Jan 12

It didn’t happen here. Why post-1974 Liberalism never materialized in the form of a Liberal Party in Portugal

Às vezes, ao navegarmos na “net”, deparamo-nos com registos de intervenções nossas que não arquivamos. Hoje, encontrei parcelas de uma entrevista científica que dei a um estudante português de Sussex, Daniel Alvarenga, e que ele utilizou para efeitos de trabalho académico. Como não sou bom arquivista e a coisa pode ter algum interesse, para além da inevitável auto-estima, aqui a deixo, em inglês e tudo, para memória futura dos meus desorganizados arquivos:

I and Paulo Ferreira da Cunha must have been two Portuguese to have gone to a Liberal International. It was two years ago in Dakar. One thing is to take Lipset, Fukuyama, Schmiter, make an outside analysis about the Portuguese situation and run the risk of reaching precipitated conclusions. Why do we not have a Liberal Party? Because the group of the Liberal International and the European Liberal parties, born in the post-war period acted in a terrain that had nothing to do with our 20th century model, their “ready-made” proposals did not adapt to the Portuguese circumstances. It is important to avoid a possible Anglo-American reading that Portugal is incompatible with Liberalism.

Take Benfica for example, and I’m not kidding, Benfica is something that does not exist anywhere else in Europe – a product of liberal activism in the turn from the 19th to the 20th century. Something unprecedented and quite interesting of that age was activism and elections for several associations in civil society. These traditions, in one way or another, persist up until today. There is since 1834 a rooted liberal tradition which does not capture the state but does capture Portuguese civil society. There is a rooted liberalism in civil society because Salazarist authoritarianism/dictatorship did not penetrate into civil society, Salazarism never meddled into Benfica’s elections (there were always communists in the board of Benfica during Salazarism), Salazarism did not meddle into trade union activism (until the 39-45 war), it was a form of authoritarianism in the state that did not interfere with civil society. This civil society is composed of elements attentive to egalitarianism and of strong activism living detached from the state.

One thing is the analysis of the state and another is the analysis of Civil Society, in terms of Civil Society we can say that Portugal is a triumph of the demo-liberal models of the 19th century, meaning that its society of the “ancient regime” deeply changed as was seen in “Pupilas do senhor Reitor”, romances of Julio Dinis, etc. A curious anecdote is the story behind the first name of the English Liberal Party. They were first called “Liberales” because of the two liberal revolutions in Europe (Spain in 1812 and Portugal 1820). So this first name is not English but actually Castellan.

In the context of the 19th century Liberal movements there are successful liberal movements in Portugal and Spain, something that did not happen for example in Germany, Italy (until 1861).

Portugal is, with its 1974 transition from an authoritarian to a democratic situation, an atypical case where when the parties are formed, none of the parties existing before the dictatorship were recovered. Spain still has PSOE, even in Russia that was the case with the parties existing before the Bolshevik revolution. In Portugal that did not happen because our parties were all of “statist fabrication” and (all curiously from the German model). The parties were implemented in a pre-revolutionary epoch.

The only parties that exist are the ones that will have a place in government as their inception was from the government towards civil society. Their denominations are somewhat hypocritical, the right is social democrat, the left is socialist democrat member of the social democrat international. These two parties (PS and PSD) which have been controlling power in Portugal are Parties formed in a specific era of great ideological aggression where the party programs are on the left of the leaders, the leaders on the left of the party-members and the party-members. This kind of hypocrisy turned us into the most social-democrat country in Europe.

Parties were created from the state to society. The main problematic is society being weak and the state strong. This goes all the way back to Salazar – he had a party (the national union) which was the only party in Europe part of a one-party system created by a resolution of the Council of Ministers.

The Christian Democrat Party of which Salazar was a militant was created in 1917 by a resolution of the Conference of the Portuguese Bishops. Even after 1974 we kept a certain control of civil society by the state, the parties are the agents of the state, a country highly centralized in its public administration, a country without regionalization, without changed to the local forms of organization, with something called districts that comes from 1834 (attempted to suppress with 1866 constitution). There is an inheritance of what Herculano in the 19th century qualified as the inheritance possessed from demo-liberalism from absolutism.

Portugal is a small state, with specific traditions, a “Scotland with success”, that is the dimension we have. We are the Catalonia which managed to separate itself from Madrid thanks to the Luso-British alliance. Readings that put us right next to other models frequently do not acknowledge our type of formation and our type of inheritance.

The absolutism of Marques de Pombal was very likely to the English model in contrast with another group composed by Castela and France which were strongly centralized. We have a conformation of medieval permanence. We were the only medieval thing that lasted, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark.

This has consequences in explaining why there isn’t a liberal party in Portugal since the function exercised by liberal parties in the post-war period was assumed in Portugal by the Social Democrat party and the socialist party. All the parties were Marxist, PSD was Marxist, CDS had Marxist humanism in its constitutional project.

The adaptation of the Socialist party to the models of the German SPD of Bad Godesberg happens when Mario Soares leaves and Vitor Constancio comes in, and PSD only cuts with Marxism when Cavaco Silva comes to manage it. We had a point where we had the socialist party as a social democrat party and a PSD that was still Marxist. Over here no one reads the programmes and no one knows what that is, practice is one and the theory is another. For example, in terms of European integration we are the most pro-European country in but also the most pessimist one.

They are in the end forms of opportunism of the Portuguese community when it comes to challenges such as the European integration. Look at decolonisation. It wasn’t like the Indian with the British or the Argelines with the French. Portugal had a different dimension, we had 10 million inhabitants and had 1 million returnees in one week, we had to make two or three extremely complicated jumps in the 20th century and did them with considerable success: overcome authoritarianism, stay away from WW2, fight a colonial war when all the other European powers had let go, making the transition to democracy without civil war and proceed with European integration. This reveals a certain flexibility of a people that for example in the 1960s had 2 million emigrants to Europe while it carried out a colonial war.

I would like to know a bit more about your notion of Liberalism and on what the term represents to you. Taking into account the last 30 years how have you seen Liberalism at play in the Portuguese political narrative?

Is there a political party in Portugal? You are before someone who is liberal one of the few who assumes his liberal position on that domain – a traditional liberal. Each country can invent its own notion of liberalism. The notion of multi-secular liberalism is a bit the notion of the revolution of 1820, the notion of Almeida Garret, of Alexandre Herculano, the notion of the liberals of the first Republic.

There is a tradition of Portuguese Liberalism, very profound and with success. How do you measure liberalism?

Liberalism is freedom, particularly personal freedom. The Portuguese are some of the freest in history: look at property, the Portuguese has free alluvial property since the middle ages. We are the most property-ridden people of Europe in terms of land ownership. Everyone has a wood, everyone has a little house, and this reality is represented in our notion of personal liberty which has an extension both in terms of freedom of thought and freedom of ownership. Even, when we have a revolution the first thing we try and scrap is for individual benefit, the 25th of April revolution had a huge success because of the nationalization of banking and insurance allowing for the purchase of housing with financed interest.

Every Portuguese is an owner, it is the regime with most private houses within cities, and there is no such thing as a viable letting market. All the Portuguese temptations are in terms of property, in terms of becoming an independent and free man.

This is not comparable to, for example, Eastern European countries which had forms of servitude until the end of the 19th century, we have a land ownership-based place of free men that when things are not going so well they move. (o Brazil and Europe, etc.). They moved looking for the things that mark any liberal regime, earn more money, work better, being awarded in work, get a house, get out and find a better place. The enemy of liberalism in Portugal is the state, the state is a foreign occupier, our relationship with the state is awful and in those terms liberals never conquered the state as it still remains foreign.

The relationship with the state is of the thief-state and as the saying goes “thief that robs thief has 100 years of forgiveness”. Notions such as avoiding taxes over here are not seen as a social sin, the notion of respect for public property does not exist. This is a bad inheritance from absolutism, there is a democracy of civil society, a deep feeling of equality between people but there are the bad indexes that because the state was not educated there is a lot of “uncivicism” in regards to public goods (not lack of civic posture).

Curiously enough, democracy produced some profound yet unexpected (by MFA program) changes, such as the municipalities and the autonomous regions (Madeira and Azores), these changes were successful and just show how organizationally and culturally there is a degree of cultural appetence to anti-statism. Another awful thing is public teaching which was not able to educate people, spending too many energies and money for little to be produced.

In your book you point to the absence in Portugal of a party that, not only claims that wants to liberalize us but that, actually says that it is Liberal. Considering the reality of the Portuguese political spectrum what do you see as the main obstacles hindering the entrance of a Liberal party in Portugal? Why do you think that is the case?

The Portuguese productive structure is more or less, 3500 000 actives. Just as many actives in the interior as emigrants active in the exterior, the earnings coming from abroad are still superior than the structural funding from the European Union. We then have 2600 000 pensioners. What has been Portuguese politics? Very simple! One million pensioners on Monday vote PS and on Tuesday vote PSD. Politics is about those 1 million pensioners that swing from PS to PSD.

None of these swing voters want to make a reform of the welfare state, they are all hypocritical, never able to lead a reform until the end because a government that has absolute majority such as PS does right now, in two years time knows that PSD will be in power. Power still rests on the beneficiary who is going to decide how the money is going to be spent, and since he does not decide on civic terms he decides according to promises. They are not trade union parties. They are pensioners’ parties, a “pensionism” that results from a natural reaction to the 25th of April.


3. What do you think of projects such as the Lucas Pires’ one for CDS, the group of Ofir, movements such as the MLS and the Liberal Cause and the Party for the New Democracy?

Francisco Lucas Pires was a curious case. He appeared in 1983-1985. He was the first politician in Portugal claiming both Liberal and from the right, which was a sin! The very Church pursues liberals, which is an important point I hadn’t referred before. The Catholic Church is anti-liberal, because liberalism in Portugal was a creation of the Masonry; as so, being liberal was being Mason…up until 1974.

I remember on the first campaign of Lucas Pires, on a party which was even supposed to be in name “Christian democrat”, you had bishops saying “don’t vote on that bunch because they are liberal”. What did Lucas Pires do? I happened to be a young collaborator and a member of his political commission.

To put it bluntly we simply “translated” to Portuguese the successes, of that time, of Thatcher and Reagan. It was the reflex of what some saw as the liberal and conservative revolution in Europe. The movement in Portugal had its importance thanks to its actor, Lucas Pires, who was someone with great energetic capabilities, and was a protagonist who represented very well the environment at the time, letting an established left know that there were some alternatives from a different model. He arrived well in the press, attracting a lot of media attention which resulted on an effective and profound reflection in society at the time.

As for the other movements: the liberal cause movement is a group of urban intellectuals who read and write some interesting things, after having discovered authors such as Hayek – they do have their penetration in a minority at an intellectual level. In an environment dominated by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Ignacio Ramognet, etc. at least you start having some form of counterpoint to an intellectual domain of a revolutionary left.

The Party of the new democracy, I was one of the founders together with 3 or 4 Liberals but I can say that by now all the Liberals have left. Who stayed were Manuel Monteiro and his group who actually say they are not liberal. Some of the MLS’s members also used to be militants of the Party of the New Democracy and left. They (New democracy) use the liberal stamp but they are not, they are clearly conservative.

The Liberal in this process is always dominated by Christian Conservatism; the trend of the Liberal is often to be of a left of the right to the point of voting often on the left. Why? Because the colleagues of the group, conservatives and Catholics pay special attention to moral causes and who is not catholic finds itself in trouble within this context.

Problem is that often (MLS for example) you don’t have an intellectual basis, which in turn is a particular strength of the Liberal Cause as they occupy a terrain that until five years ago was unoccupied. What was missing in Portugal was the existence, as is the case in France, of a radical Party. A Radical party, individualist, liberal and with Masonry background. The main victims of Salazar’s authoritarianism were not the communists. These, in fact, grew in dimension and became better organized killing anarcho-syndicalism. The main victims were mostly the liberals that lost their tradition and intellectual control. The rupture was terrible and there still hasn’t been a regrouping neither of the republican tradition of liberalism nor of the monarchical tradition of liberalism.

There was a discontinuity, authoritarianism by jailing and prohibiting thought, controlling the university there was a rupture with this old demo-liberal tradition. So these new groups are seeds, curious seeds on that domain. Another important thing at this level is the inter-university contact; many of the members of the liberal cause are people who did master programmes elsewhere who got hold of interesting readings.

But many are ex-extreme left painted as liberals, other such as Dr. Espada used to be Maoist, Leninist, etc. and then, after taking MA courses, found their “Road to Damascus”. They are rather “foreignized”, not knowing the Portuguese story or the Portuguese tradition which is one of the causes of this failure; in addition everyone’s a liberal no one listens to anyone. They also discuss a lot which is typical.

Also important is the role of the patrons and corporations which keep subsidizing the socialists and ex-extreme left and communists. It doesn’t happen as in the US where liberal think tanks and studies are often sponsored. It is cheaper and easier for them to make intellectual corruption next to the extreme left since it is better to have as a protector a socialist or a social-democrat than having a liberal.

Take for example big capitalists who have newspapers in Portugal, a big part of the opinion-making on those newspapers is socialist and from the left, there is no need to subsidize or give opportunities to liberal thinking.

4. What about opportunities for a Liberal Party?

Because the big parties are also catch-all parties there are not going to be any ideological parties, there will be federations of families of parties. The two main parties in Portugal have many downs but do have one virtue which is being very good federators, as so I don’t see the chance of there being an ideological party. The chances that there are is the federation of families and in a way that does happen, more than individual movements it is important there being the existence of liberal thought on every party, including the socialist party. There is a plurality among the families. The parties are very cunning and their centralizing mechanisms are very effective. Any attempts at penetrating the system are easily and structurally suppressed.

There is a big dose of opportunism. Our regime is a democracy of success; naturally the protagonists of this process hold some privileges and reputation. The big parties have been successful because they have been able to understand the great movements of opinion are flexible and carry out several metamorphoses. (The election of leaders occurs like this, pragmatically and tactically).

Between the political analyst and the simple man of the village there is a big coincidence of analysis, there is a big pragmatism in terms of what is good for the stability of democracy. This already has 30 years, we are now 10 years short of the governing time of Salazarism, it has the double of the first republic, exactly half of the constitutional democracy. So if we do the Maths between 1820 and today Portugal has more than a century of authentic freedom, with hundreds of elections.

Considering this, the authoritarian memory is already a bit grey, so the analysis made of Salazarism interest extreme right and extreme left and some analysts who see us as a transition towards democracy. We are not a transition towards democracy, the regimes here never had a transition, the regimes here come down “rotten”. It wasn’t a king put in place by Franco to put democracy in place or Adolfo Soares who was a militant of the single party. We have a specific model that is our model.

5. In a small prospective exercise how do you imagine an overcoming/transformation of this present condition of “unidimensionality and micropowers”? How do you describe what you called “real utopia” in your last book and what would its method be?

I am a professor not a politician, every reasonable political scientist that goes into politics are usually a disaster. The analyst is different from the actor, they have distinct qualities. I jokingly usually say that in 10 years time Portugal will have something completely different. It will be the issue of European integration; the issue of non-emigration, the Portuguese economy is not that much in crisis as it is said. We are producing jobs but (97000 jobs) although we produce jobs they are jobs that the Portuguese do not want. We already are in a phase of rich country crisis (not too rich, of a 25th in PNUD ranking rich), it is the first time this happens and with a curious psychological element attached to it which is feeling of terrible pessimism. This can be a good thing.

It means we realized we are going into a new phase. The democratization of education after the 1970s and the appetence for democracy will produce new elites that will challenge the old one. We are not, however, going to be sole actors. The next Portuguese crisis will be the next European crisis. We will be receptors. In a similar way that the extreme left has already change with these crisis I believe the next crisis will affect the other side of the barricade, the big right, the non-PS towards the right.


There will be a change in circumstances. The kind of crisis will change from a national closed nation-state to a broader multi-dimensional regional basis. We have had the capability to suffer and go through predicaments before but will future generations be willing to pay pensions and sustain a welfare state model that is failed a growth in youth employment? So far the welfare state still hangs on like is the case in the privileged “out of time” France. Over here there is no CPE – we only got out good old temporary green receipts.