It was the spring of 1913, and the republican political elites in Portugal were getting restless. They had established their own dominion over Portuguese politics, ousted the last king three years earlier, and ruled over the country with a tight grip. The Democratic Republican Party had been an almost invisible party during the 1890s. The Portuguese constitutional monarchy managed to keep the influence of the republicans concentrated around the educated classes and in certain urban areas, mainly in Oporto and Lisbon, the main cities of the Realm.
The increasing predominance of French politics in the country, the dictatorship of Prime Minister João Franco, backed by King Carlos I, and the subsequent serious decline in the popularity of the monarchist regime created the perfect storm for a Republican Revolution in 1910. The regicide of 1908, which took the lives of both the king and his heir, leaving the throne to an unprepared Manuel II, was the final touch.
To be perfectly clear, there had already been a republican revolution in the city of Oporto in 1891. However, these republican partisans were very different; they were nationalist republicans who were weary of British influence in Portuguese international affairs and Portugal’s economy, as well as the powerful and castrating influence of French political thought and philosophy on Portuguese cultural and intellectual production. Unfortunately, this first coup was unsuccessful. It would be a totally different one that would emerge victorious in Lisbon on October 5, 1910.
These republicans were positivists of the French school: radical progressives bent on the destruction of religion and the Portuguese social order and committed to the establishment of a Jacobin-like republic that would change the cultural landscape of the country forever. What followed was not entirely unprecedented: priests and nuns were persecuted, while political opponents were taken away by authorities to have their craniums measured. (This was part of an attempt to establish phrenology as a valid method to explain the inferiority of the religious mind compared to that of the so-called rationalists.)
At the time, in 1910, republican Jacobinism was a passing fashion in Europe, so Portugal was a political oddity. Thus, the main republican caciques became quite alarmed when they saw the Portuguese youth getting up with the times, especially, once again, with what was really going on in France. For powerful men like Afonso Costa, Aquilino Ribeiro, Bernardino Machado, and others, the news from Paris was disturbing. The old city of the revolutionaries had died, giving way to a new kind of political opponent: one that was far more terrible than the old liberal and conservative parties of the diseased constitutional monarchy.
It was called Action Française, and its leader was Charles Maurras. Unlike the French Legitimists, the Spanish Carlists, and the Portuguese Miguelists, these were not ‘normal’ traditionalists. They actually had an agenda other than mere ultramontanist Catholicism and an unbridled defense of the Throne. In fact, Action Française had close ties to the political thought of anarchists like Proudhon and was joined by great names of the Left, such as Georges Sorel.
By 1917, these new monarchists could boast of their own magazine, Nação Portuguesa as well as the cooperation of unions, liberal workers, farmers, and segments of the army. As a movement, they called themselves Integralismo Lusitano and their leader was António Sardinha.
The birth of the Pelican
Much like what had happened in France, Integralismo Lusitano received the support of thinkers and patriots who had quickly become disillusioned with the Portuguese First Republic. Why should they not? In the 16 years of the First Republic, from 1910 to 1926, Portugal had witnessed 45 governments, an endless series of coup d’états, the dominion of far-left terrorist groups on the streets of Lisbon, and an average frequency of bombs exploding in the streets and apartments of the capital that surpassed that of the first two years of the American occupation of Baghdad. Portugal earned a negative reputation in European circles during those days, and the disastrous participation of Portuguese contingents during the First World War did little to help.
Sardinha was himself an ex-republican. However, he would always look back to those early days as a revolutionary youth and, even combined his newfound Catholic faith, to the values he had been taught by the republican nationalists who had been vanquished in 1891. Integralismo Lusitano took much from Action Française, but Sardinha made sure he would give it its own identity. The Portuguese integralists based their worldview in history and theory, claiming both the legacy of the Thomists as well as the novelties of Comte’s positivism. They looked for inspiration in the medieval guild system and in the doctrines of Georges Sorel around the theory of myth.
This unique blend of Tradition and Modernity sought to validate Portugal both as an independent organism and as a collective soul. That, in particular, was a consequence of Maurras’s great influence. Maurras and Action Française were fighting the individualism that had been gnawing away at the roots of Europe ever since the French Revolution. Their great discovery — bolstered by the work of Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges and the French Sociologists — was that communities had a life of their own, a collective destiny.
To mark their movement as something unique and distinct from their French counterparts, the Portuguese integralists adopted as their symbol the Pelican, a Christian symbol relating to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. A pelican was also used as the personal seal of Portugal’s King João II (1455-1495), a great reformer who contributed to some of the greatest achievements of the Portuguese ‘Age of Discovery’ (such as the finding of a sea route to India).
Sardinha thus set forth to discover the ‘destiny’ of the Portuguese people, one that would be ruled by a regime suited to the characteristics of the Portuguese. This would not be a French style republic, nor another fake parliamentary democracy, de facto ruled by the capitalist elite; instead, it would be something else, informed by history and psychology. It would not be an effort at historical recreation but, as Sardinha put it, a return to something that should never have been interrupted, and it would be as if it had never been interrupted at all.
It was an organic, social monarchy, established as a democracy in its lower levels, a democratic municipality based upon the free association of communities and professions, followed by an aristocracy at the level of the administration of the state, a bureaucracy of merit and service, and on top the rule of the king, who acted as a ruler but not as an administrator.
Sardinha’s ideas would evolve over the years. He even clashed with some of his supporters after publishing the infamous A Questão Ibérica (1916), a book about the necessity of forming an alliance with Spain. His late political thought, however, seemed to have focused less on the dichotomy between monarchy and republic, as evidenced by the ties he formed with well-known republicans such as António Sérgio. Sardinha and many integralists also cooperated with other conservatives, non-Catholic traditionalists, and leftist republicans to produce a magazine called Homens Livres (Free Men).
Such prolific intellectual activity had its costs. By the end of his life, Sardinha’s disciples were divided between those who supported authoritarian policies and those who wanted the implementation of true integralist policies. While recognizing Sardinha as a mentor, Alfredo Pimenta and Caetano Beirão, for example, quickly recognized Salazar and his conservative authoritarianism as a valid alternative. When the First Republic finally perished, giving way to the Estado Novo in 1926, despite frequently becoming the targets of censorship many integralists became staunch defenders of the new regime.
Sardinha and the Estado Novo
We will never know if Sardinha, who died in 1925, would have been supportive of Salazar’s Estado Novo. He was certainly enthusiastic about many of the achievements and methods of Mussolini’s Italian fascism, going so far as calling the Italian experience a ‘fulfillment’ of his own theories. However, Alberto Monsaraz, José Adriano Pequito Rebelo, José Hipólito Raposo, and Francisco Rolão Preto — some of the most prominent successors of Sardinha in the leadership of the Integralismo Lusitano — would eventually come to criticize the Estado Novo’s institutions as mere formalities. These integralists were, in fact, the first victims of political persecution and censorship during the first years of the Estado Novo, much more so than the republican left.
Sardinha and his integralism envisioned parliamentary institutions that could represent citizens based on their regions and professions. He endorsed a corporatist chamber akin to that which had already been endorsed by many of the authors inspired by Catholic social teaching. To them, both the Portuguese Estado Novo and Italy’s fascist state seemed to have failed in the creation of autonomous legislative bodies that could function without the guidance of partisan leaders like Mussolini or Salazar.
From what we know of Sardinha’s methodical line of thought, this is a perversion of the true aim of such institutions — which is to function normally, as vigorous bulwarks of local, regional, and national traditions and independence. It thus would have been entirely unacceptable to him. Sardinha respected his country’s institutions too much to settle for watching them becoming a mere tool for Salazar’s projects. While not so important to Sardinha in his later years, even the failure to reinstate the monarchy only proved that, despite the fact that Integralismo Lusitano had formed and educated most of the political elites of the early stages of Estado Novo, the regime was ultimately a betrayal of Sardinha’s teachings.
Salazar’s Estado Novo functioned under the premise of a ‘normal existence.’ However, there was nothing normal in the Estado Novo’s institutions. In 1970, In 1974, four years after the dictator’s death, the Estado Novo would fall to a poorly organized coup d’état without any type of relevant resistance on the behalf of its institutions. Sardinha dreamed of an Integralist Regime that could, like the traditional constitution of the Portuguese monarchy, withstand the passing of the ages, the incompetence of kings and rulers, and even the decadence of the national community. Instead, Salazar’s Estado Novo — much like Mussolini’s Stato fascista — fell as soon as its leader disappeared. ◼️