Looking around our own country, it’s increasingly difficult to refute Patrick Deneen’s thesis that liberalism has already failed. All the hallmarks are there: overdependence on foreign markets; a stagnant and servile economy; an increasingly polarized left and right; widespread political violence; a loss of faith in our democratic institutions.
Yet Salazar’s example offers a different kind of post-liberal order to those offered by left- and right-wing ideologues. Salazarism, if there is such a thing, is a kind of paternalistic traditionalism. Either a weaker or a more “visionary” leader couldn’t have spared Portugal the excesses of totalitarianism. Salazar was, in his own way, a moderate.
Summing up the spirit of Salazarism, Gallagher incisively quotes the Israeli conservative thinker Yoram Hazony: “Where a people is incapable of self-discipline, a mild government will only encourage licentiousness and division, hatred and violence, eventually forcing a choice between civil war and tyranny. This means that the best an undisciplined people can hope for is a benevolent autocrat.”
Events of the last year may prove Hazony right. If we Americans lack the self-discipline necessary for self-government, if liberalism is off the table, the only alternative to a tyrant like Lenin or Hitler may be a man like Salazar: a paternalistic traditionalist, a philosopher-king.