Some on the right are now aware that it was a bad idea to stage an attempted conservative revolution with a bumbling incompetent as a figurehead leading a mob of stupid mooks. Oops. We need to step back. We need to recalculate. We need to look around for better role models. We need a guy who represents true conservative values.
So over on The American Conservative, Michael Warren Davis (he has a book coming out from Regnery so you know exactly how he thinks) has found his hero. It’s Antonio Salazar, the authoritarian dictator of Portugal for 36 years. He was definitely an intelligent person, he oversaw many improvements in Portuguese life, and he definitely made the nation more stable…by ending all political dissent, staging nothing but sham elections, and ruling as an autocrat. If stability is a conservative ideal, he certainly represented that while he was alive. Unfortunately, once he was dead the Portuguese people had the Carnation Revolution in 1974 to enact civil rights and free elections, which was kind of a repudiation of the Salazar situation. So stability for as long as the strong man has his fist clenched, but once it relaxes in death, upheaval.
He also had some strong views: he opposed fascism, and maintained Portugal’s neutrality in WWII, in spite of sharing a lot of ideals with Nazi Germany (“Deus, Pátria e Família“, “God, Fatherland, and Family”, which sounds awfully familiar). He also opposed socialism, communism, and democracy, though, so that’s a bit of a mixed bag.
On the American Conservative, they’re waiting for our Salazar. Trump wasn’t it. In an essay full of praise for a dictator, Davis concludes that we just need a benevolent autocrat.
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.
You should find that chilling. The “smart” conservatives in our country think it would be just fine and dandy to get rid of elections if it allows tradition and paternalism to thrive. They aren’t upset with Trump for attempting a coup, they’re mad because he did it in such a half-assed way an bungled the effort to throw out an election. If he’d succeeded, they’d now be rationalizing the wreckage of our democracy as a conservative triumph.