António Sérgio de Sousa, eminent Portuguese writer, historian, educator, and political reformer, died in Lisbon on January 27, 1969, in his eighty-fifth year. One of the last remaining great figures of the pre-Salazar era, he was for most of his life at the center of political and intellectual controversy in Portugal and was called upon repeatedly to make sacrifices in defense of his convictions.
Sergio was born in Damão, India, and later spent boyhood years in the Portuguese Congo, his father having served as governor in both places. Trained initially as a naval officer, he served in Macao and the Cape Verde Islands until he resigned in 1910, upon the victory of the Revolution in that year, to devote himself to a career of writing and research designed principally to educate his fellow countrymen in his conception of democracy. His writings early revealed his conviction that education should be of central importance in preparing the young to develop initiative and self-reliance. His method was essentially that of Cartesian rationalism, his chief weapon being a finely honed analytical and realistic approach to knowledge; his principal targets were romanticism and blind traditionalism, whether political—as in Jacobin liberalism (which he thought the Revolution of 1910 had erroneously adopted)—or economic—as in pure economic liberalism. In 1923 he accepted the post of Minister of Public Instruction, from which he promoted his ideas.
In addition to his political and educational activities, Sérgio was extremely active in Portuguese letters and was one of the founders of the review Seara Nova, becoming its director. Along with Jaime Cortesão, Raúl Proença, and others he became one of the leaders of the “Renascença Portuguesa,” a liberal intellectual movement; and he was a co-founder of the Portuguese Intellectual Union, whose meetings were violently attacked by the fascistic integralistas.
Sérgio broke with the government of Dr. António de Oliveira Salazar shortly after the Revolution of May 28, 1926, primarily over the issue of press censorship, which he vehemently opposed. He openly worked to prevent the Salazar government from securing foreign loans, and as a result was forced to flee the country to exile in France, where he remained for seven years; he was instrumental in preventing the Portuguese government from obtaining approval of the League of Nations for a foreign loan. An amnesty allowed Sergio to return to Portugal in 1933, but he was required to serve eight months in jail; soon afterward he had to leave the country again, his second exile being spent in Madrid. Several years later he returned to Portugal and resumed his writing career, also serving as an editor of the Grande enciclopédia portuguesa e brasileira. He continued to criticize the Salazar regime, and called for democratization and economic reforms, especially along the lines of cooperativism.
For the historian perhaps Sérgio’s most important contribution is his Historia de Portugal (Lisbon, 1941), only one volume of which appeared out of an originally-planned six. In this seminal work he argued that the Portuguese did not believe in natural limits, conditioned by their unique geographical position; Portugal was the “beach of Europe” from which were launched the first exploratory expeditions into the uncharted and unknown Atlantic. Similarly geographical conditions were of great importance, argued Sérgio, in making Portugal the way-station for European maritime and commercial activity. In addition to the História, the Ensaios (7 vols., Lisbon, 1920-1955) contain his ideas on Portuguese history, philosophy, epistemology, pedagogy, socio-economic policy, aesthetics, literature, etc.; his writings in these volumes established him as Portugal’s leading essayist.
With the death of António Sérgio, not only Portugal, but also the world of scholarship has lost a great mind and a courageous spirit dedicated to the improvement of his countrymen and mankind.