The allure of prohibition

Portuguese television channel RTP left former dictator António de Oliveira Salazar out of the running to be the greatest of his countrymen, then relented.

Only for him to go and win the damn thing.

Scooping 41% of the vote (although one blogger has claimed an opinion poll taken around the time of the vote gave Salazar just 6.6%) he saw off challenges from writers, politicians and explorers such as Vasco de Gama.

Salazar ruled the country from 1932 to 1968. While managing to keep his country out of World War II and instituting corporatist policies that led to rapid economic growth in the 1940s and 1950s, his belief in holding on to overseas territories drained Portugal’s resources in the 1960s (ultimately ending the dictatorship). He created a secret police force that tortured opponents, although during his reign only 60 people died while in jail for political reasons. After Salazar’s death in 1968 the regime limped on only to be overthrown in a near-bloodless coup d’etat in 1974.

The Herald Tribune article linked to above points out that there has been a trend in economically insecure nations of yearning for “the authoritarianism of the past”. Portugal is the poorest country in western Europe. It also has a legacy of political corruption.

I once had a lecturer who spoke of the theory that people look for a ‘strongman’ out of a childhood belief that “Daddy will make it better”. He was referring to the dictatorships of ancient Greece (a different type of dictatorship I will not elaborate on right now), but the sentiment is still applicable.

However, I think it goes beyond that.

By banning something you make it that much alluring; the most dramatic example of this would have to be Prohibition in the US. It could be argued that Salazar’s win is down to his initially being omitted from the running — and certainly that sparked a campaign to get him included.

Many Portugese would have been born after his reign, and many would have lived only in its twilight. It makes me wonder how many people voted for Salazar as a protest or rebellion.

Time has an uncanny — and unfortunate — ability to soften opinons on historical figures. Although the dark sides of his rule have been well documented, that is not the same as a person having intimate experiences of living through it.

Consider the continuing mystique of Che Guevara. He has become a pop culture icon despite ordering the executions of hundreds of political opponents in pre-determined extrajudicial trials. For a slightly considered rant against him — but please don’t think I endorse it fully — check out this 2004 review of The Motorcycle Diaries.

Ladies and gentlemen I don’t claim to have all the answers, so I throw the floor open to your good selves. Agree with me? Disagree with me? I welcome your comments.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *