Angola and Mozambique.
Against small injustices there has been often no redress; against what to democrats is the big one, discomfited liberals strive ridiculously and in vain, leaving the effective field of action to underground Communism. What distinguishes this -dictatorship from others is the absence. properly speaking, of a party, or of demagogy of any kind.
Salazar was originally invited to take power to rescue a military junta in financial difficulties. Not having forced his way to the top through the machinations of a political group, he saw no need for political organisation afterwards. He needed no street demonstrations.
The Uniao Nacional, to which everyone who mattered had to belong, was a mirror of Government. not its dynamo. Salazar. changing guard in his Cabinet every few years, kept all power to himself. but it was a power he thought he held in trust, not so much for his people as for God.
It has been the character of the Portuguese people that has enabled him to play this lonely role of philosopherking. Patriotic but corrupt. filled with gentle nostalgia, they have been content to allow this austere and selfless man to guide their destinies —away from the Spanish Civil War. away from the Second World War, but straight into a colonial war which no one else, nowadays, would be prepared to fight.
It is certainly worth recording, in this twentieth century, that one successful statesman has been capable of examining the irreconcilable concepts of freedom and social justice, and of relating them both to the higher values of the human personality and the Christian destiny of man.
The experiment has not really worked, but at least it has been tried, by a man who set his hand to the plough 36 years ago and scorned to look back.
Norman St. John-Stevas will be back next week.